Sunday, August 15, 2010

gardening woes

I have this ongoing daydream in which we live in a little solar-powered cottage on a few acres of land with some chickens and a big garden where we grow most of our own vegetables and even a few fruit trees. There are a few problems with this fantasy, one being that I'm not well-suited to rural life. I like the convenience of walking or biking to places like the farmers market, the corner store, the park, the pool, and preschool; I like living in a neighborhood with nice people so I don't feel lonely and isolated; I like the diversity and liveliness of a mid-sized city. And on and on.

But the biggest problem with my homesteading dream is that I suck at gardening. Really, I do. Whatever is the opposite of a green thumb, I have it. Not that I haven't tried, mind you. I've got some hardy herbs and perennials in the front garden, and they do okay, at least the ones that don't get choked out by weeds. But every time I have attempted to grow vegetables at home or in a community garden plot (and I've done this several summers in our time in Madison), something has gone wrong and we hardly benefit. One summer, for example, I was newly pregnant with Daniel and just didn't have the energy; the thought of going in the hot sun and pulling weeds just made me want to roll over and take a(nother) nap. Time and time again I've tried to grow greens in my back yard but it's so shady they just get leggy and bitter.

This summer, we again got ourselves a community garden plot, and for a while things were going well. We planted beans, tomatoes, a variety of peppers, melons and cucumbers. The beans did well and produced, but after one good harvest we went on vacation and what was left got completely over ripe (we can at least save the seeds for next year). The vines were planted late and haven't produced yet, though this morning I found some young watermelons that we can hopefully eat in a week or two. Except for a couple of jalapeƱos and long, lean, mean-looking cayennes, the peppers are all rotting right on the plant. I have no idea why, whether it's a fungus or bugs attacking or what. Except for one Roma plant, the tomatoes are a total mess, splitting and pulling the vines to the ground before they're even half ripe.

It's just so discouraging. But since hope springs eternal, I get all ambitious and think "THIS year something will work! If I just water and weed diligently enough, it'll work out!" and every time the tomatoes rot, the basil goes yellow, the vines wither, and it just hardly seems worth the effort.

Because I am a slow learner, I'm sure I'll try all this again next year. Maybe it will be better, maybe it will be worse, who knows. I should probably just quit trying. After all, we have some of the best farmers markets in the nation right here in Madison, so I might as well leave the vegetable growing to the professionals and save myself the effort and agony and discouragement. (And mosquito bites - have I mentioned how bad the mosquitos are this year? They are downright vicious.)

But there's a part of me that isn't ready to give up just yet. Perhaps it's the farming heritage I've got on both sides of the family. Perhaps it's my romantic ideas of growing my own food. Perhaps it's a little bit of my desire to be able to do this independently, so I can rely on myself to feed us if the need arises, like in the face of total economic collapse (dramatic, I know.) Whatever it is, I hope I can get it right eventually.

2 comments:

Animal said...

While I don't really care about gardening much at all, seem to grow healthy versions of whatever Tess' mom gives us to plant. Ah, the cruel dictates of fate! Our tomato(e)s always do fine, as do tomatillos. This year's peppers are puny, I'm guessing mostly because all of the energy in the dirt has been feeding the choking weeds I've been too busy to pull. Keep at it…you never know when, yes, the social structure will just up and collapse.

Anonymous said...

All the reasons you have mentioned, plus some more, is why I leave the gardening to your mother.

-Dad