I believe that gardening success is made from one part luck, one part skill and one part sheer arrogance. But arrogance - and admittedly - the fruits of my success is what drives me to keep going year after year.
Last week, I was asked about how to get started with gardening to make it successful. The great thing about gardening is, no matter your level of expertise or financial commitment, you can usually achieve some results. The funny thing about gardening is, the more you know and achieve, the less you realize you actually knew.
I first dug my hands in the dirt 15 or so years ago. Devastated after a layoff from a gardening magazine that was sold six months into my job, I decided in my boredom to prove them wrong. In my sad little basement windowsill in my apartment, I gave my love to small pots of herbs that somehow thrived due to the lack of sunshine that summer.
It took a tornado to get me gardening again. After an F-1 blew down a good chunk of the tree growing in our rental, we used the wood to border off a garden bed that summer. There, I grew amazingly high tomato plants that produced a few fruit. And I felt like a success.
A few years later, we moved into our first home and were determined to grow our own veggies. By then, I realized that there were a few vegetables that were idiot and schedule-proof. Toss lettuce seeds or onion sets in the garden, water occasionally, and I had a salad! I happily picked beans and tomatoes from my backyard, and lamented the fact that the farmers market didn't offer much else than what I grew. I started slowing back on my visits.
I scoffed at those who said you shouldn't plant in Indiana until after Mother's Day - after all, in Kansas, plants were out in full force at the farmers markets in mid-April. Did I break the rule? All the time. Did it work? Maybe 50-50. I froze my tomatoes, had my plants eaten or broken, you name it.
I moved again and didn't plant much for the first few years. It takes time and effort to build the raised beds required by my home association, something I didn't have with a toddler and a pregnancy. So we grew a few sad pots of tomatoes. And then I discovered something...I had a little partner in crime.
Little hands like playing in the dirt. They like to soak your plants. They like to harvest. They like to pick varieties simply because they are pink or purple. They like to seed start and watch the plants grow. Little hands are the perfect partner to garden with, even if the results aren't always what you'd planned.
If anything in life, having children has made me more adventurous in the garden, and more eager to learn than ever. They can plant okra, and the kids like it? I can do that. Extend my harvest season? I (think) I can do that. We've discovered new vegetables at the farmers market, which we've brought home, enjoyed and bought packets of seeds for this spring.
We've proudly grew plants, harvested seeds and made our own seed packets, and I recently learned some are much more difficult to save than others. I just read Seed to Seed for the first time this week, and wow, my bean-saving self is clearly an amateur.
I'll admit, as I thumb through sites on square-foot gardening and companion planting and read books on gardening year-round, that I have just the arrogance or competitveness to say, hey, let's try it - it just might work. And so, bolstered by the idea that the French can grow things in the winter when it's 30 degrees because wind is not an issue, I have bok choy seedlings in my garage when it's in the single digits outdoors (Thanks, Four-Season Harvest). We've come full-circle to the lonely windowsill pot, housing our bean plant, started at the science area of the Children's Museum on New Year's Eve, the vine propped up by a dried branch of last summer's lilies. My kids are enthralled with the idea of putting worm poop on our garden and argue over who gets to put veggie scraps on "the pile," our makeshift spot on an abandoned piece of garden, since we're waiting until spring to set up my compost bin my husband got me for Christmas. And each Saturday morning at gymnastics, I trade tips and tricks with other moms, some of whom swear this square-foot thing will work this year, and they've almost got me convinced.
So after 15 years of random successes and interesting failures, the best advice I can offer is this: Try it. It doesn't matter if its' the windowsill pot with the plant bought at the farmers market or a thriving, three- or four-season garden bolstered by cold frames. The important part is the journey (which of course, ends in dinner).
What gardening questions do you have? I'll research and answer many of them in an upcoming post.