Today’s post brought to you by fabulous canine and personal finance writer Sarah, who blogs at Dogs or Dollars. Sarah’s a new gardener, learning the urban homesteading ropes by building her quarter acre urban oasis. She wants you to know that it’s okay if your garden doesn’t look like mine. I want you to know that 99% of the time, my garden doesn’t look like my garden. (“I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford” – Cindy Crawford.) Sarah plots her escape from Corporate Servitude and contemplates life with too many dogs, chicken dynamics and conscientious consumerism in her “spare” time.
Meet Ugly Garden:
I’m not a long-time reader of NorthWest Edible Life. I’m not a long time gardener either. Both these afflictions are rather new for me. I started my measly little Ugly Garden in earnest last year, with just two beds and some picket fencing repurposed from the neighbor’s dump pile. One of those beds, I covered in pvc and visqueen late last September, in hopes of having a winter garden. HA! If winter garden, means a whole lot of not-growing, then yay me! Productive, it wasn’t.
So in January, when I stumbled across the photo tour of Erica’s winter garden, with picture evidence of a bonefide harvest, well, I was pissed. Here’s someone, presumably right down the road from me, with brussels, cabbage, chard, beets, and turnips. In fracking January. I knew I was behind the curve. I just didn’t realize how steep the curve actually was.
This created one in a series of several moments I’ve experienced as a new gardener. Moments in which I want my lawn back. Times when I think “WtH was I thinking?” or “I have no effing clue”, only I do not truncate my explatives.
These thoughts arise when I am fighting an aphid infestation on my only successful crop (steadfast lacinato), when mysterious creatures are devouring my spinach, when my ignorance appears to be killing the tomato seedlings I have put so much time into, and certainly when my lone surviving cauliflower succumbs to frost before I ever get a nibble. Having these problems is one thing. Thinking you are powerless against them is worse. Maybe there really is a green thumb, and I just don’t got it.
Yet, here I am. Ugly Garden takes up even more of my backyard than she used to, now sharing her borders with an expanded compost bin, and a chicken coop. How did I manage not to just pitch it all?
Use Your Community
My blog tends to be more personal finance-y than Urban Homestead-ish. I needed to seek out online resources for garden know-how. Hence, my arrival here at NW Edible and on other like-minded virtual communities, captained by individuals with more experience, who are blessedly willing to share.
I’ve done a lot of commenting and googling in the past year. I’ve also talked anyone’s ear off that will listen: co-workers, friends, random peeps at the nursery. If you know how to grow something, I want to talk to you. It was such conversations, and a peek at a friend’s plants that finally made me realize I was definitely, without a doubt over-watering my tiny tomatoes. Oops! That discovery saved my nightshades.
This is where I plug Erica’s beautiful garden journal. The one I wish I had purchased, but didn’t because I’m cheap. I’ve a feeling I will regret that, when I am attempting to decipher this year’s verbosity at some later date. No matter how you do it, take notes. Everyone say’s this, I know. That’s because its true. You will not remember how, why, and when you were successful (or failed miserably) at transplanting those cucumber starts next year.
My recording is low-tech, involving a pen and paper. I did however, adapt the NW Edible Year Round Vegetable Planting Guide to suit my purposes. This has already proven incredibly useful at the beginning of each month, when I think I couldn’t possibly have any planting left to do. A little spreadsheet review reveals my newbie naivete, and provides direction. Journaling, recording, scribbling, spreadsheets, whatevs. It will help you.
I will not claim much gardening knowledge. I struggle to remember what a brassica is. The labels on fertilizers? No idea. None. Nitrogen, something, something. Maybe. If there is one tidbit of technical information I’ve managed to absorb in the past year, it’s that Soil Quality Matters. I may not know all the science-y fanciness behind it, but I will confidently say: Put Your Efforts Here.
If you don’t want your leafy’s getting eaten by mysterious creatures? Soil Quality. If you want to have a harvest in January? Soil Quality. While not the complete answer, it’s an excellent starting point. The moment I realized compost and fertilizer were two different things, and that both should be used? Lightbulbs, angels singing, rays of sunshine.
One truckload of composted goat poop and a trip to Walt’s later, my strawberries look like they are ready for world domination. Strawberries have that tendency. In this case they aren’t alone. My plants are bigger, happier, and growing faster than ever before. This is only the beginning. My dirt is young. I haven’t even dabbled in hugelkulture or lasagna gardening. Yet.
Be Not Discouraged
This ‘hobby’ we’ve taken up, it’s not for the impatient nor the feint of heart. Gardeners, especially new gardeners, need to be made of tough stuff. Self doubt can kick your ass. Luckily, getting rid of a garden beds isn’t any easier than putting them in. If it were easier, I would have reverted to grass at least once by now.
The effort involved in making those plans gives me opportunity to remember the delicious fridge pickles we ate for months on end last summer or just how gratifying picking a dinner salad from your backyard is. If I enjoyed that my first year, what can I do this year? And next year? And when is my columnar apple tree going to start producing?
My garden doesn’t look like Erica’s. I might not have much of anything to harvest this January either. A fact I’ll likely still be pissed about. But, I will get better at this, as long as I keep reading, talking, recording and working on my dirt.
I’m not discouraged – are you?
Read more from Sarah at Dogs or Dollars.