Last summer was a first for me living in this house and I was desperate to put in a veggie garden. I had attempted a garden while living at my parents house, but it failed due to my own neglect paired with a very soggy, rainy season. Last year was the opposite, I had so much love to give, and the skies had so little rain.
We went into last summer knowing that the garden would be a big experiment for us. Michael had never tried growing anything in the yard, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I spent the entire winter studying up on raised beds and companion planting and pests. I started a few tomatoes and peppers indoors in late winter and we were given a few flats of tomato, broccoli, and pepper starts from a neighbor. We had spent the whole winter diligently composting and we were ready to start our incredible garden.
We started with three traditional raised beds, and a potato patch that builds up as the plants grow. More on that later. I wanted to do square foot gardening in these beds, so I carefully measured out every twelve inches along each side of the boxes and laid out some perfectly cut string to section them off. I wrote in my garden journal where everything was going to go the next day. When I brought out all my lovely little seedlings the following day, I did a double take on the garden. Almost every string had been moved or disappeared over night. I glanced around suspiciously. Surely someone was playing a trick on me. With some investigation, I realized that a certain someone felt that they needed my carefully laid out string more than I did. One lonely string was blowing in the wind in front of our doorway, hanging down from a shabby looking bird’s nest. The rest of the string was poking out of the nest here and there. All I could do was laugh. And start over. With some nails this time.
Each lovely little seedling was placed in its perfect little spot. Weed, Water, Wait. Wait some more. Weed some more. Never stop watering. I gave all the love I had and the plants responded accordingly. They grew and grew and before we knew it, tiny fruits and veggies were forming. My stomach lurched every time I’d find a new treasure glittering in the sunshine. Everything was going just as planned, until it wasn’t.
Out of nowhere, problems popped up. Our tomatoes had aphids. The cukes were wilting. White spots formed on the squash leaves. Slugs lurked under broccoli leaves. We were getting attacked at every angle. We did everything the books said to do. We ordered ladybugs to attack the aphids. Imagine the look on my mail man’s face when he had to deliver a box with tiny holes, labeled ‘live insects.’ I sprayed the squash leaves with milk+water, which helped control the mold. We poured our grossest beer in tiny cups to lure away the slugs (sorry Genesee). I ran outside the next day hoping they would be filled with drunken slimeys. All we caught were beetles. We lost most of our cucumber plants to bacterial wilt. Our watermelons, which were just beginning to bear fruit, were trampled to death by our dog. Each lesson was a painful reminder that we didn’t know what we were doing.
Trying to remember the advice I had read all winter, I diligently wrote down every problem in my journal. I tried to remind myself that this was our first time, and we were bound to mess up. I secretly hoped this wasn’t what it would be like to have kids.
I had very high hopes of how much produce we’d get out of our garden. In the beginning, I imagined myself in 3 months time, slaving over a hot stove bubbling with sauces while pickles pickled in our fridge. That didn’t happen. We did get plenty of cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes out of our garden, but not enough to preserve for winter. We had a lot to learn in our first year and we made a lot of mistakes. This year we will fix those mistakes and make new ones. I’m sure that it will take us a few more years to really understand the lighting, soil, and temperament of this property, and then we’ll move. Begin, mistake, learn, adapt, grow, Begin again. Such is life.