How Does Your Garden Grow?

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(Tray of various seedlings under the grow lights – cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower!)

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t had much of a garden for the last few years. Caregiving, an off-the-farm job, and caring for the livestock took all of my time and energy, plus I have access to a wonderful year-round farmers market and several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture vegetable boxes) near me. Growing my own food, while very important to me, was not at the top of the list of my things to focus on. I had a few herbs growing in the raised beds for teas, and the already-established “fun flowers” (lilacs, tulips, daffodils, peonies, etc.) did their thing without any assistance from me.

This year, in more ways than one, has been different. The biggest change is being back on the farm full-time. I did enjoy my off-farm job, but now I can focus on my farm and put my energies there, instead of giving the farm my leftovers. I’ve been able to shear all of the sheep myself and on my schedule, instead of hiring it done. My fiber business gets much more of my time now, I’m getting back into bread-making, and for the first time in a long while, I planned out a vegetable garden for the year.

My family had a very large veg garden when I was growing up – plenty of things to eat fresh, and also to can for the winter. When I returned to the farm and started gardening, it was very frustrating, because I was trying to recreate that giant garden. I really only needed about a quarter of the space because I wasn’t trying to feed as many people and didn’t need that quantity of canned food, but that area was the garden, and it all needed to be, well, gardened. It never occurred to me that it was perfectly acceptable to only plant part of that area. Fast-forward through several exhausting and frustrating seasons where there were so…many…weeds…, and so much to harvest, eat, can, freeze, dehydrate. I gave up and decided I just couldn’t garden. It was too much. We moved to container gardening, but still trying to grow mass quantities of vegetables, which ended up being just as frustrating as the large garden, only easier to weed.

Fast-forward to this year. The world is in the state it’s in, I’m in a better place physically and mentally, and it just felt right to garden again. My first task was to plan out what seeds to get – what do we like to eat, and what can be preserved/pickled/fermented. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pretty pictures on the seed packets, but if I’m not going to eat it, why grow it? Seeds, seed potatoes, and onion sets were purchased, and I started the cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower seeds in seed trays inside. The next task was to fence off a 32×32 foot section of the former garden. That way, no matter how many seeds I started, I have a finite area in which to plant. Extra seedlings can be given to friends! Plus, I have potatoes, onions, carrots, and radishes to direct sow – I need to leave space for them! I have 2 raised beds that will be used for overflow and also for my perennial herbs.

(One row of onions planted along the edge of my “in-ground” garden)

(More cucumbers – we really like pickles!)

As anyone close to me will tell you, I am a creature of habit. If something has been done a certain way, it takes way too long for me to change to a better way of doing things. Gardens don’t have to be a tilled square of earth with straight rows of vegetables. They can be containers large and small, long strips next to a fence, small pots in a sunny window, hydroponic, raised beds, stacked beds, hugelkultur, grow lights….so many options! Pick one or mix and match to find what works best for your space. Buy some seeds, plant what you have space for, and share seeds or extra plants with friends. If starting seeds isn’t your thing, go to your local garden center or farm store and buy a few plants of this or that vegetable. Keep a garden journal of the varieties that grow well, or don’t grow well, for you. In my experience, that will save a lot of frustration when it comes to next spring and what you want to grow! Talk with gardeners in your area for their tips and suggestions.

Just don’t put your gardening in a box and think that if you don’t garden a certain way, it’s not a “real” garden. That one tomato plant on the patio and pot of basil on your windowsill is a real garden. Gardening is for everyone, and everyone can be a gardener – grow on!

What’s in your garden this year?