Forgive my long absence – – perhaps once I unveil what I’ve been up to, you’ll understand why I haven’t been writing…
3 weeks ago, I left the townhome behind and moved back to the home I grew up in. Which also has acreage…and a place to have a real garden…without containers…
(Drum roll please….) Ta- Da!
April – 2011
First, the confessions list: No, I did not double dig this entire area by hand – – I’m not that much of a man yet (nor, will I probably ever be). A long-time neighbor was kind enough to bring over his garden tractor and ease the load on my poor ole outta shape body. I also didn’t square the spot, nor did I use a plumb line, square or any other utensil known to man since the Great Pyramid was built – – more on that later.
And, no, I do not know if sloping the beds towards the south without definitive sloping grades/angles is going to work – – but I’m going to try it anyways…
Yes, perhaps it’s an awful big garden to start out with and maybe I won’t like turnips in the same quantity as I’m planting, but they are a good companion plant and the neighbor’s hogs are surely going to like mine better than the little packaged pellets from the factory….so I don’t foresee any waste, even if everything I plant does come up and flourish…
And last, but not least, I am not running an entire line of drip emitters, nor am I investing in soaker hose that will need to be replaced in a few years – I’m using 1/2″ drip line to feed 2 micro sprays at the top of each bed and hope the water runs downhill – at an average of 31 gallons of water per bed, per week, that’s coming from a well. (which is 1/2 the amount every book and website chart says I’ll need for the season – – this is my little note of faith to Mother Nature that she’ll do her part.)
Now that I’ve addressed the objections, concerns and kindly commentary voiced by master gardeners, competent engineers, detail-minded landscape artists and conservation savvy folks, I’ll share what I’ve learned during the gardening season so far, which may or may not be on your research list.
#1 – At some point, you have to quit researching and start doing
As you probably already know, I’ve been reading about gardening and dreaming about a garden for nearly six years now. Each time the circumstances of where I lived and how much time/money/energy I had changed, I would get another book and research some more – to date, my bookshelves hold 17 books on the subject – – the ones I thought informative enough for me to purchase.
I’ve read about container, lasagna, square foot and raised bed gardening. I’ve learned about the four-season harvest, mini-greenhouses, water harvesting and discovered how the terraces at Machu Picchu were built to conserve water and keep the mountain from sliding away.
Insects don’t like Rue and neither does Basil. I also know that I want to try and see if Woodruff really does keep rabbits, antelope and deer out of my garden, even though everyone who has actually been gardening while I’ve been reading about it tells me it won’t…
I have not lost my stubborn streak…
#2 – Collaborating and sharing helps humans grow
We have wonderful neighbors who purchased a portion of my parent’s place years ago. I will refer to them as my brother and sister, as they have always kept an eye on my mom when I and my real brother were too far away to do so. Henceforth they will be known as Brother Imhotep (after the Egyptian architect and engineer) and Sister Order (because her eye for detail surpasses mine and pleases Mom!).
Imhotep and Order came over the first Sunday I was here to join in on planning the garden, as they would like to have one too, and Order was feeling somewhat out of her comfort zone. I offered to share any of our bounty with them, in exchange for help if I find I’ve bit off more than I can chew. (Oh, I do so hope that’s what I find come August.)
After going through the list of all possible foods to grow, to see if they wished to add to the garden what I had left out, and explaining the thousand-and-one reasons why I was doing the garden area the way I was, Order turned glazed eyes to me and said, “I would have just done it the way my mom did – plant some rows, weed and hope something comes up.”
Mom’s memory of what Order said is as follows: “Why can’t we just plant in rows the way my mom did?”
Memory – it’s a funny thing…
And I have been known to over-inundate folks with too much information, too soon, at times….
Imhotep spent time helping me to measure and square the plot (yes, I know the tape measure says it’s square, but it looks crooked to my eye…). He also brainstormed with me on several options for providing hail protection. In the end, not much was accomplished, other than a few beers had and lots of new ideas to contemplate.
But it was a start.
#3 – Sometimes your best intentions remind others of less pleasant experiences
The next week, Mr. Has a Garden Tractor came over and plowed up the area I had marked by secretly moving the square corner markers Imhotep had placed, so as to be better in line with how the grass was growing at the edge of the lane. (Please, please, don’t tell Imhotep. He’ll know it the first time he sees it, but I hope to have enough fresh bread made for him by then that he’ll forgive me…)
You must know that Mr. Tractor has run a nursery for 20 years or more. A successful one. And is a farmer at heart, even when he may be off doing something else. He has successfully accomplished what I hope too and is a wealth of information. I learned that day he has also been the target of criticism from overly-zealous conservationist-back-to-the-land folks, because he dared to irrigate using, gasp, ground (well) water. The fact that he produced way more using way less water than any other nursery in Colorado (to his knowledge) is beside the point, in their eyes.
I now understand why he used to get quiet when I was talking about what I wanted to ‘try’ and why I wanted to. Perhaps he thought I was one of “them”.
#4 – No one is an island
I also placed a call to our wheat growing neighbors – who keep my buckets of potential bread full each harvest and who informed me, two years ago, that if any of the cereal rye I was going to plant as a companion blew over to their fields, I could plan on coming over to help them pull them out (apparently, it took them many years to get rid of the rye in their fields). During the call, I happily informed them I had decided on comfrey and sunflowers to do the job I had planned on rye doing, in deference to their concerns. I also asked if the millet and amaranth I was planning on growing would cause any problems.
