Posts Tagged 'organic'

How to Start Growing Your Veggies from Scratch

I’ve been feeling so guilty about neglecting my blog I asked my friend Elizabeth to be a guest blogger. Being the wonderful person she is, she stepped up. Elizabeth has been gardening organically for years, runs a health and wellness business, is a published author and is starting a small market garden this year.

4 Seed-Starting Tips to Help You Grow Your Own

By Elizabeth Eckert

This week marks the “official” beginning of spring. In this gardener’s household, that means one thing. Seed starting. It’s a ritual I look forward to with much enthusiasm. Green and growing things! Oh boy! Perhaps you feel the same way. And yet…

There are the inevitable questions. Let’s consider several of the most common seed-starting questions and explore some possible solutions. Ultimately, you’ll find your own “best” ways.

  1. When do I get started? Count back from when you expect to put your wee little transplants into the ground. Your local extension service should be able to provide an “average” last date of frost. Where I live, that date is May 21. Use the “average” date as a guideline and watch your local weather forecast!Check your seed packet or gardening reference for specifics on how many weeks ahead of transplanting to start a particular plant. I usually figure about 10 weeks for onions and herbs; 8 weeks for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants; and 4 weeks for any squash or cuke family plants slated for transplant. Onions, cabbages, and lettuce are tolerant of cool weather and can go out before the last expected frost date. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squashes will keel right over if exposed to freezing temps. Best to hold them back until conditions improve.Counting back from May 21, now is the time to start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants! I’ve already plunked the first batch of tomato seeds into potting mixture. Due to some germination problems with peppers and eggplants last season, I’m running an experiment and sprouting those seeds prior to planting this year. Hopefully they’ll be ready to plant in soil by the coming weekend.
  2. What medium should I use for seed starting? This is somewhat a matter of personal preference. Some people use compost exclusively. It’s free, a big plus! If you want to go the compost route, you do need to plan ahead. In the fall before things freeze up, shovel up your compost into buckets or containers and make sure you can get to it when you need it. Another alternative is to buy a commercially prepared seed-starting mix. Most of the seed catalogs offer their own favorite mixes by the bagful. Bear in mind you’ll be paying to ship soil to your location from theirs, and soil tends to be heavy. You can also check with any garden centers in your area. If organic soil is important to you, be sure to ask questions. You do not need a chemically induced “miracle” in your potting soil. Seeds are little miracles all by themselves and will germinate in nearly any warm, moist environment.For my own seed starting, I usually create a custom mix in one of those big tubs. I start with Eliot Coleman’s recommendations (see his book The New Organic Grower) and temper it according to what’s available. The main ingredients are coir (coconut fiber) or peat moss, compost, and perlite or sand.
  3. What kind of containers do I start my seeds in? I’ve tried any number of options — from little troughs to peat pots to recycled yogurt containers. Over the years, I’ve acquired a whole stack of lightweight plastic flats to use as trays. I now use these as the collector of smaller vessels, employing one of two different strategies.

lettuceincups31809cropped

For ease of transplanting onions and herbs, I like to use soil blocks “straight up” with no container. Just place them directly in the trays. You do need a soil blocker tool to make them; I was lucky enough to get one for the holidays last year. Eliot Coleman’s soil mixture is great for making blocks — being high in coir or peat moss, it holds together well.

herbsinsoilblocks31809cropped

For most everything else, I use 5 oz or 7 oz clear plastic cups. Poke drainage holes in the bottoms with a hot nail. (Hold it with a pair of pliers, then heat over a candle.) Add damp seed-starting mixture, and then pop in the seed! When the plant gets too large for the container — in the clear container you can see the roots reaching out — then pot it up to something larger. Larger cups may work, or pot up into re-usable plastic pots, cut-off half-gallon milk containers, or large yogurt or cottage cheese containers. Just remember the drainage holes!

