Lessons from a New Gardener

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My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view. 
~ H. Fred Ale

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Since I started my garden the third week of May, I was sure that everything would die. Every flower or plant that I’ve tried to grow in the past has always bit the dust early on. I heard all kinds of advice imaginable and I started to think if I didn’t follow everything, my garden would be a sure failure.

But what I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks is that the process is unique for every gardener and the best tips and tricks are those learned from personal trial and error. There is no better teacher than experience and the lessons that I’ve learned will stay with me always!

Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks…

1. Plants aren’t always better than seeds.

Case in point- my pea plants! The pea plants that I started from seed have grown three times the size as compared to the plants I bought in the store. Next season, I will plant more seeds now that I have more gardening confidence.

Pea plant planted from seed…huge!

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2. Greens are great for beginners!

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Next season, I will likely plant more varieties of greens as I’ve seen how easy they are to grow. Very low maintenance! Umm, except for that spinach failure…

3. Keep your garden within arm’s reach.

This year, I decided to put my potted tomato plants on the opposite side of the house because that’s where the most sunlight is, but honestly it’s a huge pain in the butt to water them so far away. I might move them to the other side of the house and just make sure they are in direct sunlight! When your garden is in arm’s reach, you are much more likely to water them on a regular basis. Try to keep everything as close as you can.

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4. Raised garden beds are amazing!

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We used this raised bed tutorial and I’m so glad we spent the extra time, money, and effort to build raised beds. Raised bed gardening is beneficial for several reasons, including better drainage, more aeration in the soil, less bending over, more control over the soil, closer plant spacing, and an earlier start to the season and later end (due to the raised bed being warmer than the ground).

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5. Don’t be afraid to crowd a few plants

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I followed plant spacing guidelines to a tee when I planted everything (I even measured with a ruler!!), but now that I see the growth, I know I could have spaced things closer together and still had success. Next season, I won’t be so afraid of a little crowding here and there! Also, with a raised bed, you can plant closer.

6. Chicken wire is great for keeping small animals out, but annoying when gardening.

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We haven’t had any major issues with small animals eating our plants thanks to the chicken wire. However, occasionally I will see a bunny eating my KALE through the chicken wire! The bunnies are too cute to get mad at…and can you blame him? That’s good kale! I laugh when I see a leaf nibbled on next to the wire, but again, it has only happened a couple times.

With that being said, the chicken wire is really annoying when it comes to gardening because it’s always in the way. Unhooking it eats up time, so I usually just bend it down when I’m weeding and picking.

7. Before picking herbs, give them a rinse with the hose.

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This way, you won’t have to fuss with washing them once you bring them inside!

8. There are no mistakes in gardening, only learning experiences!

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The best part about gardening is that you are in the trenches learning every single day. There is no better teacher than experience! I’ve learned much more by actually doing it, than from reading a book. I will never forget about my bolted spinach and if I plant it again, I will try another variety more resistant to bolting and I will plant it earlier in the season!

9. When picking kale and lettuce leaves, pick the outer leaves and leave the inner ones

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Seems logical, but I had to Google this before I did it!

10. Plant only the produce that you LOVE to eat.

Only plant produce that you get excited about. Kale is one of my favourite vegetables, so I planted the most of it- 20 plants. I’m not worried about having too much because I can always freeze it and enjoy it all winter long!

11. Nothing is better than tasting fresh peas.

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Sweetest peas ever.

12. Seeing a bell pepper sprout is like Christmas morning :)

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Happiest moment of gardening to date!

More progress pictures…

The tomatoes have surfaced :)

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The tomato plants didn’t want to wrap around the pole and one of the plants actually fell over!! I don’t know if it was from another animal or from the wind, but I loosely wrapped a twist tie around the upper stem to support them. Seems fine now. :)

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Peppers are growing!

This is our banana pepper plant. Long and slender. :)

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Cucumbers! Which have little pricklies on them…..cuteness.

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Our two cucumber plants have grown the most out of any of the plants in the garden.

Here they are May 28, 2011:

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July 7, 2011:

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BEETS! Grown from seeds (which I’m especially proud of)

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Carrots sprouting ever so slowly, also grown from seeds. :) And a few weeds to pull out!

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The peas love to hook onto things for support.

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Another pea plant which was planted from seed is doing well. It managed to hook around a stick for support.

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I laughed when I saw that the plant has grabbed onto this long piece of grass (below) and strangled it!

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I also read that I should put string across the pea plants horizontally so they can spread out more…I’m hoping to do that this weekend.

