Gardener’s Notebook #1

Gardener’s Notebook #1

Now that I finally have a yard to call my own, I can fulfill my dream of having a working vegetable garden. We had occasional gardens when I was a kid, elaborate affairs whose yields were mainly limited by the lack of attention to chores by us kids. But my true inspiration comes via my paternal grandfather, who was born in Sicily in the 1890s and worked as a professional fisherman until 1965 when he retired. He lived in Cambridge and his garden, about 30 foot by 20 foot, i.e. the entirety of the backyard, was the most prolific patch of dirt you’d ever seen. Every inch was exploding with tomatoes and cucumbers and squash and eggplant and Lord knows what else. When he died in 1976, my uncle Frank took over and maintained the garden until he couldn’t any longer.

So I would like to continue the tradition, although my plans are somewhat realistic. I’m going to start relatively small and expect to suffer setbacks as I learn my lessons the hard way. I also intend to keep a gardener’s journal here on the blog, recording what we’re doing and how it’s going and what I’ve learned. My successes and failures will be visible for all the world to see.

Among the resources I plan on using is the Learn2Grow site, which is geared to beginners and intermediate gardeners. I’m also going to become familiar with our local gardening center and try to get their advice. We’ve already purchased our seeds from Totally Tomato and I purchased a Burpee Growing System seed starting kit as well as a grow light.

The instruction on the seed packets say to start the tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost and the peppers 8-10 weeks before. And since the “safe date” for our area is May 15, that means that we planted the seeds today. I divided the 72-cell starter into 8 parts for each of the different kinds of seeds we got and we will hopefully have 9 plants per type. Here’s what we planted:

I chose a mix of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, recognizing that heirloom tomatoes are reputed to be finicky growers. And like I said, I’m prepared to have to buy seedlings if my seeds don’t make it. Here’s my graph of how I planted the seeds in the starter tray.


Over the next eight weeks, I will begin to use the grow light until the seeds have reached the transplant stage. And then a couple of weeks before I intend to plant them, I will start hardening them, moving them outdoors for a couple of hours per day.

And then when it comes time to plant them outside, I will build a raised bed rather than worry about soil quality and drainage issues and having to till a chunk of my yard. This will be a fun experiment and I look forward to partaking literally of the fruits of my labor this summer if all goes well.

Note 1: I’ve also planted basil and cilantro in kitchen window pots. Those seedlings have sprouted, which is a good sign. I hope to keep them going year-round.

Note 2: I think that “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew will also provide some good information and guidance.


Image Credit

  • Seedstarter.jpg: Own photo
  • Dear Mr. Bettinelli,

    I Am about to do the same thing. My wife and I moved last fall and now I too have room for a garden. I am definately a neophite gardener. I too Am looking to learn from my mistakes…which I am sure will be many. I will be happy if I end up with some tomatoes, hot peppers and zuchinni. I Am geographically close to you (Natick) so whatever success you have, please pass it on. Best of luck…or is it skill…most likely both.

  • You might want to plant a row of sunflowers along the back of your garden or, as we have in our yard, along the back border of the yard. 

    Your girls will enjoy them because they start to grow pretty fast, and of course the very large flowers really stand out and can be seen clearly from inside the house, etc. 

    It’s also interesting to point out to kids the way that the sunflowers turn during the course of the day to follow the sun. 

    A few pumpkin plants are also a good thing for the kids to plant, although they take a long time for harvest, and they also can spread out to use a lot of room. 

    There are many lessons in a garden; it’s a great teaching (and learning) opportunity.

    Here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest!

  • Your journal is your best friend!  Your garden will change each year based on how carefully you keep it. 

    I would add some lettuces, BTW.  You will get your money’s worth in the succession cropping and the pleasure.  Put some parsley in pots direct sowed for the corners of the garden and let the girls see the swallowtail caterpillars swarm in about the time you are done with the herb.

  • Dom,

    Good luck, also take a look at the the website for the book on Squarefoot gardening.  My wife and I have been exclusive users of SFG approach and for small gardens it makes great sense. 

    If you are doing Cucumbers, consider putting them on Trellises, either make them yourself with wood and wire or wood and twine but they will grow up the trellis rather than spreading around the garden. 

    I also second the lettuce idea.  Nothing better than going out and grabbing leaves, washing them and then serving them out of the Garden.

    Good luck… Perhaps we need to be asking this guy for his help:

    Saint Flarce – Irish saint who is the patron of Gardeners (among other things)

  • Good luck on your garden – I’m so excited to watch your progress and can’t wait to see pictures! We used “Square Foot Gardening” techniques when our children were young in the early 80s and experienced incredible success. Our gardening style has morphed through the years and we now combine SFG, companion planting, and organic practices. I also second the use of tall sunflowers and recommend planting them along the back row to the west so they can shade more delicate plants from the harsh afternoon summer sun. After the season ends, you can dry the flowers and hang them outside a window as bird feeders in the winter!

  • Dom, I like to check the Boston area blogs on and was happy to discover yours this morning. Your post starts so well, I had to stay and read it. Now, I will have to come back and see how your garden grows. We participate in the nearby community farm but will tinker with a few plants at home too. Hopefully, the deer won’t come and eat our veggies! Looking forward to the next post!

  • You mean you can’t just plant the seeds directly in the ground?  This sounds harder than I thought.  grin

  • I’m concerned that your drawing might not be to scale.  According to my calculations, your tomatoes may end up being 4 feet in circumference

  • Dom, You may be interested in a seed catalog, “Seeds from Italy.” E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or web:  Happy Growing!