Monday, May 19, 2014

Confessions of a Mediocre Gardener

The Climate Crusader is making her peace with crop failures in her vegetable garden.

Every year I plant a vegetable garden, and every year it follows the same story arc:
  1. My seed catalogue arrives, and I'm filled with excitement over all the possibilities. What will I grow this year?
  2. After much deliberation I place my order. My overriding emotion at this point is anticipation.
  3. The seeds arrive, and then the day comes when it's time to start them. Mood: hopeful.
  4. The first sprouts poke through the dirt, and I experience awe at the tiny miracle of wee little plants.
  5. I start hardening off my little seedlings, and plant my first seeds outside. I am once again hopeful, and dreaming of the harvest.
  6. The first sprouts poke through the dirt outdoors, and there's more awe.
  7. A week or two later, I notice that many of the seedlings I started inside and planted in my garden have missing leaves, and many of the sprouts from the seeds I direct-sowed have disappeared altogether. I feel murderous rage towards the creature that ate them, and despair that all my hard work was for naught.
  8. I take measures to protect my wee plants against slugs and bugs, and re-sow where I can. I am resolute.
  9. Some of my plants pull through! I will have some vegetables after all! I am still angry at the garden pests, but I am no longer filled with despair.
  10. The first veggies are ready for harvest, and I am happy once again. The lost crops are forgotten amidst the amazing tastes of fresh produce, and my feelings of accomplishment.
Right now, I am mired in step 7. All of the quinoa I planted? Gone. Most of the Brussels sprouts, too. Half of my broccoli plants were eaten, and more than half of my amaranth. I spent the afternoon poring over natural pest management tips. I also used a rock to squash a slug that had the misfortune of crossing my path. I'm not particularly proud of it, but the murderous rage was strong in me. That slug ate my baby plants.

These plants sadly didn't make it

Gardening, for me, is an exercise in patience and letting go of the outcome. It's something that I have to re-learn every year. I can't get too attached to any particular seed I plant. I have to look at each failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. Did I put the plants out too early? Did I not water as often as I should? Did I water too much? How could I have better protected my plants? Each time something goes wrong, there's a lesson to be learned. It's a hard lesson, though.

Today is Victoria Day in Canada, which is traditionally a day for gardening. It's unfortunate that I'm currently at step 7, but maybe it's also fitting. After all, gardening is an exercise in connecting with the planet. It doesn't always go smoothly. You need to be aware of the rhythms of nature, of what works in your particular garden, of when to reap and when to sow. And even still, things can go wrong. Weather can be unpredictable. Crops can fail.

My garden is a mixed bag, because Mother Nature has a mind of her own. On balance, though, she knows what she's doing. If we can learn to follow her lead, in the end we'll make it to step 10, when the first bite of fresh carrot helps us forget all of our failures.

How do you handle crop failures? I could use tips and moral support!


Christy said...

Oh this post speaks to me! I'm fortunate that I don't experience much plant loss until later, with the dreaded aphids, but this year I'm experiencing more loss due to slugs and snails. I felt your rage. Half my carrot and beet plants. But I will prevail and I am reseeding everything I lost. But you are right, it is an exercise in letting go and trusting that all that was meant to be will be. So sorry about your quinoa. I hope you get some back because the greens are delicious.

Green Bean said...

I could have written this post!! Wow. Every January, I am alight with hope and excitement when the seed catalog arrives. Then the cycle continues - just as yours. The tomatoes I planted from seed never grew so I eventually threw in the towel and bought some seedlings at the farmers' market. My best fruit tree - a beautiful Asian pear - came down with a bad case of fire blight two years in a row. I spread to another pear and two apples - I'm holding my breath on those but the Asian pear had to go. Onward, though! I think that is something about being a gardener. Just keep trying. It will all pay off in August.

Anonymous said...

I think raccoons and opossums are eating what few slugs and snails survive the normally dry (and now drought) conditions here in inland southern California. Speaking from that level of happy ignorance, would food-grade diatomaceous earth sprinkled around your plants deter slugs and snails? It sure works on crickets and roaches, but is supposed to be safe for mammals. Some years, aphids are a real problem, and those years, I am all the more appreciative of lettuce at the market. We've had inexplicable no-grow years, and some years when the summer heat kills everything. The plants that survive are all the more loved. I am sad when we have to pull them out at the end. I get particularly attached to eggplant shrubs. We are holding our breath about citrus greening / asian psyllid, which has no cure and kills the trees. Many people here have citrus trees in their yards, and the citrus industry is part of local heritage.


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