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So, You Wanna Grow Tomatoes, Huh? Part Three

What To Expect When You Expect Too Much, Or... Setting Reasonable Expectations

I thought before we go any further, we might want to talk about...the possibilities. Gardening can be a joy, a pain, a hobby, a lifestyle, and a job all rolled into one. But before you get too excited, let's set some realistic expectations for you, my friend.

First things first, understand that gardening takes work. You can't just plant some seeds and wait for the magic to happen. That only happens with kudzu. You must continue to make sure the soil is good, the plants are watered regularly, they get enough sun, pests are kept at bay…the list goes on.

Editor's note: Never plant kudzu. Just don't do it.

Secondly, even with all that work, there's no guarantee that everything will grow perfectly. Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and sometimes, no matter what you do, plants just don't thrive. A crop may be lost to disease, pests or weather. But don't fret, failures can be a valuable factor in the learning process.

Speaking of Mother Nature, there are some things you just can't control, like the weather. If it's too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, it can have a big impact on your garden. You gotta have patience, be flexible and learn to deal with the weather.

Intellectually and emotionally, you must accept the fact that a garden is not going to be perfect all the time. Darn weeds will have a way of popping up where they aren't supposed to. You may make a mistake in planting or cultivating. Insects will intro themselves to your garden; but remember, much of gardening is trial and error.

Now, this may all sound like a pretty bleak picture, but I promise you, it ain't all bad. These are just some things that *could* go wrong; not saying that they will. Gardening has a therapeutic effect, the power to feed one’s family, save money and to be honest you appreciate food more when you grow your own. From tasting your first tomato to watching a whole row of turnips being yielded, I guarantee you'll feel a sense of accomplishment that can't be matched by anything else.

Thankfully, gardening isn’t rocket science (I mean, it is a science, but not the really hard ones), and with some research and good old-fashioned trial and error, just about anyone can grow a great garden. But like everything else in life, it's important to set realistic expectations and understand that there's no such thing as a perfect garden.

Understanding Climate and Growing Seasons

Now folks, before you grab your overalls and start scratching up the dirt, let's talk about something called The Old Farmer's Almanac. If y'all don't know what that is, well, let me tell you. The Almanac is a gardener's best friend when it comes to knowing when to plant crops. It tells you everything from when the sun is rising to when the first frost is coming. And let me tell you, when that first frost hits, it'll put the brakes on any garden faster than a mule in a muddy field.

But let's talk about location, because if you're planting a garden up North, should you follow the same guidelines as someone down South? Well, no. Up North, you'll want to plant your garden after the last freeze on average. Down South, you may get to plant a month or two earlier. And in the Midwest, it's somewhere in between. It's all about knowing your local climate, but the trusty ol' almanac can definitely help you out.

Now, let's talk about rain. Up North, your garden is gonna get plenty of water from precipitation throughout the year, whereas down South, you might need to irrigate your crops through a dry spell or two. And humidity, oh Lawdy, you're gonna feel it in the South, which can lead to bugs and disease. But don't you worry, there are ways to combat these challenges with proper care and maintenance of your garden.

For example, I present to you the (terrifying) tomato hornworm:

Big. Fat. Green. These caterpillars can do a lot of damage to our tomato plants, as well as a few others. This wormy critter loves tomato plants like Forrest Gump loves Jenny. Hornworms can be up to 5 inches long—which can be quite a shock when you first come across one! They do the most damage in the caterpillar—or larval—stage. They are pale green with white and black markings, plus a horn-like protrusion stemming from their rear. (Don’t worry, they aren’t able to sting or bite!) The caterpillar also has eight V-shaped stripes on its green body.

"That's just scary, Pops. How do we get rid of the little beasties?" Great question, and I am so glad that you asked. The best way is "handpicking," if you have the time and the patience. Its as simple and enjoyable as an Easter Egg hunt--but, with bugs. Once you find 'em you can just pick 'em off and squash 'em, or if you're squeamish, you can feed each one to your chickens, if you have a flock.

Now, there are insecticides that will work on hornworms, but we recommend that only as a last resort. I mean, part of the whole reason for doing all of this is to create your own HEALTHY vegetables. Chemical insecticides kinda take away from that, knowwhutimean?

One of the ways that we use to combat these little 'mater-eatin monsters is to interplant dill, or basil. Marigolds are also an excellent companion plant, and hornworms hate them.

By the way, we learned all that stuff from reading about in the Old Farmer's Almanac. Its definitely worth it to pick up a copy. This one below is also a handy reference guide on the topic of garden diseases and pests.

In conclusion folks, planting a vegetable garden ain't no easy peasy thing to do. It takes some knowledge of your climate and growing season, some good ol' elbow grease, and a little bit of patience. But with the help of the almanac, and taking into account your location on the planet, you'll be churning out some fine vegetables to delight your taste buds in no time!

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