4. What about heat and light?

When I first started seed-starting, I lived in a small condo with just one sunny window. I also had two cats. Nonetheless, it was possible. Using a little ingenuity, I rigged a shelf that hung down from the curtain rod in front of the sunny window (out of reach of the cats) and placed the new starts on that. My space needs were modest at the time, because I only had a very small garden. Nonetheless, it filled the bill.These days, I start more seed. A couple of seasons ago, I made a two-shelf starting cabinet out of a bottom tray, a few pieces of 2 x 2 lumber and some ¼ inch bolts. Shop lights hang from the tops. Up to three flats can slide in on each of the two shelves. The whole contraption is covered with plastic to conserve heat and humidity. The starting cabinet sits on a table-top in my daylight basement.

seedstartingsetup31809croppedFluorescent lights on a 16-hour timer give off enough heat to increase the area above room temperature by 5–10 degrees—into a nearly ideal germination range. Once green starts to show, I remove the tray covers and let the seedlings keep growing until they’re too tall for the shelves. At that point, they rotate out to a different spot and something else takes over in the warm cabinet. The lights are not needed for germination. This solution won me over because of the warmth factor, and because it’s so easy to simply remove the tray covers and give the new plants their light.

There are other alternatives for providing a warm spot for seed germination. Some people like to place seed flats on top of the refrigerator, a reasonably warm spot in most homes. Another option is seedling heat mats. They do work, though they’re a bit expensive. I even know someone who puts an electric mattress cover on the bed in her guest room and places germination trays on that. While I can’t personally recommend that strategy, it is creative!

Bottom line is this: Seeds really want to grow. They need just a few things: a growing medium, moisture, and a little heat. Once they sprout, they also need light. As your plants continue to grow, you might add some fertilizer to their water every couple of weeks. (Fish fertilizer works great; keep in mind it is rather aromatic). Finally, give your inside starts an opportunity to harden off gradually in the outdoors before your final plant-out. They’ll thank you by thriving in their new home!

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of knowing you grew your lunch all the way from seed. Pleasant gardening and many happy tomatoes!

Elizabeth Eckert is a healthy living geek and organic vegetable gardener. Healthy living is easy with tips from her Healthy Living DIY blog.

Where to Find Non-GMO Seeds–And Other Resources

In case you haven’t ordered your seeds yet, here is a great resource to find companies that do not support the proliferation of genetically modified organisms: gene-watch.com/safeseed/sourcebook

The Safe Seed Pledge was launched in 1999 by the nonpartisan Council for Responsible Genetics and, according to the organizations Web site, is part of a larger project to educate people about the risks associated with widespread genetic engineering of our food supply.

The Safe Seed Pledge has been taken by more than 100 companies committed to ensuring that, to the best of their knowledge, the seeds they sell are non-GMO. The pledge states, in part:

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative,

We pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.

CRG is a fascinating organization. Here’s another link about its intention by developing the Safe Seed Pledge: gene-watch.org/articles

Gardening Company Reviews on Dave’s Garden

While researching a question posed to me on Twitter about a particular seed company, I stumbled across a handy, free, reader-generated review page on  DavesGarden.com:

DavesGarden.com/products/gwd

More than 6,600 mail-order gardening companies are listed here. Readers are encouraged to review their faves–and not-so faves. There is a Top 30 list (companies with the most positive reviews in the database) and the section is easy to navigate. Beware of the banner ad at the top of the page, however. It’s activated by just hovering over it and it will not close no matter how many times you click the close button at the top right corner. All in all, a minor inconvenience for a great resource.

My Favorite Gardening Forum

I’ve been a member of the Organic Gardening magazine Gardener to Gardener forum for 7 years and there is not a more helpful group of knowledgeable organic gardeners on the planet, IMHO. Introduce yourself in Club OG, post your questions in Over the Fence or New Gardeners forum and you are likely to get a reply within a couple of hours. But BEFORE you post, try the search feature first. Type your keyword or question in the Find box and you may get pages and pages of information–and a few humorous posts, as well.

How Twitter Helped Me Find a New Caretaker for My Beloved Garden Patch

I recently moved from Chicago to a little town in western Wisconsin. There are still several inches of fresh snow on the ground up here, but my yearning for spring is alive and well. And I’m missing my little garden patch.

Gardening with Nuns

Having been an apartment dweller for the past umpteen years, I got my gardening fix through community gardening. My most recent patch was behind a Catholic girls high school in Chicago. (It was an endless source of amusement to me that I, a one-time out-of-control juvenile delinquent was now gardening among nuns.) The nuns, particularly Sister Mary Alice, were a hoot. Their flower gardens are beautiful and blooming from late March to November, which is really a feat in zone 5.

It was a peaceful location and I was grateful for the space to be able to grow fresh strawberries and veggies and to be able to play in the dirt. A statue of Jesus blesses all who enter the grounds.  On the other side of the gardens was a labyrinth people would come and walk through on occasion.