And the best lesson of all?

13. Mother Nature knows best!

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The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that nature is pretty darn good at working things out for itself! While it’s important to take care of a garden, it’s equally important not to smother the plants. Like a mother sending her child off to their first day of school, sometimes you just have to let them go grow. :)

Initially, I was watering too much and the plants began to yellow and die. Once I backed off a bit and let it do its thing, the plants just took off with growth!

 

Weather means more when you have a garden.  There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.  ~Marcelene Cox

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{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy Robinson July 8, 2011

That romaine looks lovely! Glad you’ve learned alot with your garden, and have taught me some things as well. Your ending quote resonated with me, as we have had lots of rain in FL the past few days. I can’t help but think of how happy my grass and plants are :) Happy Friday Angela!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

Im the same when it rains…I just think about my plants! Its totally changed my perspective about rain…

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Andrea B. @ Vegvacious July 8, 2011

Your gardens are looking great!! I think you’ve inspired me to try some raised beds next year!

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Hayley @ Oat Couture July 8, 2011

Wow everything looks great! :) You have done an amazing job! Especially as it was your first time! Will be coming to you for tips when I eventually start my own garden! :)

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Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn July 8, 2011

Lahve! I’ve discovered the same things. Especially with growing from a seed — it works wondahs!

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Jennielee July 8, 2011

I don’t know if you did anything wrong to your spinach. I’m a little farther south than you (buffalo) but my friend is a spinach farmer and they lost a huge part of their crop this year to bolting, then they had a mad dash to salvage what they could. I guess it was just a really terrible year for spinach!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

yea I heard from a lot of ppl who lost their spinach this year!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 8, 2011

Angela the garden, your plants (all these images too!)…they look amazing! You should be SO IMPRESSED with yourself and what you’ve done. Going from pretty much nothing to pretty much amazing-ness! :)

The sweetest peas ever? I just did a post 2 days ago on my love of sugar snap peas. I wish I could help you eat yours…haha!

I dont have a garden, I don’t have a yard. I just am moving into a place with a big enough balcony that I could do a container garden. Then again, I have such amazing farmers markets here, for $2 bucks, maybe I will just buy some sugar snap peas and leave it to the green thumb pros. :)

Happy weekend!

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Lauri (RedHeadRecipes.com) July 8, 2011

I learned so much about my little garden attempt from reading this!
1) Overwatering= yellow planst! I thought that meant I wasn;t watering them enough… Oops!
2)totally agree with the seeds over potted plants! I thought I had just ‘lucked out’ with my gorgeous basil plant, but now I think its because I planted it from seed! And its SO big and pretty!! I’m the most proud of this plant (But it already needs a bigger pot!)
3) Spinach ‘bolting’? What does this mean? I’ve never grown spinach before (I’m gonna try and google it)

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Lauri (RedHeadRecipes.com) July 8, 2011

So I just googled ‘bolting plants’ and discovered that this is what is happening to my lettuce!! I thought a weed had gotten in there somehow! Ha ha, silly me!

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Halley (Blunder Construction) July 8, 2011

I looove this post, Angela! It gives me hope that my black thumb will not always curse my plants, and maybe someday I’ll have a garden just like yours! I agree – snap peas are THE BEST off the vine!

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Lindsey @ Why Just Eat July 8, 2011

I will be starting a garden next year. The previous owner of our house put in beautiful raised beds, but we have a puppy this year and his goal in life is to dig to the bottom of said beds. Hopefully he will have outgrown this phase by next spring!

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VEGirl July 8, 2011

Congrats on your flourishing garden! Glad to see more grow-your-own converts (it really becomes a necessity when you consume a lot of produce!)

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Eat Hike Sleep Repeat July 8, 2011

Great summary lessons. My peas (from seed) have gone crazy!!! But, my lettuce (from plants) have been a dud and have gone to seed like your spinach. Isn’t it so exciting when you first see progress? Just saw my first strawberry – super tiny, need my macro lens to photo it – but it’s there! Did the chicken wire thing too. All my veggies look like they’re in jail, but good thing – four small deer came through the yard and would have wiped me out in minutes. Kale is almost ready to eat. Thanks for the picking tip – I would have picked the whole thing!

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amanda July 8, 2011

I’ve the spinach is the only thing that didn’t work out – you really can’t beat that especially for your first year! The garden looks great – I wish I had the space.

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Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin July 8, 2011

I’ve always been scared to plant my own garden, but seeing all your success on your first try gives me some encouragement. Maybe next summer I’ll give it a shot! And if I fail… well then there’s always the year after that!

