On the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, our growing time is pretty short. Plants go into the ground in May if the frosts have ended, and crops start dying down in September. My garden finished up last week, with the exception of some of the flowers.
As I pulled up the spent plants and made my peach puree, I started think about how the garden went this year, and what things I’d change, if any. I guess you could call it a mental harvest time.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in my garden harvest. The fruits and berries did great, as did a lot of the flowers, but my veggie garden was a different matter. It just sort of limped along this season. The harvest was mediocre at best.
At first I thought it was because of the watering issues I had during our hot July and my busy schedule. But that wasn’t really it. Even after my days went back to normal, I still struggled to keeping the veggies going.
I felt sad and depressed when I went out there.
There was no joy in my garden.
But how could that be? I love gardening.
I might love gardening, but I wasn’t growing what I loved.
I saw the veggie patch as a “must do” thing. It was ingrained into my thinking. When I was growing up, if we had a yard of any size, we grew vegetables. They were healthy for you. You saved money. They tasted better than store bought. And it was just what you were supposed to do as a responsible and frugal person.
Every year, since I bought this slice of heaven 16 years ago, I’ve put in a veggie garden. I’ve always struggled with it. Our ground is clay and rock. You have to do a lot of digging and amending to get the soil to be plant friendly. Add to that our blazing hot summers, and it’s a challenge to set up a productive garden.
I’ve done various container gardens, including keyhole gardens. While the soil is better, they still need heaving mulching, additional shade, and plenty of consistent watering to work.
While I do enjoy my squash and melons, I’m allergic to tomatoes. I grow them, because they do well in our climate, but the plants make my skin itch, and if I eat a tomato, then I need to reach for my epi-pen. So I give them away to the neighbors and friends. Greg loves carrots, but our soil needs a lot of amending for them to grow well. Beans always do well, but Greg doesn’t eat them, and I like to enjoy them only once in a while. I love pumpkin, and I planted some this year, but both vines produced nothing but male flowers, which was disheartening.
What I love is growing flowers, and tending to my fruit trees and berry plants. I love deciding on what kind of jams and pies I want to make. I making a years worth of applesauce to can for the pantry. I love watching the butterflies play in the flowers. I love picking a few blossoms for a bouquet, or drying some for projects. I also love using fresh herbs in whatever I’m cooking for dinner and then drying some for later.
And while growing my own veggies, in theory, is a great thing to do, right now, I am able to get what Greg and I need each week at our store. I know who has the best quality produce and at a good price.
So maybe I don’t need to put myself through the agony of a vegetable garden next year. I didn’t tend it well this year, because I just didn’t love it. It’s like anything else. Taking care of the things you love is easy and joyful. And while there are hard things in life that are necessary to experience and deal with, I don’t have to add to the list myself. I don’t need to bring in all of those “should” things, just because some one else has always done them. We are all different and this time and place is different, as well. Not everything is the right thing for each of us. My Mom’s “should” garden, isn’t mine. Which is fine.
So, I’m planting flowers and berries and herbs this fall, into the veggie patches I’ve just cleared out. I’m also making an area where I sit in the morning, drink my coffee, and just enjoy our garden.
I want to find the joy again.
In other words, grow what you love, not what you think you should.
When you love something, it’s easy to tend to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plant, or a decorative object. You will give the things you love pride of place and pride of ownership. The other things that aren’t as meaningful tend to get neglected or forgotten.
In my garden, the fruit trees and berry bushes all did great. I made sure they had food and enough water. Even those grapes and raspberries that didn’t produce fruit were healthy and well tended. The perennial flowers were the same. I paid attention to how they were blooming. Even the rubarb and strawberries that I knew wouldn’t do anything this year, did well, because I was excited that they would be heartier next year.
It dawned on me that there was a common theme: I love plants that last. I want to watch them grow in the spring, fruit in the summer, and change in the fall. I like to cover them with just enough mulch to keep them warm during the winter. Then I like to see new shoots poking out as spring returns.
I’m not thrilled with vegetable gardens; or most annuals, for that matter. Greg isn’t into veggies,; he’s more into fruit. I like veggies, but I also love fruit. I usually buy enough veggies for my use and a few extras of what I know Greg will eat, and that’s it.
A vegetable garden doesn’t really suit us, but I planted a huge one anyway.
I really think I felt I had to grow a veggie garden. We have a lot of land, and I was raised that when you have the space, you grow a garden. It was wasteful not to It was healthier to grow your own food, and the veggies were supposed to taste better homegrown than those store bought ones.
All of that is probably true.
Just not for me and Greg.
The food doesn’t taste better if you forget to water the plant or let it dry on the vine. The food isn’t healthier if it spoils because you have way more than your family will eat, and you didn’t make solid plans to preserve it. At least it wasn’t wasteful, because I gave the spoils to the birds, and rabbits in the yard, and to the wild horses that wander by down the road.
What I do love is watching all of the pollinators busy in the yard.
What I also love is canning my peaches and apples and coming up with recipes for my mulberry harvest.
What I want to do is sit in the shade on a summer afternoon, with my iced tea, and watch all of the activity in the yard.
So this year, as I clean out the garden, I’m planting more of those perennials that the butterflies love so much.
This year, I’m adding all sorts of amendments to the soil around my garden and planting the seeds from my penstemon and other flowers into the barespots.
This year, I’m fixing the watering problem for my new plants.
This year, I’m prepping the gardens so the plants will have a healthy winter.
So next year, no there will be no big veggie garden, maybe just one well watered zucchini plant tucked somewhere into the sagebrush.
Next year, I’ll maybe I’ll finally get to do what I really love, and sit out in the garden with my iced tea and enjoy the show.