An Amazing Urban Oasis

Those gardens are an amazing urban oasis. With a beautiful stand of pine trees blocking the view to adjacent townhomes, the fragrant lilac bushes lining the parking lot and the expanse of athletic field taking up the west end of the property, the city always felt far away when I was there.

The city melts away when you're here.

The city melts away when you're here.

In the four seasons I was there, I

  • resurrected two flower beds: moved some perennials, planted some more and added annuals – mostly zinnias – to fill the holes.
  • built a VERY rudimentary compost bin with metal stakes and chicken wire. I let a couple of climbing weeds camouflage it.
  • added a strawberry patch to one end of a flower bed.
  • got to know some of my gardening neighbors; a couple of them were nuns or worked for the school, most of us were from around the community.
  • grew enough veggies to feed myself and many of my friends and neighbors: lots of greens,  tomatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots, squash, cucumbers, etc.
  • made catmint mice for my kitties.
  • created an aesthetic space out of a pile of weeds.
  • meditated and communed with my higher power regularly.

It’s  Tough Letting Go

But now I’m in Wisconsin and get to start the process all over again. Thing is, I was still holding on to my old patch emotionally. I hadn’t called Sister Rita yet to let her know I wouldn’t be back this spring; I hadn’t called my neighbor Curtis, who let me store my wheelbarrow in his fenced-in patch, to tell him he could have the barrow. I was still working out plans in my head for where the tomatoes should go this year.

How Twitter Saved the Day

And then I met @jenofchicago. On Twitter. (If you don’t know what Twitter is, Google it and then come join us.) I checked out her profile and saw that she had tweeted only three times in almost 3 years! I’m not sure how to go about verifying this, but I think it must be some kind of Twitter record! She tweeted once in July ’07, once in July ’08 and not again until Feb. 9 this year. And she was asking for help.

Because I’m a strong believer in paying it forward in all things Twitter (I have gotten a LOT of help from peeps when I was floundering around in the tweetstream of this exciting new social medium), I sent her some links and made a few suggestions of people to follow and figured that would be it.

Making a Personal Connection

Next thing I know, Jen sent me a personal e-mail thanking me for my help and asking me if my garden patch was behind a particular school (which it was). She mentioned that she sometimes walks the labyrinth there and had always wondered about the gardens.

I was floored! I mean, I’ve tweeted with people from all walks of life living all over the world – but this was the first time I met somebody on Twitter who had actually been to my garden patch (or at least to the same location). How cool is that?!

We e-mailed back and forth a couple of times and now – voila! – @jenofchicago is the proud mama of my strawberry patch – and perennials and anything else she wants to grow there!

Although she and I have never met face to face, because we met on Twitter it almost feels as if my beloved patch is staying in the family. Weird, maybe, but it’s how I feel. Like, we made this connection at a very real and human level through cyberspace, so she’s no longer some complete stranger who may go and and undo all the work I’ve done just ’cause she doesn’t know any better. I will actually be able to tell Jen what’s planted where (the daffodils should start sprouting by the end of March, but the stargazer lilies won’t make their presence known until late April or May) and she won’t have to start from scratch!

The Power of Twitter

twitter4Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows by now that I am a huge fan. If I could make a living on Twitter, I’d be tweeting my little heart out all day! Suffice it to say that I have met the most wonderfully diverse bunch of gardeners on Twitter through my @FamerPhoebe account. I learn something new every day and always find something to laugh about. I’ve even met another organic gardener named Phoebe on Twitter! (She’s in New York.) But serendipitously finding on Twitter such a wonderful new caretaker for my little garden patch I’d worked so hard on and with such love for the past four seasons – well, that’s just plain special.

I hope you will follow my new Twitter buddy @jenofchicago and congratulate her on her new garden patch!

For the Love of Organic Strawberries – Part 2

Last time I talked about what kind of soil to plant strawberries in and which types to choose. Part 2 covers how and when to plant strawberries and what to do with them once they’re in the ground—other than harvesting and piggin’ out on them, of course.freshstrawberries1

Basic Planting Instructions

The most economical way to purchase strawberry plants is to get bundles of bare-root plants. They are more fragile than if you get them in little 3-inch starter pots, but it will save you money. Just remember to time your purchase to arrive within a day or two of planting and you should be fine. If you don’t plant them right away, make sure to keep the rootballs moist; you can wrap them in wet newspaper and keep the paper moist until ready to plant.

