New experiences to enjoy and share

It is rather gratifying to grow enough food to have plenty to share.

I’ve always grown flowers and ornamental plants. I think my grandmother’s petunias inspired me, and my mom relied on me to help care for — and occasionally save — all of her flowers and house plants.

Prior to the current season, I had grown a few tomatoes in pots and on the edges of my flower beds. I had raised a pepper plant or two. But I had never taken on entire vegetable garden on my own.

As expected, I had successes and failures. Early on, I thought my little garden might produce nothing but radishes. They were mild and tasty, but you can only eat so many radishes.

Soon, though, there was enough lettuce and arugula for my husband and me to enjoy salads two or three times a week. There were also plenty of white and yellow onions.

At that point, we were able to begin sharing our meager crops with friends and family. I passed out a few onions and was able to serve salad even when we had company. There was enough to go around, but the harvest was not what I would call bountiful at that point.

But then it happened. My plants began to produce in earnest.

The tomato and zucchini plants have exploded with fresh produce.

I had planted a few varieties of tomatoes — Beefsteak, Early Girl, a yellow variety and a couple of different types of cherry tomatoes. Each of those plants is now covered with fruit, some branches producing so heavily that they are dragging the plants to the ground despite my efforts to prop and tie them up.

The tomatoes are ripening so rapidly that my husband, Mike, and I cannot begin to eat them all before they begin to go bad. So, I have been handing out tomatoes to people I know everywhere. My brother, Steve, has been a primary beneficiary, but I have had plenty to share with friends and co-workers as well.

The zucchini plants are still blooming all over, and peeking out from beneath the leaves are numerous, dark green squash.

Those, too, have been shared with family, friends and colleagues, and they continue to appear. I have plans to make zucchini bread, pasta with tomatoes and zucchini and am still searching for creative recipes to help me use up my plentiful supply of squash.

I had less luck with other plants. The sparse row of carrots I planted actually yielded several more bright orange roots than I had expected. I have probably raised two and a half times the dozen carrots I anticipated. They are short and stocky, but they make a great addition to my lunch, eaten plain or dipped in a little hummus.

The cucumber plants that are still blooming alongside the zucchini have not been as productive, but we have had enough cucumbers to add to salads and to make pitchers of fresh cucumber water a few times.

I also planted broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These are all cruciferous vegetables, and apparently I do not know how to grow them. All of those plants grew to be large and leafy, but they did not yield any edible vegetables. The Brussels sprouts did not sprout, and the cauliflower did not “flower.” The broccoli fooled me, producing what appeared to be the beginnings of heads that turned long and lanky seemingly overnight.

I welcome any suggestions from readers who are more experienced gardeners as to what I may have done wrong. I would like to try growing these vegetables again next season, since Mike and I eat large quantities of them from the grocery store.

Anyone who would like to advise me can reach me by email at jcompston@timesleaderonline.com or use any of the contact information provided on page A4 under the policy for letters to the editor.

My final experiment with the crops grown so far will be to roast some beets. Their greenish purple tops have been long and leafy for some time, but their deep red roots have only recently reached the size of beets I remember from my dad’s gardens.

I may get around to that cooking project today. I hope the weather also allows me to get back to work in the garden. I hope to clean it up and prepare the soil for some crops that tend to thrive in cooler weather, so we can continue to eat these healthy, fresh foods for a few more months.

I have never tried my hand at fall gardening, either, so readers who have had their own successes and failures during the autumn months are again welcome to send me their tips.

For those of you who have never raised a vegetable garden, I encourage you to give it a try next year. As I mentioned, it is very satisfying to grow your own food. It is even more gratifying to raise enough food to be able to share it with others, and I hope those who have received produce from me have enjoyed it as much as I have.

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