Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mary, Mary quite contrary...

How does your garden grow? I've been giving a lot of thought to this question lately. Well, not about Mary’s garden but my own.

With the farm asleep under a thick blanket of snow, the holiday season behind us and spring ahead of us, we've fallen into a comfortable routine of farm chores: ploughing snow, taking care of animals (poop, scoop, repeat) and tending to the wood furnace.

Since we've found ourselves in something of a mid-winter lull (or is it the eye of the storm perhaps? I’m not sure) I thought it was a good time to start putting plans together for spring.

And I've got to admit – it’s got me feeling a bit overwhelmed (though spending too much time in the planning stage has never served me very well. Let's just say I could be the poster child for the the expression, "Get out of your head and into your life.")

For anyone who’s been reading since the beginning, yes, it doesn't take much for me to get feeling overwhelmed. And for those of you thinking to yourself, “For goodness sake’s girl, stop worrying so much and go plant yourself a tomato,” you’re probably right.

But here’s the thing. While I've always loved poking around in the dirt, our backyard at our house in the burbs was all shade. Any vegetables I started from seed (some tomatoes and herbs, I think a bean plant or two) were stuck in pots and shuffled around to chase the meagre rays of dappled sunlight.

While it’s possible to cultivate amazing container gardens, my veggies never did very well (my shade garden was quite lovely though, filled with hostas and bleeding hearts, impatiens, hydrangeas and bee balm.)

At the farm, the sky is truly the limit and I’m faced with loads of decisions and choices – heirloom seeds versus hybrids, early, mid or late season varieties (or all three), what veggies should I plant with which flowers, how should I configure my beds and when will I ever find the time to figure out a drip irrigation system fed by rain barrels?

You might argue, that’s just logistics. And technically, it is. But that’s not so apparent once you’ve made cultivating a garden much more significant that just poking around in the dirt and growing for the sheer pleasure of it.

With all this talk of climate change, peak oil, long food miles, tainted produce and food recalls, factory farming, GMOs, not to mention the words “global economic downturn,” I’ve decided that becoming more self-reliant isn’t simply a lifestyle choice – it’s a necessity.

Now do you see where the “overwhelmed” part comes in?

I'm looking to make the “right” decisions and "optimize my prospects for success". (Remember, recovering type-A personality here.) And yet with each gardening book, magazine and seed catalogue I read, I find myself getting worked up into a bigger and bigger tizzy.

Then just this morning, I read this passage in the book, “Crockett’s Victory Garden”:

“There is no mystery about gardening, just the wondrous fact that seed time and harvest occur each year, generation after generation, wherever the soil is tilled.

If gardeners do their part, they can confidently expect the miracle to continue as it has through all time.”

What a lovely, simple message: it’s about gardeners doing their part.

What I like about this passage is that it appeals to the activist in me -- do your part for the cause (think Victory Gardens from the war years) -- but it’s also about just doing your part in the garden. Show up, start small, revell in the successes and learn, graciously, from the mistakes.

That's what I got out of it, at least.

Now if you'll excuse me, I’m off to go find a seed catalogue and write me a veggie wish list for this year’s garden. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it, all in the name of doing one's part.

In the meantime, if anyone would like to share their experiences with their first veggie garden, I'd love to hear all about it!


Heidi said...

I know exactly what you mean, we started our homestead last spring and bought seed last minute from anywhere we could get it. This year we are trying to plan it properly and it is very overwhelming. There is so much to think about. We don't use anything 'un-natural' in our garden, so have spent a lot of time looking into companion planting - it takes a lot of planning to make sure the right veg are neighbours!

Fiona said...

Thanks for sharing this, Heidi! It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who finds this overwhelming at times. Wouldn't want things any other way, but still... :)

Thistledog said...

I have shared the very same feelings about my plantings every year... thank goodness for my first few gardens I was limited to one small raised bed and a dozen large containers, or I would have truly been in way over my head. Seed catalogues make you want to have a little of everything! With a family to plan to feed and plenty of room for a garden footprint, you will find every minute of planning now will pay off in spades as the summer progresses... Do try to spend some time with a sketchpad, though - just some rough drawings showing row length and number will do - map it out at least somewhat with names of which veggies where, so you can set it aside and think about it, come back to it every few days to ponder. Remember you'll have early crops, which can be followed by later crops, even at your latitude, to make best use of space. Having a crude drawing will come in handy in future gardening seasons as you will want to rotate types of crops, to prevent diseases, and it's hard to remember when everything's harvested and the ground's covered with snow. A couple of good rules of thumb: plant taller things in the back, and not too much of anything, or you'll be overwhelmed come harvest time. If you plan your planting dates well and pay attention to maturity dates, you can lessen the flood of produce all at once, staggering not only harvest but all the maintenance leading up to it. I know that can sound complicated but it's almost fun once you start drawing your sketches, including planting dates and estimated harvest dates; it's almost like working a jigsaw puzzle but it's FOOD which is so much fun! As for companion planting I have a dog-eared copy of "Carrots Love Tomatoes" that I refer to again and again - makes the whole which-goes-with-what question quite easy.

Looking forward to reading about your garden as the seasons move along!

Fiona said...

Wow, Thistledog -- thanks so much for your comment and for sharing those tips. It gives me a good place to start (I'm all about the "to do.") I'll be sure to share this process in my blog.
I just took a quick peek at your blog and I'm looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and reading all about your farm. Cheers!

farmgirlwannabe said...


Are you at all interested in square foot gardening? I have been square foot gardening for over 10 years now - I found it takes a lot less work in the long run do to this, allows you to get more than one crop a season out of a plot, lets you grow vertically and horizontally, improves your soil structure and fertility, reduces disease.

I can send you sources, links and information if you're interested


Fiona said...

Hi Farmgirl, It's funny because square foot gardening is another method that I've considered. It sounds to be very efficient and productive and I like that it's not too, too labour intensive. I guess I'm just trying to figure out what works "best" -- ah yes, that elusive "best"! Come to think of it, my kids are very interested in growing their own veg this year, so maybe I'll set them up with a square foot garden which I'll "help" manage AND see how I like it. If you could send me info, I'd appreciate it! BTW, you're inspiring me to start organizing sources/info etc that I've accumulated over the years :)

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