Most experts say to wait until an overcast day and to plant in the mid-morning. In northern climates—zone 5 and below—strawberries should be planted from late March to April. In zones 6 and up, strawberries should be planted in the fall for a spring harvest.

If you’re working with bare-root plants, put them in a bucket of water up to just below the crowns and let them soak for an hour. In the meantime, you can start digging your holes, which should be slightly larger than the rootball. It’s important that your baby strawberry plants are set in at the right depth: too low and they may get crown rot; too high and the roots may dry out and the plants won’t thrive. See Figure 1 for an illustration of the correct planting depth.

planting-depth

Illustration showing the correct depth to plant strawberries

Which Planting Configuration Should You Use?

There are a few different ways to plant strawberries: matted rows, spaced rows and hills. Here are several things to consider when deciding which system is best for you, your plants and your garden.

Matted rows. The matted row planting system is the most popular method for growing June-bearing varieties. The plants are set 18–30 inches apart in rows 3–4 feet apart. The runner plants are allowed to root freely to form a matted row about two feet wide. See Figure 2 for illustration.

straspcc

Example of the matted row planting system


Spaced rows. This system limits the number of daughter plants (i.e., runners) that grow from a mother plant. The mother plants are set 18–30 inches apart in rows 3–4 feet apart. The daughter plants are spaced to root no closer than 4 inches apart. All other runners are removed. This is probably the most labor intensive planting method but can result in higher yields, larger berries and fewer disease problems.

Hills. The hill system is considered the best method for growing everbearing and day-neutral cultivars and when drainage is a problem. Unlike squash hills, strawberry hills should be about 6–8 inches high and 2 feet wide. Two or three plants are spaced 10–12 inches apart in each hill and hills can be staggered about 12 inches apart. All runners are removed from the everbearers and day-neutrals so that only the original mother plant is left to grow. Removing the runners enables the mother plant to develop numerous crowns and more flower stalks.

How I did it. I chose to plant June-bearing strawberries; therefore, I used a modified matted row system. Because space was limited, my rows were only about 3 feet apart and plants were only about 18 inches apart within the rows. I had so many plants left over I started a second patch along the east border of my garden, next to my neighbor’s hostas. Even so, I STILL had leftover plants, which I gave away to another one of my gardening neighbors. Lesson learned: Be realistic about space constraints; no matter how much I wanted them to, I was not going to fit 20 strawberry plants in a 4 x 4 foot patch.

 I had too many plants (top right) for primary patch, so I made a second one! (bottom left)

I had too many plants (top right) for primary patch, so I made a second one! (bottom left)

Caring for Your Strawberry Patch

So we’ve located a good spot with plenty of sun and adequate drainage, prepared the patch by weeding and amending the soil with lots of rich organic matter. We’ve decided which kinds of strawberries to plant, settled on the best system—matted row, spaced row or hills—dug the holes and put those babies in the ground, firming the soil around each plant and making sure the soil was just below the crown and completely covering the roots. After watering thoroughly, we get to take a breather and enjoy our handiwork. But not for long; there’s more work to be done.

Mulch. Unlike garden favorites such as tomatoes and peppers, strawberries like cool, moist soil. Therefore, they can be mulched almost from day one. A thick layer of straw between rows and plants will keep weeds down and the soil cool. Pine needles also make a great mulch additive.

Remove blossoms. Pinch off any blossoms that appear the first year that you plant June-bearers. This will encourage the plants to grow vigorously and produce more runners. The payoff comes the following season when your patch will be bursting with big, juicy strawberries!

Maya loves fresh strawberries! Photo by Sam Pullara

Maya loves fresh strawberries! Photo by Sam Pullara

Everbearing varieties will produce two or three harvests throughout the growing season and will produce a full crop the first season. They do not make many runners. Day-neutral strawberries will produce throughout the growing season and also offer few runners. Experts say that buds should be removed the first 4–6 weeks after planting to help establish healthy plant and root growth.

Water. It’s important to keep your patch watered—especially when producing. Strawberries have a shallow root system and require a good inch of water per week. Soaker hoses under the mulch are ideal. I used a wand at the end of a hose and they did fine—as long as the leaves have enough time to dry before dark.

