Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gardening Like My Life Depended On It

Although I would like to be sustainable as much as it is reasonably possible, only recently did it occur to me that I'm really only gardening like a weekender. Not that it's bad to garden with such a mindset, but if your goal is to provide your family with food most of the year, then that kind of attitude won't cut it.

It's been a really cool spring and only this week has it warmed up enough to put in things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. I wasn't prepared earlier in the spring like I should have with ingredients to get my soil blockers made to hold seed starts. And I had no row covers to speak of for early planting protection from frost. Thus only potatoes got in the ground early on. Oh, and peas which the quail must have eaten as they sprouted. I managed to get some lettuce going a couple of weeks ago and it's doing nicely, but I should have had it in much sooner. It was certainly possible. Theoretically.

When I finally went to plant the bulk of my garden earlier this week, all my seedlings that I had started were in very sad shape. Despite grow lights, heat mats, and fish emulsion, they were looking scrawny and weak. And that was the good ones! The rest had succumbed to the trials of three attempts to harden them off in the cool temps, an occasional missed watering, and the trauma of being dropped by a helping child. Looking out over the garden as I stood there with a tray of frail plants, I was so discouraged I nearly gave up. And that's when it occurred to me....

I'm not gardening like my life depended on this food.

Before anyone comments, let me assure you that I clearly understand and believe that my life really depends on God, every second of every day. But if the grocery stores we empty tomorrow and my pantry was running low, would my have prepared while I had an opportunity by getting our garden in order? Not a chance.

Not everyone can raise all their own food, but one can do a good portion of it even living in a city. And maybe you don't want to raise all your own food. I'm just saying that I do, but I'm not even close to hitting the mark. I realized I need to assess the situation and ask...

What's holding me back?

After some time to evaluate the last couple of days, a few thoughts have become evident...

1. Not having clear goals for my garden. I don't have a good master plan although I worked on one this spring. My dream garden would be both beautiful and yet practical, but up to this point, I haven't felt like I could spend the money that's needed to make the garden the "Eden" I desire. So I've worked on the practical aspects only half heartedly or somewhat restrained because I don't like how it looks. 

Solution: Make a 5 year master plan where I can implement 1-2 major design elements and a couple of smaller ones each year to accomplish the goal of both a beautiful and practical garden. 

Photo Credit

2. Not having a clear plan for implementation. I've realized for a while that it's much easier to garden a little each day rather than a lot all at once. It's much easier on my body and my schedule. I've also figured out that I do better gardening when the temperature is to my liking. In the spring that means the middle of the day, but now that June is here, that means early in the morning or later in the evening. I didn't make that transition too well and must remember this next year. But along with that I've realized that for the most part, I need to know what I'm going to do when I go out there each time: what seeds will be planted that day, what section needs weeding, what plants need staking, etc.

Solution: Each week, plan out a 5-6 day list of things-to-do in the garden. Re-evaluate and add or change the list after each gardening session depending on what I see needs tending to immediately. And at the same time, make a note of the time that I should go out the next day. 

Photo Credit

3. Not having a willingness to spend the money needed to make this goal successful. My gardening goals have not only included being sustainable as possible, but frugal as well. The problem is, I don't always have what I need to really make it work well because I don't think I have the money to spend. It tends to keep me from being proactive against things like sudden frosts or adequate plant protection from sun, sturdy staking materials or proper pest control.

Solution: Set aside a reasonable amount of cash from each paycheck to make necessary purchases. I calculated what I spent on vegetables from local farmers each week, multiplied that times the number of weeks I usually purchase per year, then divided the amount by 12 to get an idea of what I was spending each month on produce when I wasn't growing it myself. Anything I spend on the garden below this amount saves me money. Knowing what this figure actually is gives me a clear picture of whether or not I'm really being frugal rather than just guessing in my mind and fretting over it. Some months I may need to spend more than others (investing in tools of the trade), but I can build a gardening budget based on this amount.

Photo Credit

4. Not thinking ahead about what will happen next in the garden. Something is always happening in a garden. Weather and insects being the two main factors, I'm often caught off guard about what will be going on in it two days from now because I'm just not thinking ahead. 

Solution: Keep a gardening journal faithfully! Make it a habit each time I come in from the garden to write something in the journal each time. Record the daily high/low temp, weather conditions, and any changes such as an insect infestation, etc.  Use this to remind me to think ahead and to have in order to read in the following years for reminders.

Photo Credit

5. Not thinking ahead to the next growing season. I think about this a lot in the winter, when I'm sitting around the woodstove, but not in the middle of June or July. Perhaps it's denial or wishful thinking that the warm weather will last forever, but I can't keep my head in the sand on this one. I have to start mentally and physically preparing for cold weather and how I'm going to garden through the seasons.

Solution: Once a week, set aside an hour to plan for the next season. Select appropriate seeds for the upcoming growing conditions, order proper protective items such as frost blankets or items for making a low tunnel, and find reasonable clothing for myself if necessary so I'll be ready to go out and face the cold weather! Spend a little time each month reading about gardening in seasons other than summer! (If you live in the south, you may actually need to learn how to garden in the hot summer!)

6. Not making gardening the priority it needs to be. I often find that other things are pressing in on me at the moment (the urgent) and rob me of my time in the garden. If I've decided that gardening is really that important, I need to treat it as such. Just like cooking meals from scratch is a priority, gardening should be, too, if my goal is to be sustainable.

Solution: Plan certain other events around my gardening. This might mean a vacation is postponed (vacation? What vacation?), a trip to the pool is rearranged to another time in the day, or the housework has to come second. Allow for extra time outside - more than I think I might need - so there's some room for the unexpected. 

If I were trying to make a living as a vegetable farmer, I'd treat this whole gardening thing differently, like my life depended upon it. Because for the most part my livelihood would depend on my efforts! Therefore, I'd have clear goals and a plan, both long term, short, and daily. I'd actually invest money in the tools of the trade that are needed to make it work. And I'd be thinking ahead proactively. The only thing left is to determine if I have the heart for it?


Of all the things I do around my homestead, gardening is the thing that brings me the most joy and is often the most relaxing. Who knew pulling weeds could be so therapeutic!


Related Posts with Thumbnails