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Katrina July 8, 2011

Your garden is so beautiful! Love it.

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Beth (Well I'll Be) July 8, 2011

I love this post, such good lesson! You’ve done a great job. I think cucumbers from a garden are one of the best things ever. They’re so fragrant, which you usually don’t associate with that particular veggie!

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Mama Pea July 8, 2011

Ahem, SECOND sweetest peas ever. ;)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

heh ;)

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Thin Lizzy July 8, 2011

i love gardening. i used to have a huge garden on the farm and then when I moved into a city I had a community plot. Now, all I have is some pots in the parking lot. I just love seeing things grow and providing for myself, independent of grocery stores. You’re doing great!

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Shay July 8, 2011

I am so happy for you and your gorgeous garden! I can’t wait to have my own house someday, plant my own garden and eat right from it–how fun! May your green thumb streak continue!

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Erin July 8, 2011

Are pea plants not the cutest things ever? When I was little my parents used to grow them and I was obsessed! Soooo yummy! I live in an apt now and can’t have a veggie garden… though it is on my bucket list :)

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Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons July 8, 2011

I think I need to re-try pea plants! I had a horrible fail last year when it got too cold but this year i’m prepared for it! <3

ohmygosh and my cilantro ALWAYS tries to flower/bolt/die on me no matter what I do! though this time i'm keeping it inside and trimming often – hoping it helps! <3

Thanks for the tips girl!

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Moni'sMeals July 8, 2011

you should feel so proud! Just look at what you have accomplished! I am so envious! That kale! Yum yum yum.

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Hollie July 8, 2011

Amazing for a new gardener! I’m on my third year of gardening all on my own, and this is what I’ve learned:
1. Cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins and other squash HATE being transplanted. This year I planted seeds instead of buying plants and they’re HUGE!
2. Carrots can easily take over a garden
3. Kozy Koats are amazing for cooler climates (I live in Winnipeg, MB). They’ve given me ginourmous tomatoes.

I would suggest looking into square foot gardening. The guidelines for planting are ususally a little spacious, the square foot gardening method is supposed to use your space more efficiently. Also, companion plantings. Certain plants grow better when they are placed next to other plants.

Yesterday I looked out my window and there was a muskrat in my garden! I grabbed my camera and ran outside, but he took off and hid under my truck. Then this morning, walking to my garage I spotted him again. He was munching on my spinach (I don’t have any chicken wire). I took a picture, but he was hiding behind my soy beans and I couldn’t really get a good shot of him. I planted enough this year to share with the bunnies (I find it’s easier to overplant and let them eat some than try to keep them out), but I didn’t plan on muskrats. I guess that’s what comes with living next to a river…

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

too funny! I can never get a pic either…they are too quick.
I dont mind a little sharing either…it kinda makes me happy in a weird way that I can feed animals too? Im sure I will change my tune as soon as one of them eats all the good stuff though!

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Mary July 8, 2011

Hi ange,
Beautiful garden. Gardening has great rewards, lots of work but it pays off. You could arrange potted plants around your beds. Put down patio pavers and set the pots on them. If you dig a space for them and then lay them in you just go right over top with the mower with no worries. You could do the foot print ones or round or square. It will keep everything close at hand. Buy a really nice big pot, some pear moss and good soil next year and plant a pot or two of stawberries to grow along with the tomatoes in pots. Strawberries are better in pots as they can take over a garden. Mint also grows really nice in pots, also don’t plant in the garden or within two years the whole garden will be mint. Buy those round tomatoe fences for your tomatoes next year, it will keep them from falling over. You put one stick in right beside the plant and then the fence around the plant. As the plant flowers you can tie the main stem of the plant to the stick to support the plant when the tomatoes come out.
Enjoy your garden.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

Thanks Mary, great advice :)

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Mary July 10, 2011

I ment to say peat moss mot pear moss. Also all you need is a brach from a tree for staking most plants. No need to buy them when you have a backyard full of them. LOL

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Mary ( What's Cookin' with Mary) July 8, 2011

Loving your garden pics Ange! I keep reading about how kale is so easy to grow… I think I’ll buy a planter next summer and grow some :)

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Roz July 8, 2011

Your garden is lovely!

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Heidi @ Food Doodles July 8, 2011

I love this :D Especially #13. There are so many things to learn but I think that one is the most important. I love the last quote too – I think it’s a little weird that I think about those kind of things, but at least I’m not the only one, haha.