I’m sure I give everyone a good laugh – but hey, I’m trying to be a good neighbor.
#5 – There is always something else you can add/improve
A call to Sod and Hay farmer brother netted me an exact phrase to type into Google which lead me to a crash course in drip irrigation planning.
The discovery of a near neighbor who has chickens meant another round of planning/researching to find out what I could grow for them in trade for eggs and chicken/straw composting materials (just until I’m growing my own composting materials….)
See? My little efficiency expert heart just can’t stop reading and researching. I said I was done thinking about it and ready to start DOING! Each time I found myself placing a call, internet searching, etc., a small voice in the back of my head reminded me, “Hey, aren’t we just about ready to jump in and try?” And I would quietly get irritated with myself, but plow through the page of information in front of my eyes, anyways.
Then the grace from above was bestowed…
#6 – Grace finds you if you stand still long enough
I was in the plowed garden, shaping my beds while the soil was easy to work and mentally stressing because moisture was in the forecast and Mr. Tractor said it would be harder to work after it got wet. I felt my self slipping into the old habit of “I’ll work hard now to get it done, then I’ll rest.”
Historically, though, I never rest until I’ve made myself sick.
My decision to move home also included a vow to create a new life of peace – one I didn’t need a vacation from . The realization of the inner conflict created by what I say I’m going to do, and what years of habit means I actually do reminded me of the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
I had brought my old self into my new life…
I made myself stop raking like there was no tomorrow and instead closed my eyes and listened. The birds were chirping and I sensed the breeze blowing across my arms.
I opened my eyes and saw a cloud in the shape of the dog I hope is finding his/her way home to our family. (We do need help with rabbit control….and perhaps, somewhere Mr/Ms. God-Dog is searching for a place where they can be themselves too).
I brought my attention back to my somewhat crooked path and uneven sloped beds. My eyes gazed at the 5′ and 2 1/2′ markers I had made in my attempt to make my beds and paths straight. I realized once the ground cover was started and green things were growing everywhere, the fact things were not square would be gently and beautifully obscured by Mother Nature’s generous bounty.
I remembered why I was doing all this – in part to have the pleasure of good nutrition outside my doorstep without spending the barrels of oil to fertilize, grow, ship, process and store the food I eat. Or at least part of the food I eat. (Got to start somewhere and some is better than none.)
But most of all, my dream garden is supposed to be my haven. It’s supposed to be the place I quietly wait for Mother Nature and all her minions to brush away my tears of frustration and stress caused by parts of a daily routine I haven’t quite learned how to let go of – – you know the routine of which I speak – “Achieve, Accomplish, Get Ahead, Serve and Do, Do, Do”, with the unspoken price tag of, “No matter what it does to your body or soul.”
#7 – Your projects should reflect who you are – not define you
My haven should probably be a bit like me, if I’m to feel at home there.
That means being full of things that like the climate/soil they grow in – that can gently go about being themselves without struggling to survive and who are tough enough to hold on one more day when life isn’t going along perfectly. It will do it’s best not to interfere with the neighbors’ pursuit of happiness. Meandering around, getting to the point some time and on it’s own schedule while trying to remember there are others who take time much more seriously than we do will most likely be a defining feature. Straight stepping stones offset on the diagonal, with cushy creeping thyme in between will make the crooked paths beautiful and also gently accommodate feet attached to those who have had a few too many beers or going through a clumsy stage.
Flowers, herbs and vegetables will be themselves and beckon to those in search of haven, “Come sit, rest and revive for awhile. Take a load off. Talk if you want, or be quiet. What do you need today?”
Most of all, I want Mother Nature to look down and say, “Ahhhh….that’s pretty close to how I would have done it. Here, let me help.”
And hopefully, I haven’t gone so completely against her plans that she views my spot as the banishment place for bindweed and mosquitoes. (I’m sure they both have their purposes – – I just haven’t figured out what those purposes are yet…)
#8 – Questions are always answered
I’ve also remembered these past few weeks to lighten up. For example, instead of getting out the tape measure and compass (or whatever tools are used to correctly measure slope and grade) I instead took time early one morning to look at the frost patterns on my raised beds. Mother Nature politely put heavy frost on the portions of my garden that are too low or mounded too thick. A few deep breaths of morning air, a look over of the beds and I knew exactly where to adjust dirt levels. (Where is a small boy with a Tonka dumptruck when you need him?)
That morning exercise was much more enjoyable than messing around with tools I do not how to use and pestering people for formulas I probably learned in 8th grade geometry but have successfully blocked out of my mind.
#9 – The ‘means’ should be as enjoyable and beneficial as the ‘ends’
For myself, I want a life that has the thrill of accomplishment and overcoming challenges, without the heart-breaking experience of struggle. I want to enjoy the process as much or more than the end result. I’ve vowed not to turn my garden project into the same nightmare I’ve turned every project I’ve done for the past 25 years – – hurry, struggle, push myself way past my limits, in order to hurry up and ‘git ‘er done.’
I’ve backslid some – but for the most part, I feel on track. I also know my combining of numerous ideas may result in me sitting in the middle of my garden in August, crying to the wind, “But why? I planned it so well?”
Thus, 2011 also becomes a year of experimentation.
But this time, I’ve vowed to enjoy the experiment as much as the results.
P.S. Imhotep showed up with a truckload of compost in between me writing the blog and actually posting it – – He noticed the garden wasn’t square – – he assured me lots of home made bread will cure his angst…. Thank God for understanding neighbors…