Fertilize and mulch again. Remove runners on the everbearers and day-neutrals and enjoy the harvest the first season. You can sidedress between harvests with well-decomposed compost. Simply move the mulch out of the way, pull up the stray weeds that are trying to gain a foothold, add a couple of inches of compost, being careful that it does not come in direct contact with the plants, and replace the mulch. It doesn’t hurt to sidedress the June-bearers in the early fall and mulch everything heavily (4–6 inches) with straw before the first frost.

How I did it. Exactly as described above: I mulched, pinched blossoms, sidedressed and mulched again. My own compost pile wasn’t ready that first season so I used organic mushroom compost in a bag. I didn’t have to do much weeding because I tend to lay down the straw mulch pretty thick. By the third year after planting I had a bumper crop of organically grown strawberries as big and as beautiful as you could find in any grocery store—but much healthier and better-tasting. With my next garden, I am going to include day-neutrals and have two strawberry patches. After researching and preparing this article I’m convinced that having berries the first season is a nice trade-off for smaller fruit.

Renovation

This section is from the University of Illinois Extension site; I have never mowed my strawberry patch, but I’ve heard it’s a good practice; unless, of course, you planted your strawberries in hills, in which case a weed whacker might serve the same purpose.

In order to ensure good fruit production, June-bearing strawberries grown in the matted row system should be renovated every year right after harvest. A strawberry patch will continue to be productive for 3–5 years as long as the patch is maintained. The first step in the renovation process is to mow the old foliage with a mower, cutting off the leaves about one inch above the crowns. Rake the leaves and if disease-free, compost or incorporate into the soil. Narrow the rows to 6–12 inches wide by spading, hoeing or rototilling. Remove all weeds. Thin the plants in the narrowed row to 4–6 inches between plants. Water with 1 inch of water per week to promote growth and to make new runners for next year’s crop (http://urbanext.illinois.edu/strawberries/growing.html).

Online Resources

AllAboutStuff.com: When, Where and How to Plant Strawberries

Iowa State University Extension: Planting Strawberries in the Home Garden

South Dakota State University Extension: Strawberries in South Dakota

Thegardenhelper.com: How to Grow Sweet, Delicious Strawberries

University of Illinois Extension: Growing Strawberries

University of Illinois Extension: Time to Plant Strawberries

Tip of the Week: For the Love of Organic Strawberries – Part 1

Whether you choose early-, mid- or late-season June-bearers, the smaller but more frequent everbearers, or the young upstart day-neutrals, a freshly picked, perfectly ripened homegrown strawberry does not exist in the same galaxy as its cardboard cutout, dry-as-sawdust store-bought brethren, let alone on the same planet.

Here are some tips on how you can grow the biggest, most juicy and flavorful strawberries ever—without using harmful pesticides or other chemicals!

**********************
When I read a few years ago that conventionally grown strawberries retained more toxic pesticide residues than just about any other fruit, I knew I had to start growing my own—because I loooooove strawberries. With the cost of organic strawberries—in season—hovering around $3/pint (I can’t even imagine what they cost now), I was eating a lot of pesticide-residue-riddled berries.

Not anymore.

The 3S’s: Sun, Soil and Regular Sousing
Although strawberries are easy to grow, these highly versatile nectars of the gardening gods require an abundance of the basic elements of photosynthetic life: lots of sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day), slightly acidic soil (between 5.5 and 6.5 pH, according to eHow.com) that is rich in organic matter and allows for good drainage, and about an inch of water per week—especially when the fruit is developing.

I’ve also read that, when choosing where to put the patch, to be careful to avoid planting strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants or raspberries have been grown for the past several years. These plants can harbor verticillium wilt, which is particularly hazardous to strawberries. Every university extension site I visited, with the exception of Ohio State’s, listed chemical solutions for treating this pervasive fungus. Based on what I’ve read, the best organic solution is prevention.

Good drainage is important because strawberries have shallow root systems. They need plenty of water for big, juicy berries but cannot abide sitting in standing water and will rot. Some experts recommend planting strawberries in hills or in raised beds loaded with lots of well-composted organic materials.

