Bolstered by the exuberant breeze, I ventured into the overgrown, ill-conceived Garden of Shame yesterday. And while I was furiously pulling 3ft-tall weeds, I came upon these shining beacons of vegetable hope. Beautiful green beans. I squealed and hollered for Isadora to come and see that the myth of planting seeds in the soil to grow your own vegetables may not be a myth after all. “We grew these beans!” I repeated to her as we picked and hours later as we ate them with our supper. They were everything that home-grown, heirloom vegetables were supposed to be – bursting with freshness and flavor and, we trust, nutrients. And we all were in awe. Given the general state of the garden, that is. They were some kind of vegetable miracle.
Yeah, I haven’t talked much about the garden yet, mostly because I’ve been spending all my time in the corner, whimpering and licking my wounds. In short, it’s been a debacle. Normally one of our favorite words – it hints of something worse than a disaster with an added element of folly. Yes. That about sums it up.
I started the growing season all starry-eyed and ambitious and completely ignorant. Hours and hours and hours and hours were spent reading, discussing, thinking, planning all things garden. Because, while I’d certainly grown things before, I’d never really ventured so far into the edible garden scene. Especially on this scale.
Phrases like that should be a dead-giveaway as to one of the reasons for the lack of success. We started way too big. Even as I was forced to reprint blank pages of the seed order form to complete my order, I noticed faint warning bells ringing in the distance. The methodology seemed sound, however. Our goal was to forgo joining a CSA this year and try to raise all of our own vegetables. Oh, we’d cut our grocery bill in half or more, we guessed, since the bulk of our shopping cart was filled with organic, often locally-grown veggies. So the question of what to plant became the answer to a more important question: “What do we want to eat?” Because we’re rather adventurous eaters, so you can see how this swiftly got out of hand.
The seedlings were paltry and disadvantaged. It was my first year starting seeds indoors. I now know that they would have liked some supplemental heat and probably more light as well. I determined this when trying to understand why my seedlings were only 2 inches tall, compared to others’ 12″ or taller specimens. I also remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the abundance of seeds in each packet, and didn’t consider that I didn’t have to plant each one. They may have been a bit crowded in there.
We were greatly delayed in planting. Our planting season in this region was greatly altered by the delayed spring and then the massive rains and flooding. Our garden was not the only one that was planted late, but our biggest hold-up was trying to crack the code of drip irrigation. I knew full well that I’d not be watering 3 gardens manually, I knew that this lack of watering had been the downfall of previous (child-size) gardens, and it was also the method highly recommended by the gardening book I had selected as my bible. Weeks went by while I tried to decipher the foreign language of the irrigation world enough to build a small-scale system appropriate for our garden. And it does seem to be a great system: a series of hoses channel the water to each row, where a line of small tubing allows drips to emit directly into the soil. All of this is connected to a timer, which I’ve programmed to my delight. By dripping the water slowly into the mulch, there’s little evaporation (waste) and the water is directed to the very place it’s needed: the roots.
Each of these setbacks, I think, could have been overcome or at least minimized in their impact, had I not continue to err.
Perhaps my greatest mistake was this: planting the seeds and seedlings into a mulch, rather than directly into the soil, surrounded by mulch. I had access to an All-You-Can-Eat buffet of composted horse manure, which we hauled in by the trailerload. It seemed like the perfect medium to plant in, being so rich in nutrients and able to hold some moisture. It also was a solution to the problem of dealing with a garden that had been growing wild with weeds for 2+ months while I had tinkered about solving the puzzle of irrigation. Applying the principles of Weedless Gardening with a smug confidence of a star student, I chose to layer cardboard, then compost over the crazy-tall weeds and smother them. Despite my initial misgivings about the garden project, I felt like I had it pretty well figured out now.
Except that nothing was growing. Nothing. At all. The tomato seedlings remained just that, stunted seedlings frozen in time. All 6 or 8 or 10 varieties remained the same, exact puny size for weeks, until many gave in to the pressure and expired. Maybe they’re too small to be put out, we had thought, so I replanted where needed and painstakingly covered each with a rather ingenious make-do version of a cloche to insulate them: a quart Mason jar propped up to allow for ventilation. Still nothing. Or nothing much. Yesterday’s investigation uncovered some plants that were almost greenhouse-starter-seedling-size. But no blossoms yet. (all respectable tomato plants in this area are bearing fruit that’s ready to pick or moments away from it) Perhaps if we experience a super-double-extended-bonus Indian Summer I may see some tomatoes from these plants. Don’t know – that’s way beyond my Rookie expertise.
This point is where it all fell apart, all pie-eyed morale was lost. The tomatoes were to be the showcase of the garden. There had been visions of canning them, drying them, eating them for months in the cold, dark winter. No more. From this point on, I avoided the garden like the plague. Some of this avoidance was deliberate: it was hot and I don’t do well in the sun (being nearly albino), the mosquitoes were horrible, I can’t even get to it through the tangle of waist-high grass surrounding it…. But in fact, much of the avoidance was unintentional. I had very little time to actually give it. There was the Chicken Drama, which continues yet, with different chapters and a rotating cast of main characters, yanking our attention away from anything else we may be trying to accomplish. There’s the ever-changing Important Family Event that requires our presence, wonderful catch-up-with-the-family time, but inevitably returns us home feeling like we’ve been flung off a g-force merry-go-round into the disaster zone that we left behind. And quite frankly, we’re completely overwhelmed by the amount of work that comes with a house and property of this size and haven’t quite figured out how to balance that with the other demands of our time that we brought with us, not to mention the drastically-increased commute to work and town.
The moral of this particular story, as I see it:
We’ve come to realize that no transition, especially one as dramatic as ours, is without the growing pains of traveling up the often steep Learning Curve. I find that I rarely come across this harsh reality when I travel through the pages of others’ “Back to the Land” accounts. (my favorite genre) From the start, I’ve intended for this blog to capture our particular journey with a little less glitter and gloss and tidy outcomes that seem to be the normal fare of this kind of story. By poking fun of ourselves and even highlighting our occasional follies, I hope to present us as Real People who have great, big intentions, but haven’t quite got it all figured out yet. We’re accomplishing things, lots of them, but not so perfectly on the first go.
So we have green beans. Despite our best (unintentional) efforts to thwart growth of any kind in the garden, the beans have persisted and grown into something marvelous. There’s also Dill, with the Volunteer Dill being much more vigorous than the measly dill seedlings I planted. There also appear to be carrots and maybe even parsnips. And lima beans and basil and calendula and hopefully some red onions, if the critters living there don’t eat them all up. Maybe, just maybe, if I can carve out some time out to de-forest the lettuce garden, I may find that the collards and kale are hanging in there, too. We’ve already harvested over 10 bunches of nettles; we’ve got apples and pears and plums filling up the orchard with the promise of homegrown fruit… All’s not lost after all.
But as it stands now, these are the most expensive beans in the world.