Learning Season or What the Garden Taught Me

Last summer, I decided that I wanted to try something new in the world of simplicity; there’s only so many books and boxes you can get rid of, eventually you need to make, eventually you need to build. I wanted to start eating more natural, organic food on-the-cheap and what better way to have readily accessible food than to grow it yourself?

Apparently I’m not the first person to be intrigued by the idea. The internet is an amazing place for someone trying to learn tips and tricks for…anything, and gardening is no exception. After five minutes into searching “building raised beds” I tumbled down a rabbit hole of organic farmers, urban farmers, homesteaders and the like. They all had incredibly valuable information to offer me, sometimes so much it was overwhelming, but there’s no substitute for firsthand experience and I decided I would just start and see what happened.

I started small (ha!), putting together a modest container garden with some herbs, about five pots worth in total. Another trip to the garden center later and I returned with two mature tomato plants already planted in plastic containers with attached cages for stability. After seeing all the possibilities of even a few small beds, I bought lumber, organic soil mix, seeds, seedling starter kits, starter plants, tomato cages, bamboo poles, row markers, and probably more that I’m forgetting. I got into it, pretty deep. I did what all urban gardeners seem bent on doing, telling themselves they’ll start small and then doubling the scope of their project within a week or so. And that’s how I went from five pots to a container garden of fifteen plants next to four 8′ by 4′ raised beds and from about 10 varieties of plants to 30 or more. 
A month into my new project and everywhere there was green sprouting. Fresh clean plants grown from seeds that I planted with my own two hands. It was pretty damned satisfying. What other homesteading projects could I accomplish now that I got the bug? Backyard chickens? A rainwater system? Solar power? 
After another month some of those green plants started to look pretty drab and wilty. We had an incredibly dry couple of weeks where we weren’t on any kind of regular watering schedule and the garden suffered. Later we had an awful infestation of Squash Bugs that obliterated the cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, squash, spaghetti squash, eggplant, and pumpkins. Like I said, I got carried away. Then the birds found my tomatoes and oh, how those cages were so convenient for pecking away at those ruby treasures. My girlfriend, Jacque, and I cut away the destroyed leaves of kale plants and sprayed green caterpillars with neem oil until the stars came out and still things died or were eaten away.
When I looked at the state of my once beautiful garden I felt literally hurt, like I had failed and didn’t know what I was doing, probably would have been better off if I hadn’t even tried. I didn’t even want to see it anymore or water it, I didn’t want to pluck the ruined tomatoes or pull away the desiccated eggplants from off the vine. 
I knew I was being unrealistic and too hard on myself, but I just couldn’t help feeling like a failure. I went from someone who couldn’t have told you the difference between a bean and a banana a few months prior to knowing what plants shouldn’t be grown next to each other and how to check the soil’s ph and I still felt like I didn’t know anything. So much for becoming the Urban Homesteader I had dreamed of.
But I had to step back and looked at what I had accomplished; turning a useless patch of lawn into a small urban farm. I had lost bushels of tomatoes, but had saved bushels more which we ate throughout the summer and turned into jar after jar of homemade salsa. I hadn’t saved the cucumbers but I had learned about different methods of organic pest control and how to use them. I had grown malformed bell peppers because of planting different varieties right next to each other, but I had an endless supply of jalapeños grown from one pot the size of a dinner plate on our back porch. 
We decided not to look at the net results of the garden as a failure, but as a Season of Learning. Every time we got disheartened about what had happened we just said to ourselves, “Learning Season”. It became our catchphrase, a reminder to ourselves that you can’t be perfect, you can’t know what you haven’t had a chance to learn firsthand, and nothing turns out exactly as we had planned. 
This week I am starting to sketch out plans for this year’s “experiment”. I will be planting less variety and giving everything a lot more space. Things will not go as planned, unexpected consquences will ensue and that’s okay. 
On the other end of this summer is a person who knows a lot more about gardens and growing things then the one currently writing this post, just like the person you are a year from now will know a lot more about life than the person you currently are. Remember to go easy on yourself and give yourself the opportunities to learn and grow in a Learning Season of your own.

Trackbacks & Pings

  • Spring is Coming :

    […] lot of money on starting projects, buying brand new materials and the like. But that was all in my Learning Season, new projects will be made from old palette wood or found materials, thrifty is the name of […]

    12 months ago

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