It’s my fourth year gardening now. I’m starting to recognize the cycles. Around late spring each year, I hit the turning point between “feast and famine.” For weeks, I sow seeds, buy transplants, coax the little guys to grow, and all of the sudden, everything is ready to go. I gather my first basket of greens and look around and realize I will be catching up with my garden for the rest of the summer.
Probably as I become a more experienced (and temperate!) gardener, I’ll learn how to stagger my planting more. I still get a little antsy about filling bare ground, which means I am not good at succession planting.
So it’s mid-May in the Willamette Valley, and I remember once again that abundance is a wonderful thing. I can buy less produce at the store. I have fewer spent plastic boxes in my recycling bin, and I’m grateful to be a little more independent from Big-Food.
This level of self-sufficiency has been revelatory. I have control over the food in my yard, given the pesticides and herbicides in commercial growing. I am mindful that foods are seasonal when I follow the rhythm of my garden. I can dig deep into a bit of land and be able to eat its good things.
I am still a young gardener, but in the long-run I would like to help others see that we have the capacity to do this. There are costs and barriers, of course.
One cost of growing my own vegetables is time, though personally it’s time well-spent. Gardening has been a kind of therapy for me. It’s gotten me out of tiny apartments and given me a reason to putter around in the sun. It’s helped me endure the long days of summer when I couldn’t work. It’s taught me to take care of things and be patient. It has given me an outlet for my compulsive wish to organize, plan, and control–and taught me to be more gracious and resilient when the plan inevitably gets frustrated (by pests, weather, disease, neglect). Despite enjoying using my time this way, I know it takes a lot; while I am able to spend leisure hours tending a garden, others may not.
It’s taught me to take care of things and be patient. It has given me an outlet for my compulsive wish to organize, plan, and control–and taught me to be more gracious and resilient when the plan inevitably gets frustrated (by pests, weather, disease, neglect).
There are also material costs of gardening. Starts and seeds cost money, but so do soil, compost, trellises, and mulch. There are actually many free options for some of these things. One year, a local community garden gave away packs of seeds to my apartment complex. Another time, a generous community garden volunteer hauled in several cubic yards of manure for the whole community to use. Many basic free options need time though. Kitchen scraps take months if not a year to decompose into useful compost, and even free mulch like leaves and newspapers require access to infrastructure (like a truck or even a car). The gardening community is generous, but it’s challenging to access those goods if you don’t have the tools, the connections, or the time. As I garden each year, I often wonder what the best practices are for a community:
- What’s the cheapest way to add nutrients to a veggie plot?
- What knowledge does a person need to grow things from seed?
- Where can low-income families get free seed?
- How can a working family cut down on the time they need to water, to weed?
- How can people in small spaces store or share tools?
Over at our new house, our garden plot is taking shape. I’ll update on that soon, but in the meantime, I will be looking outside reflecting on how the garden is a constant reminder of sufficiency… of building “enough” and knowing that this is exactly what we need.
Each year, I hope to build a little more knowledge and a few more connections that would help my family and others grow food in an affordable and accessible way.
Even though I feel less surprise and awe about these things popping out of the ground, I still am thrilled about making this a way of life.