Even though growing food is one of the most ancient human practices on the planet, it never seems to get old to us. Without fail there is always a new discovery, or challenge, waiting around the corner, especially when you begin to believe that you’ve mastered some aspect of the art.
For relatively new gardeners like us, this abnormally hot summer has made us feel particularly aware of our horticultural shortcomings. Many of the lessons we have learned through flops and failures of the past haven't helped us out-wit these new tribulations that seem to be cropping up (no pun intended) this year.
Record temperatures in spring and early summer resulted in the sweetest strawberries and raspberries, pea plants that were taller than we were, and beautiful hordes of lettuces. It also meant that all of our fresh crops were ready at the same time, and our usual plans to “cut and come again” were foiled. Feeling desperate when so many of our beds started turning up empty after we pulled out plants that went to seed, we began to purchase starts wherever we could find them, since we didn’t have the time or conditions necessary to begin more of our own summer crops from seed.
We rejiggered our growing calendar and layout to get crops into the ground that could withstand the heat, and those plants that did survive and sustain themselves have required what feels like excessive watering, or have been covered in Cabbage Whiteflies. Even our tomatoes, which we were sure would do well in the hotter, drier climate this year, have lost most of their flowers due to heat, or have battled for nutrients with tree roots that have covertly impeded upon their bed (a situation we weren’t aware of until too late and that we’ll have to rectify when we turn the bed over).
That said, we seemed to have made some headway and in conjunction with a break in the heat, our garden is exploding with produce right now. Currently, we have no need to purchase any produce whatsoever, with kale, chard, beets, carrots, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, green and shelling beans, rhubarb, as well as many cooking and medicinal herbs readily available just outside our front and back doors. We feel truly wealthy in the variety and quality of food available to us, and very lucky to have the water, soil, and seeds or starts we need to grow it.
And, as much as we have felt out of our element this summer, our commitment to grow more of our own food is buoyed by the realness of the endeavor. When you walk by our yard and see all of our little beet seedlings laying lifeless in the 5 o’clock sun (they’ve since come around and are healthy), or our bean plants winding around themselves in a chaotic wad of un-trellised vines (we finally trellised them), there is no way to mask the inexperience or irresponsibility of the situation. Your mistakes are right there along with your successes for anyone and everyone who walks by to look upon. And as such, there isn’t much in the way of metaphysical distraction that can deter from the pure loveliness of pressing little seeds into freshly laid compost and watching them sprout in a few days’ time, or biting into a freshly picked and salted tomato, or peeling a clove of your home grown garlic come January when the ground is stiff with frost.