7 Lessons from the Garden

What I have learned about life gardening this year:

1. Some things take a lot longer than you think; be patient. Other things happen so quickly they’ll surprise you; be ready.

We planted radishes for the first time this spring. They were ready to harvest within a month, and went to flower (meaning no good for eating) just a few short weeks after that. Conversely, we waited and waited for last year’s snapdragons and this year’s wildflower seed mix. After we’d given up, both kinds of flowers emerged and were blooming by mid-June.

2. Novelty is always more exciting, but reliability is invaluable.

Every year we try a few new vegetables. This year: parsnips (very few came up), beets (yum), red onions (they stopped growing while still small), snap peas (double yum), and cucumber (it died in the summer drought). Every year we also fall back on our favourites: three sizes of tomatoes, hot peppers, herbs. (And every year we keep hoping for better luck with the carrots and sweet peppers.)

3. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

We’ve tried growing bell peppers several times. What we end up with are stunted, squashed bells that don’t ripen past green. (Climate? Nutrients? Dunno.) We do have luck growing hot peppers, but everything we’ve planted turns out to be VERY hot and I can’t handle more than a sliver of it. This year we bought a sweet banana pepper plant and I was excited. Turns out? Either it was wrongly labelled or it cross-pollinated with the hot ones (yep, that happens), because it, too, is hot, just a little less so.

4. Some things aren’t worth it (corollary: it’s okay to do things the easy way).

Last year I spent a lot of time and stress trying to prop up, stake, and prune giant, jungly heirloom tomato plants. This year we bought smaller, non-heirloom varieties. I tried to stake or cage them. Most of them slid down the stakes and started sprawling across the earth. They don’t look great, and they’re probably not producing as much, but we still have as many tomatoes as we can eat. (And eat them we do. Mostly in this super-easy no-cook recipe. We’ve had it over pasta, rice, and nachos — all equally delicious.) Another example: scarlet runner beans are beautiful, but you have to keep an eye on them because they grow like crazy, and shelling them is way too much work, so this year we went with snap peas.

5. It’s also okay to do what you can and let the rest go.

We’ve applied mulch to the flowerbeds for less weeding. We planted more root vegetables  this year so there’d be less schlepping of seedlings. We harvest and weed what we can when the weather and our energy allow. It’s been ridiculously hot and I’ve been having health problems this summer, so “what we can” isn’t much. But it’s not worth stressing about (see #4).

6. Life goes in phases.

There’s the cycle of the seasons, of course, but there are also longer cycles. You might be picking up on a certain vibe from the points above. I take to hobbies in phases, fall hard for a while, then drift away. Knitting was like that, belly dance, flamenco, blogging, singing in a choir. Photography fades in and out. (Exceptions, for me, are writing and contra dance. Those aren’t hobbies, they’re passions.) This is my fifth year of gardening; last year I overdid it, and this year it shows. We scaled back a little; next year maybe we’ll scale back a lot. What new hobby will take its place? Stay tuned….

7. We never completely lose what we’ve done.

Even if we plant zero vegetables next year (doubtful), we’ve got the rosebushes and hydrangeas, the peony and hostas. We’ve had the experience of growing our own food on our own land. We know what truly fresh produce tastes like. (Hint: homegrown tomatoes and carrots are THE BEST, but everything’s a revelation.) We’ve learned some stuff, and dug some stuff, and watched the seasons and the weather. We’ve learned to be patient, and celebrated each thing we picked, and fought through the ups and downs. (#$%@ squirrels!)

Oh, and it’s not over yet, even for this year. It’s still tomato season (and beets and carrots and hot peppers, but TOMATOES), and we’ll be making the most of it for another month or more. Better not say farewell just yet….

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