Turning a Black Thumb into a Green Thumb!

I'm under a lot of pressure, friends. When you're future mother in law is a Master Gardener of the Chicago Botanic Garden, I better know to keep a plant alive! Growing up, my parents had home vegetable garden for years and it was a lot of fun getting up in early on summer mornings to help water the plants, check on them in the late afternoons and then harvesting vegetables to create something delicious in the kitchen. I miss those times and in an effort to provide those same experiences to Joel, I partnered up with Burpee Home Gardens to help turn my black thumb into a green thumb. 

I have a slight advantage in that Patrick's mom is a master gardener, so she has been extremely helpful in helping me learn all about the joys of gardening. One spring day, we resurrected a neglected corner of our backyard and turned it into a mini vegetable and herb garden. We planted 3 varieties of tomato plants with cages, 3 varieties of peppers and 3 potted herbs. I have to admit that my future mother and father in law did a lot of the work to set me up with a garden to maintain... but that was the easy part! The hard part, at least for me, is to be able to maintain the garden and hopefully have the plants thrive!

All the plants were provided by Burpee, a garden company that specializes in specialty seeds and gardening accessories. I was pretty intimidated at first with the idea of growing a vegetable garden, but even if you don't have a master gardener available, the Burpee website is extremely helpful! Full of so much easy to understand gardening information from choosing your plants, how to plant, maintaining your garden and even resources like calendars and videos, you''l have everything you need and more to have a thriving garden in no time!

Did you know? The Burpee Seed Company was the first catalog in the world to offer yellow seed corn. Burpee also introduces new varieties in vegetables and really have made strides in the always evolving world of gardening innovations. Their seeds and plants are available for all growing zones and for all seasons. To help you decide on building your home garden, they also have a wonderful hard copy catalog full of the various seeds and plants they offer... and its's available online as well. Their website is truly a one stop shop for gardening techniques, resources and even recipes! With my new vegetable and herb garden now in place, stay tuned to some recipes and gardening tips & tricks in the coming months that I'll be sharing here.

So here are my tomato plants in cages. The cages are especially good for growing tomatoes as they help get better yields, save garden space and support the plants throughout their growth. I have three tomato plants growing (2 of the same kind) and I'm looking forward to quite a few recipes I can make using them...

Fresh Salsa Hybrid - this tomato is great fresh in salads and salsa recipes. Plum shaped and "dripless," these tomatoes are all meat and perfect for bruschetta and light sauces.

SuperSauce Hybrid- this tomato is extremely versatile as a salad tomato and great for sauces. It has a distinctive quality in that its large segments of fruits often make perfect slices for burgers and sandwiches too.

I also have three pepper plants and already, I have an itty bitty jalapeno pepper forming! These are going to be a great compliment to the tomatoes. I can already think of some Mexican and Italian recipe ideas using them both...

Bananarama - Patrick is a fan of banana peppers so he's going to love this. This variety produces bigger, meatier peppers on much smaller plants. They start off as yellow and mature orange-red, so we can pick them at any stage we like. They'll be great for pickles, salads or even grilling.

Jalapeno Gigante - As one of the largest jalapenos, these peppers measure as long as 5 inches! This plant produces delicious peppers that are perfect for salsa or stuffing as poppers. Easy to grow in any sunny garden or large patio pot, these peppers can be harvested throughout the summer when they're green or red.

Candy Apple Sweet Pepper - this pepper produces blocky sweet bell peppers that are perfect for eating fresh, stuffed or to use in soups and chilis. I'm looking forward to these peppers to grow since they are so sweet and flavor-filled at both green and red stages!

And lastly, I have 3 potted herbs along side our corner garden. I'll eventually place them in larger pots to grow on our back deck for easy access from the kitchen. But for now, they're keeping our tomatoes and peppers company. I'm thinking of even adding some basil, mint, and thyme to my potted herb mix since we love using them in recipes often during the summer months.

Herb Greek Oregano - This versatile culinary herb is widely used in the dried form in Italian dishes, tomato sauce, pizza, fish and salad dressing. Oregano requires little maintenance and makes an excellent edging plant or ground covering, even in dry garden spots.

Fernleaf Dill - This is probably the perfect patio container dill! Unlike tall,er "floppy" varieties, these dwarf, compact plants do not need staking and won't toppleover. Add in later flowering and lash dark green leaves, and you've got plants that look great all season long.

Sage - Safe is one of the best garden herbs because when protected, it will grow into a sturdy perennial shrub in most climates. The leaves are best when harvested before or just after blooming. Use fresh or dried with poultry, sausages, meats and vegetables.

So here's to our first month nurturing a home vegetable/herb garden! I'll be using the tomatoes, peppers and herbs harvested in upcoming recipes so be sure to check back! We'll continue to provide a monthly update on how our garden is growing and I hope to share some new tips and tricks as a newbie gardener. If you have a vegetable/herb garden, please feel free to share your experience in the comments! And if you've been inspired to start a vegetable/herb garden yourself, check out Burpee for some great ideas, resources and use it as a one stop shop for all your gardening needs!

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