Living Life

Homegrown Watermelon and Hot Lazy Days Make Best Summer Yet

This is the best summer I’ve had in many years.  Its not hard to beat last summer, with my dad very ill and then passing away in July.  But even the previous years, I don’t think I was as immersed in all the glory that summer has to offer.  My job, though part-time, was structured; my kids were in a ton of camps; and I had a little toddler who sapped me of all my energy.

Summer 2012 rocks!  By building my own company, I am also ensuring a lot of free time this summer. I’m busy with work, but have been able to schedule it around our needs as a family and our goals for having fun.

So why is this summer so good?  Perhaps these make good tips for anybody looking to maximize their experience in the hot months!

  1. We go to the pool as much as possible.
  2. We planted a vegetable garden.  This has been so much fun!  Its my first time, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but the kids and I love checking it daily, and while I can’t keep them from eating all the grape tomatoes right off the vine, hey, they are eating grape tomatoes (my kids are kinda picky!)  The single watermelon that is growing now increases in size a lot every day, so the habit is to run out and check it first thing every morning.
    Watermelon yesterday

    Watermelon today
  3. The kids are only doing 2 weeks of camp!  This is a huge change from previous years, and had much to do with my work schedule changing.  Also, I was tired in previous years from driving three kids to 2 or 3 different places every day, and we never got to let go of the school-time routine of packed lunches and early wake ups.   And even though camps are fun, the structure didn’t allow enough down time.  I want the kids good a bored at the end of summer, I want them to want to go back to school!
  4. We made a summer “to do” list on the first night of summer break!  I am not certain that we’ll get to everything on the list, but it has made it easy to fill our days with all of the must dos.  I am sure that had ‘roller coaster’ not been on the list, we never would have gone to the amusement park in Ocean City after a camping trip to Assateaque Island!

    Our Summer To Do List
  5. We camped at Assateaque Island; we had wild horses in our campsite both mornings!

    Wild Horses at Assateaque Island
  6. We went to the zoo.
  7. We visited grandma, and the other grandma & dadda (what the kids call their grandfather)!
  8. We are eating homegrown or farmers market tomatoes every day.
  9. The kids donated the revenue from their lemonade stand for the Animal Welfare League, $86!  Just when we worry that the kids were too self-focused and obsessive about their own ‘stuff’, they were so motivated to do this for charity!
  10. The kids play with sprinklers, a baby pool and water guns a lot.  I also “let” them wash my car!

Nothing here is extraordinary or unique, but I find it is the sum total of all of it that makes this summer awesome. (Is there any meaning to the fact that ‘sum’ is part of the word ‘summer’?)   I hope you are also having a wonderful summer, no matter how you are filling your days.

Living Life

Backyard Gardening Without a Green Thumb

Though I manage to nourish three growing boys, I’ve killed most plants I have ever owned.  However, that history didn’t get in my way this year, because, the thing is, everyone is doing it.  Even the First Lady has one!  I’m talking about having a vegetable garden.  Backyard gardening seems to be the new rage, and since I have tried and failed to produce the kind of homegrown tomatoes that my mom always used to have using just pots, I made the plunge to a larger (albeit small still) garden bed.  This house has ideal land, meaning our yard is in FULL sun, and with a nice sized yard, allocating space to a garden isn’t depriving the kids from ample play space.

To start I pulled out some unidentified plants and a couple of poor performing azaleas (the weeds had overtaken that spot and the azaleas were stunted.)  Well, maybe not.  I know next to nothing about gardening.  But I know that what was in this patch was ugly, wild and seemed to keep the azaleas from thriving.  I bought a few yards of topsoil, and using a garden weasel that I found in the back of the garage (how we acquired that I have no idea) I “tilled” the soil for a while.  Basically, I stopped when I was tired and the topsoil seemed to be mixed in with the existing dirt.

Next I bought a few small plants: three tomato varieties, a thai chili pepper plan, a blueberry bush and a strawberry plant.  Remembering the beautiful blueberry bush I bought from Whole Foods last year, and how the birds loved all those blueberries, I also bought the bird netting to install over the strawberry and blueberry plants.  I also went crazy and bought seed packets for many other things: cucumber, snap peas, cilantro, dill, watermelon, basil and more.  I started some in seed starter pods, and the rest were sowed directly into the fresh garden bed.

Mistake #1: I forgot to mark what got planted where.  So now I don’t know if I should thin some rows to 12″ or just 3″.  And not knowing what is where, I have no idea what is successful and what is flopping.

Mistake #2: The tall tomato plants (which are THRIVING) are throwing shade on much of what is around them.  Its too soon to know how this will impact our yield this summer, but I have a feeling this isn’t great.

Mistake #3: I packed too much into too small of a space.  I was excited, and didn’t want to give up any potential garden delights.  But I know in my heart of hearts that it is too crowded.  Like the shade, I don’t know the impact yet, but I suspect I’m stunting much of the potential growth.

Tall Tomatoes

Mistake #4: The tomato cages are too short.  When I bought them and the choice was 36″ or 48″ I thought for sure the 36″ cage  would be sufficient!  Now I have regrets.  I do hope that the size of these plants foretell a good bounty of tomatoes, as they are after all, the sole motivation for me to try this garden thing!

Mistake #5: For all the organic eating that I adhere to, I didn’t pay attention to my seeds or plants and ended up with almost all conventional.  Not a huge problem, as I’m not raising the garden with chemicals, but it would have been nice to be truly organic.

Those mistakes aside, I’m pretty pleased with how the garden is going.  Aside from a couple of days, I have let mother nature take care of the watering, and I have tended to the weeds as best I can (I don’t totally know which are weeds vs. new plantings emerging from the seeds.)  I have tried to thin some plants, and I see I need to add a trellis to support the snap peas.

It is fun watching the kids watch the garden.  The youngest is most invested in it, helping me till and weed and plant.  The 7yo did the initial shop with me, and he likes tomatoes so he’s excited about those.  The 9 year old just likes how fast things are growing, and hopes for a watermelon.

Of course it is way too early to say that this will be a yearly habit, but a month into this experiment I am happy to have made the plunge into the backyard gardening thing.  Now, if only I can learn the difference between weeds and vegetables, I’ll be on my way.