I set out this spring, armed with a few books, a few friends and some serious optimism, to try something new. Sure, I’ve gardened before, but meagerly, and with very limited scope. There was a time in my life when I’m pretty sure I killed a cactus. That takes genuine skill.
I do not have a green thumb.
I do have curiosity and a love for good food. And I have kids who are good sports!
Here’s the first idea you need to throw away if you want to grow things: You’re born with it. Contrary to popular belief, gardening is not a genetic trait or an inborn natural ability, any more than cooking is or playing piano is. I realize there are a few virtuosos who play transcendent music at age five, and there are people who can pick up foreign languages just by hearing them. But for most of us, mastery is achieved through practice. Through work and study. The inborn thing is not the skill, but the creativity or the logic or the vision behind it.
I make this distinction because I don’t want you to look at any success I may have here on the farm and think it is not something you could do, because you killed a cactus once. You absolutely can do this.
BUT: It is hard work.
There is so much untethered knowledge in my head right now, struggling to find application out in the real world, that sometimes I just stare at all the work that needs doing and pick tomatoes instead. I know what I should do, but I don’t yet know how. Or I do know how, but there is something more important that must be done today, and so this thing I finally know how to do doesn’t get done.
And I have to be okay with that imperfection. I’m not sure I would enjoy gardening at all if I hadn’t made peace with getting things wrong.
Which leads to the second idea you should throw away: Your garden will be perfect if you do everything right.
It won’t, because what is right for your garden might change season to season. Weather changes. Diseases and pests change. You change.
My garden has weeds in it, but I don’t really notice them any more unless they are directly hindering one of the cultivated plants. Some of them I even encourage because they add nitrogen to the soil or give insects something to eat other than my okra. Because I have come to see their value, my garden doesn’t appear weedy and overgrown to me, like it might have a few years ago. It is vibrant and alive.
It’s like when you meet someone new and they seem rather ordinary at first. But then you get to know their humor and their kindness, and you catch the sparkle in their eyes when they smile. Suddenly you realize how incredibly lovely they are and you wonder how you could’ve ever thought them ordinary in the first place.
When you value something, you see it differently. But in order to value it, you have to begin to know it better. (Or maybe it’s the other way around?)
My point is that you will change, as surely as your garden will. You will learn stuff from other people and from your own experience, and every little bit of added knowledge will increase not only your success but also your enjoyment of it.
Here are a few mistakes I am learning from this year:
-I’ve got lots of bugs. Some good, some fairly neutral and some BAD (i.e. Squash vine borers!) I’ve got a game plan to address those awful creatures next year, but for this year I’m too little, too late. Picking them all off would be like putting out a fire with that one left-over sip that’s always at the bottom of my water bottle. I hope they enjoy themselves while they have the chance! (Insert evil laugh here.)
-Don’t plant corn on a hugel bed. They don’t like it.
-I need to set up a better irrigation system. The carry-water-everywhere-in-buckets system is getting old. We are currently working on building a woodshed (lean-to style) across the back fence, with a slanted roof that will hopefully collect rainwater for us effectively. We’ve even got the 250 gallon water tote ready. Now, how to get that water to the plants under low-pressure conditions and without the aid of gravity? That is the question.
And lots of things are working:
-Most of the plants (that are not being attacked by squash bugs) are thriving.
-I love the spring/summer/fall layered planting. I love that at the end I was throwing out random seeds just to get stuff in the ground and now I have verdant surprises everywhere. I love how well the herbs and pollinators are thriving tucked in among companion plants, working to keep weeds at bay. The straw scattered around the plants keeps the soil covered and helps retain moisture.
-Additionally, the layer of cardboard we laid down over the chopped vegetation in the raised bed before topping with compost has done an amazing job of preventing weeds! Poking a hole through the cardboard and planting directly in the soil worked well. Lots of worm action going on! I look forward to repeating this technique with a cover crop this fall.
-We put in the little fish pond, with water hyacinths from Elizebeth and goldfish from the pet store and the county fair… The delight factor is high! You can’t beat coffee and Psalms with this view.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children.” -Psalm 103:11-17
The amount of things I don’t know can be overwhelming sometimes, but I can delight in the unfolding adventure of learning more, weeds included.