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chelsey @ clean eating chelsey July 8, 2011

Great post!! I have definitely learned a LOT already this year about gardening. I have decided next year I am going to have my husband build another bed just for my zucchini, cucumbers, and other squashes because they seriously are HUGE plants! They are overtaking my garden! I think I’m going to plant more greens next year!

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Beth July 8, 2011

Your garden looks wonderful, and I’m so jealous of your tomatoes and peppers. Our tomato and pepper plants have flowers, but no fruit yet. I can’t believe you have 20 kale plants! We have 12, and that is the perfect amount for us, but we also have 12 lettuce plants and we’re literally drowning in salad greens! We over planted originally, since this was our first garden, and I was afraid I was going to kill everything. I just posted our six week update and I can’t believe how much everything has grown since we first put it in. It’s truly amazing. I totally agree with you on seeds vs. plants. We planted all seedlings this year because I was nervous about getting anything to grow from seed, but now that I have a little more gardening confidence, I think we’ll be starting things from seed next season. Enjoy all your lovely, and super local :) produce!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

I felt the same too! Did I mention I also have 10 romaine plants? hehe. Its great motivation to have a salad every night that is for sure. :)
Im sure your plants will fruit soon as ours just did on the weekend. So exciting. Im just worried that an animal will eat out tomato plants if we dont protect them…

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Tegan July 8, 2011

Speaking of planing things closer together, I thought that you might like reading the book Mini Farming by Brett L. Markham. I’m in the process of reading it now and it’s all about planting things close together to get the biggest yield but also the least work. I strongly suggest you give it a read. It’s super informative!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

Great thank you :)

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Liz @ Tip Top Shape July 8, 2011

I have a lot of the same vegetables in my garden, too!! Saw my first little pepper yesterday. They really are cute!

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kaila @ healthy helper! July 8, 2011

This just got me really excited about my own garden! I planted peas…so now I can’t wait for them to grow to full size! Mmm mmm its gonna be so nice have fresh veggies!

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Andrea July 8, 2011

What a gorgeous garden! On a side note, I just stumbled across this contest and it looks right up your alley, so I thought I’d pass along the link :) http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/cherryfest/

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

thanks will check it out!

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Nina (SLO Foodie) July 8, 2011

These are great tips! I’m starting the process of building a garden next week so I’ll be keeping these things in mind.

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Jane July 8, 2011

LIving in the city I only wish I could have as much fun and produce from a garden of my own. Thank goodness for the farmer’s market!

One fantastic summer I dog sat for a family for two weeks. They had a wonderful vegetable garden and told me to eat as much as I liked. It was so fun picking my dinner every night!
Get ready for those beets! Once they start you’ll be eating beet everything!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) July 8, 2011

oh that would be fun :) I think I would have eaten everything heh

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Olya July 8, 2011

Good on you! It looks wonderful!

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Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit July 8, 2011

Oh my gosh! Look at that pepper! You’re right, it’s totally like Christmas morning. I’m trying my hand at a perennial garden this weekend. It’s going to take me 2 solid days to create, but I figure it’s a good step for a new gardener. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but you’ve totally inspired me to rock my black thumb. Thanks Angela :)

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Lauren @ What Lauren Likes July 8, 2011

Looks like you’ve had quite a sucess with your garden!! congrats! I always get excited when my little plants grow overnight :)

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Rebecca @ How the Cookies Crumble July 8, 2011

I wish I didn’t live in a hot desert so I could grow a better garden. But I at least got some tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and herbs growing. My brother taught me how to make my basil grow big and bushy by pinching it down so it continues to grow and fill out.

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Michelle @ Turning Over a New Leaf July 8, 2011

I’m so jealous of your garden! This season has been miserable. Our drought is so extensive (no measureable rain in something like 9 months) and the heat so oppressive that we actually officially live in a natural disaster area. it’s been over 100 almost every day since mid-May (I know it’s Texas, but that’s still a good 10-20 degrees above average for this time of the year). Even the weeds can’t survive!

Our farmers market is finally opening for the season tomorrow (a month late), and I’ve already been told by one farmer that it will be very meager this year since nothing’s fruiting in this heat.

I’m planting a fall garden in hopes that the windlessness of the late summer and fall will be a more hospitable climate (ie. won’t feel like a convection oven anymore, even though it will still be ridiculously hot). I’m having to water my garden area twice a day since it’s so hot and dry that the moisture is sucked out of the ground every afternoon. The hardest part will be getting the seeds to germinate!

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