How I did it. Other than the advice not to plant strawberries where tomatoes had been, I didn’t really know any of this stuff when I first planted my strawberries. I picked a section of a dormant flower bed for my primary patch. The fall before planting I pulled up all the weeds and turned the soil, which had been sitting fallow for at least a year before I secured my patch at the community garden. The nun who had tended the garden of which my patch was only about a third was very ill and couldn’t keep up with her garden. She died the winter before I began leaving voicemails for Sister Rita, pestering her for a veggie patch of my own.

My first fall at the patch I dumped a couple of 40 lb bags of organic mushroom compost on the patch (my own newly established compost pile wasn’t “ripe” yet) and worked it lightly into the soil. And that was pretty much it.

Poor quality photo of my strawberry patch a couple of months after planting (July 2006).

Poor quality photo of my strawberry patch a couple of months after planting (July 2006).

Everbearing, June-bearing—or Day-neutral?
When it came time to actually pick out what type of strawberries I wanted to grow, I was faced with an overwhelming array of choices. Because I had spent a couple of summers and many, many weekends working for my dad on his organic farm in southwestern Michigan, I knew there were everbearing strawberries, which, under the right conditions, would produce throughout the growing season, and June-bearing strawberries, which, like the name implies, bear fruit just once per year in late spring to early summer.

What I didn’t know was that within each broad category were a number of different choices: For instance, June-bearers have early-, mid- and late-season varieties. I suppose an ambitious gardener—or a strawberry addict—could cultivate all three to keep fresh strawberries on the table for a couple of months rather than the typical 3-week production cycle.

Everbearers produce smaller berries a couple of times a year (spring and fall) and don’t shoot off as many runners (picture spider plant offshoots that, instead of dangling from a hanging basket, spread along the ground, and then start establishing new roots once far enough away from the mother plant) as June-bearers.

Then there’s a newer cultivar I knew nothing about called the day-neutral. According to the Purdue University Extension office’s Yard and Garden News Web page, day-neutrals are a true everbearer and can produce fruit throughout the growing season, as long as it doesn’t get too hot.

May 2007 - First full season and both patches (main patch is at the top right of photo) are robust and setting fruit!

May 2007 - First full season and both patches (main patch is at the top right of photo) are robust and setting fruit!

How I did it. Although the space allotted for my strawberry patch was pretty small (about 4’ x 4’) I decided to go with the June-bearers. Aesthetics are important to me; I wanted to grow big, juicy, luscious strawberries, not the puny (to me) everbearers my dad grew on his farm. I figured, so what if I could enjoy them fresh for only a few weeks? I could (and did) enjoy the frozen berries I put up for months!

By the third season I was very pleased with my choice. My strawberries, picked ripe, not green and spiny like the flavorless store-bought berries, rivaled what you could buy at Jewel or Safeway in size and had irresistibly incomparable flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. I can’t wait for spring!

On the other hand, although day-neutrals can produce throughout the growing season, they practically have to be treated as annuals, which means you have to replant them every year.

Next week I will finish my ode to strawberries with tips on their planting and care that will assure you of the most delicious strawberries you have ever tasted.

Online Resources
About.com: How to Grow Organic Strawberries
eHow.com: How to Grow Organic Strawberries
Gardening-Guides.com: How to Grow Strawberries
Purdue University Extension: Preparing Strawberry Patch
RusticGirls.com: Grow Your Own Strawberries
University of Illinois Extension: Time to Plant Strawberries

My First Garden

Just about anyone who came up through the U.S. public school system in the late ’60s to ’70s can relate to green bean seeds in Dixie cups, right? That little science experiment was the start of my lifelong passion for green and growing things.

My first solo attempt at gardening was when I was about 8 years old. I cleared a little patch of dirt and planted two small rows of popcorn kernels in the unkempt side yard on the south side of my parents’ suburban Chicago home. (Even back then I must have had some instinct about which side of the house was best for growing stuff.)

I took such good care of those little seeds. I watered and weeded and waited…and waited…and waited. I remember my excitement when I came home from summer camp that August, ’cause my waist-high corn plants were now taller than I was! And they had tassels and little ears forming on each stalk – just like the corn I’d seen in the fields all over the rural Midwest! I couldn’t wait to try the fruits of my labor, as it were.

What I didn’t know at the time was that popcorn seeds do not grow up to be sweet corn. I almost broke a tooth on that first raw bite.

Although disappointed that all my hard work did not produce the results I expected, the popcorn experiment did not keep me from pursuing my love for gardening. I guess it’s in my blood.


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