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Reap What You Sow

Starting your own vegetables from seed is time consuming—but worth the work—for Cape Cod gardens

Of course, here’s where the moral of the story comes in—by mid-summer, my son’s peppers, eggplants, several kinds of tomatoes, squash, broccoli, and lots of interesting herbs were big and bushy tailed, while my flash-in-the-pan plants began to languish.

My peppers never fruited, the broccoli bolted early, and my tomatoes—my carefully watered, fertilized, and trained “Big Girls” and “Better Boys”—developed Late Tomato Blight, an insidious fungal disease that kills all the leaves on your tomato plants, leaving sad clumps of ripening fruit naked on the vine.

I finally had to face the fact that vegetable gardening, like anything else in life, is garbage in, garbage out. Faced with the bounty exploding from my son’s West Barnstable bog, I had to admit that good gardeners are patient, discerning, and flexible.

Good gardeners carefully plant biodegradable peat pots with infinitesimal lettuce seeds no bigger than your pinky fingernail, place the pots under cozy grow lights on their kitchen counters or in the basement. They scour the racks of local nurseries for heirloom seeds, buy potting soil that is the right fine mixture of all natural elements, and by July, their vegetables are gracing not only their own tables, but the shelves of local markets because the amazing bounty can’t be consumed by just one family.

As I write this, it is early February. On a tour of the perennial garden yesterday morning, I was delighted by the sight of daffodils pushing impatient green thumbs out of the still frozen Cape soil. In the vegetable garden, we still have kale and brussels sprouts, two vegetables that I seem to have no trouble growing, probably because they are very tough and can withstand impatient gardeners who want immediate gratification.

But you can bet that in a week or two, I will be searching our local nursery for top-quality seeds. I will carefully fill a plastic bag with sterilized potting soil, dampened with fine mist from a spray bottle. I will plant the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, squash and peppers at three times each seed’s diameter, gently scatter a fine layer of soil, cover the entire tray with Saran wrap vented here and there to avoid excess moisture retention, and place the infants under grow lights positioned just three inches above each tray. For 10 well-lit hours each day, I will let nature take its course, having learned from a pro how to be a forever young gardener.


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