Saturday, July 4, 2009

With a little help from my (four legged) friends

For a long time, I've dreamed about having a vegetable garden. It would be functional and beautiful, filled with butterflies and bees, flowers and herbs and quaint homemade twig trellises, mulched paths and little touches of whimsy. Sigh.

When we moved here last July, what I got was a once-loved but most-recently-neglected patch of five-foot tall pigweed.

By the time we'd settled in and I got a chance to work in the garden, all the weeds had gone to seed. I was able to salvage a few tomatoes and of course some pumpkins but the garden was pretty much a write-off for the year. I hand-pulled as many weeds as I could and hoped for a cold winter that would kill off whatever was left.

By the first snowfall, I tried to put the whole mess behind me and focus on getting a fresh start in the spring. Or that was the plan.

We got off to a reasonable start. I put away my no-till thinking (for this year, at least) and in May, we rented a tiller and ploughed over last year's patch.

Unfortunately, I got busy with work and at least a week passed before I was able to get back into the garden. In that short time, deep-rooted grass with a crazy underground network of rhizomes began popping up everywhere. First the odd blade or two, then a few days later, those lone blades morphed into tufts. Then the baby pigweed started appearing again.

While Lucas drilled holes and built a beautiful split rail fence to help keep the deer (and dog) out, I started hoeing and hand pulling weeds again.

Ella looking down one of the newly augered post holes.

No matter how fast I worked, I just couldn't seem to get ahead.

So, in early June, I shelved "The Dream", got practical and downsized. And now, my garden measures only 28 feet wide by 16 feet deep -- about one-quarter of the entire patch (though still sizable, I know.)

I delineated that area with old two-by-fours and managed to clear enough to plant this year's garden: 24 heirloom tomato plants (not one variety is the same - more on this later), two zucchini plants (hopefully, one green and one yellow), one cuke, several green bean plants, a watermelon, five strawberry plants, one pepper plant, some basil, and two rows of carrots and multi-coloured beets. Plus some sad looking nasturtiums and a row of mammoth sunflowers. Oh, and a pumpkin plant that emerged from the compost pile.

Not a touch of whimsy to be seen anywhere.

Some of those plantings were ones that I grew -- more were not, as many of my seedlings bonked this year. It was not what I envisioned by any means. But strangely enough, by letting go of my expectations of perfect self-sufficiency, I've started just enjoying whatever happens in that little space.

Case in point: I planted my carrot seeds late this year just before we had a long stretch of hot, dry weather that prevented the seeds from germinating, or so I thought. Then just yesterday, after four days of rain, I discovered tiny one-inch tall carrot plants. I'm not sure if they'll mature in time before frost hits, but I think I'm actually okay with that, because when you don't expect anything to happen, whatever does happen becomes that much more wonderful.

But unfortunately, my carrots weren't the only plants to benefit from the rain: those baby pigweed plants are now adolescents. I was determined to pull them and the other broadleaved weeds before they went to seed. But I needed some help with the tall grass. I thought about taking the weed wacker to it, but as handy as the machine is, it's noisy and awkward.

So I put some electric tape around the perimeter of the veggie patch (it wasn't live, but who's to know?) and invited some four-legged friends to an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch.

Gallagher helped himself to the grass while keeping an eye on the other two yahoos.

Cinder found the compost pile delicious.

And oh, so exhausting.

Lee, unfortunately, decided that this tree was to his liking.

Cheeky bugger.

Even Chris the barn cat strolled by for a visit.

So they munched while I weeded. And again, it wasn't how I expected I'd be tending my long anticipated garden. But it was a perfectly lovely way to spend the day just the same. And for now, that's good enough for me.

P.S. Um, yeah. If you're wondering about the last three months -- let's just say I had something of a crappy spring. I was juggling work, farm chores and kids and felt like I was failing at all three. After a long winter, I had so many expectations of what we'd get done in the spring -- and none of it happened. No matter what we did, our to-do list kept getting longer, our bank accounts kept getting emptier and I became exhausted and overwhelmed.
And as more things didn't happen - or at least, not like I expected - the less I wanted to write about yet another thing gone "wrong." And so I stopped writing.

But once I started letting go of those expectations, it opened up the possibility of things happening, just differently. I'm still very type A and this whole "simple living" thing is anything but simple, but making myself (and everyone around me) crazy because I want everything fixed and perfect and done right now is creating way too much negative energy and unhappiness. And for what purpose?

So I'm trying to go with the flow a bit more while reminding myself that gardening or animal husbandry or even living simply can take years to learn. And no matter how many books I read or how hard I try, it's the life experience that will make the biggest difference -- to me and everyone who shares that life with me.


Maggie said...

I'm so glad the Rowangarth Farm blog is alive again :) I've missed all the stories, the awesome pictures, and most of all, the sincerity and glorious honesty upon which it thrives. And that's a hell of a good-looking garden!!

Welcome back, or should I say forward? :)

Fiona said...

Thanks, Maggie :) It's good to be back.

Thistledog said...

Great post, Fiona. I've missed your updates but kept checking back every now and then to see if you'd emerged... it happens to all of us, at some time, being away and not able to get back.

The letting go, or easing up on, expectations is an ongoing course-of-life instruction for me too. Thanks for sharing that. Nothing wrong with planning for perfection, but being happy with the results that circumstances and resources allow despite all best efforts, is really important.

Your garden is perfect. And your lawnmowers are awesome!

Fiona said...

Thanks, Thistledog for hanging in there and for the kind words.

I'm sure your comment will serve as a wise reminder when I start getting all whirly-giggling again!

Heidi said...

I really feel for you, I have been in a similar place lately and am a newbie to the whole livestock & gardening thing, and anyone who thinks it is 'simple living' has never tried it!
Trying to step back from expectations and just appreciate what is, is so hard. I just try and focus on the fact that I know it is worthwhile and as I learn it has to get easier (doesnt it?)!
I am really glad that you are writing again though, I really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!!!! Missed you a lot!!! I too kept checking hoping you would pop up again and its wonderful that you have.

Whenever you feel like you're going to whirly-giggle ask yourself how do you want your children to remember you. (that's what I do when life gets too stressful and I get too caught up)

It then makes me want to sit down and give them big hugs and tons of kisses (which I do) and then go off and do something with them. So what if my walls have puppy chewed up corners that I haven't finished patching , so what if I still have some weeds in my pea patch - after having gone through melanoma (in my thirties) and a rare basal skin cancer (this year while in my forties) I have learned to ask myself how do you want people to remember you.

Health and family = those are the treasures.

So glad to have you back


Fiona said...

Thanks, Heidi! It's lovely to hear from someone who's in the same newbie boat with me :) If you're ever in these parts, we should have a nice chat over a large pot of tea! Thanks also for the kind words about the blog.

Fiona said...

Hey Farm Girl Wannabe, Great to hear from you!!! Thanks so much for sharing your insight and your advice. It's a really powerful reminder and I appreciate deeply. I'm sure my kids will too :)

Leo said...

Hey! You're Posting again! I'm glad I checked, I always enjoy reading about your farming endeavours. I can imagine child and animal wrangling would be more than enough work in a day, but your garden looks like it's coming along nicely too.
Great to see you back, glad you've found time to post. :)

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