Confessions of a newbie gardener
Gardening angst is a whole new experience for me.
Since we moved to an acreage, I have been happily harvesting the incredible variety of medicinal plants that inhabit the space. Hawthorn, devil’s club, cottonwood, fir, wild geranium – a living, breathing apothecary that I just bumbled into by chance. I can hardly believe my good fortune.
I trust my wild gardens to do their thing without any annoying opinions from me. If they are attacked by pests, struggling through drought, losing sunshine to encroaching neighborhood bullies, I am fine with it. As far as I am concerned, struggle in youth makes strong medicine.
My first ever veggie garden and inherited fruit trees are a different matter entirely. There is no benevolent attitude of laissez-faire accorded them. Their activities are subjected to intense scrutiny and inspire a whole range of conflicting emotions in me. I have been known to brood over them like a new mother praying her child will live until she learns how to be a good mum.
We bought the place in winter and had no idea we were purchasing a Garden of Eden. Every time I look up one tree or another is raining manna on my head. Cherry, plum, apple, crab apple and pear bombs explode all around me.
I have no control over the number of pounds of fruit I bring into the house on any given day and to tell the truth, it makes me panicky. As anyone who was raised by a Depression era Mum knows, wasting food is akin to torturing small animals. All those unripe apples rotting on the ground are a call to arms that I don’t know how to rally around. Perhaps a juicer?
With the freezer bursting at the seams, I trotted off to Rona where Gail set me up with a water-bath canner. My canner and I continue to work on establishing a respectful, mutually satisfying relationship but that is another story.
Then there’s the bubbling misgivings over a variety of mean things that I am supposed to do to those vegetables entrusted to my care – things like ‘thinning’, ‘topping’ & weeding.
My three magnificent heirloom tomato plants are reaching for the sky. They are green and huge and fragrant, limbs heavy with bees on their blossoms but Vicky and Linda assure me that if I want tomatoes, I have to ‘pinch off the tops, sides and emerging suckers’.
This makes sense. I believe them. I appreciate the benefit of their years of experience. I have headed out there to do the dirty deed more than once and returned to the house to think it over again … perhaps skip it and hope for the best…or not because I really want tomatoes…and what exactly is a ‘sucker’ and which tops and which sides are expendable?
The practice of thinning makes abundantly clear the logic of following spacing directions on the seed package. At first I felt badly about ripping out baby beets so I didn’t. When the turf wars began in earnest, I realized that thinning was not optional.
I am my mother’s daughter and a true chip off the old block. I resolved to eat every baby beet I culled so that nothing would be wasted. Every thinned beet went into salad or cooked greens but my oh my. My kidneys and intestines are complaining, my appetite for beet greens is waning and I’ll not be blowing off seed spacing next year.
Weeding was another issue but I’m over that now.
I was delighted with my healthy crop of volunteer chickweed and it amused me to weed my weed patch. It is so delicious in salads and smoothies and as an added bonus, it’s good medicine for anything that itches.
I have discovered that it is also wonderful if you want to strangle all your carefully tended vegetable friends. Since I wasn’t itchy or wanting another salad, I muttered a prayer for forgiveness and two fisted great wads of it out of the patch.
Regarding weeding, I have noticed that my vegetables are far less gracious than my weeds. The veggies take it personally if I pull them out by mistake. They promptly throw in the towel in a huge sulk refusing all attempts to make it right.
The weeds on the other hand, don’t seem at all fazed by the purposeful destruction of my two martini cull fests.”Oh thanks,” they practically exclaim as I throw them over the fence onto the compost pile. “How did you know we were planning to move to the suburbs?”
Sure enough, a vigorous colony of weeds explodes out of the heap in short order. Not a single beet has accepted a similar challange. That tells me something about beets.
Gardening is not all about anxiety and uncertainty though. I have also discovered the satisfaction of hearing canning lids pop decisively and seeing the colorful rows of canned jam, fruit and pickles lining the shelves of my pantry.
Oh, and I am just so proud of my amazing broccoli plants. I harvested their great luscious heads with reverence. I was planning to pull them out to make room for the exploding bush beans when lo – behold the second coming of Christ. They are budding two new heads each. I rejoice in their can-do attitudes as much as I did in my babies’ first steps.
Then again, wasting water worries me. What I wonder, should I do with all the water used in blanching and canning? It seems a shame to consign it to the septic field but spreading diluted fruit juice and canning syrup on the garden or anywhere else seems counter productive in my ongoing war with the ant legions.
What did I think about before I had a garden?