Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
There are as many books about gardening as anyone could ever want, still I have yet to read one on how to deal with the homesteaders' weak nerves. There's no hiding it anymore – I'm a nervous-souled gardener. Some days I even find myself wishing, in secrecy, that the whole season would be over only so I'd know everything went all right. The spring is so full of promises – promises about sun ripe tomatoes, juicy strawberries, wonderful flower arrangements and sweet, sweet carrots. But so many obstacles lies between now and then – not until the harvest is secure in our cellar, in jars, boxes and on shelves will I know I outsmarted the slugs, kept ahead of the weeds and timed my actions with the sun, the rain and the frosts. If I take it too seriously? Oh, yes, but I believe I have reasons to. Our organic gardens grow our food for the whole year, saving us from having to earn the food money elsewhere. Our economy, and our life, is closely tided to a successful garden.
My lack of experience is definitely a key factor for my fretting. A while back I planted several beds of carrots and it took almost a month for them to sprout – meanwhile I went from hope to despair to hope. Could it really be that all the seeds were bad? The cold April? Was it too dry, had I planted the seeds to deep, fried them in my generous doling of compost? Anyone with more than 4 years of doing this would know to wait patiently and it would all be all right.
My high ambitions might be what keeps me going – I want every garden year to be the best, across the whole range of crops – but they certainly also keep me on my toes. Sometimes people say things like “Oh my God, look at your Brussels Sprouts!” and I'm thinking “of course they look like that since I spent a full day hauling manure and turn it in, another day spreading seaweed, several mornings of being up at 4:30 am picking slugs and at least three nights awake wondering when to cut the tops.”
There are so many decisions to make – when to start the tomato seeds, how many plants to grow, when to plant them outside and where to put them. And why do they have to wrinkled leaves, don't they seem a bit yellow, what if it rains the whole last part of May and did we really have a cold enough winter to kill off the bugs? The thoughts are rolling in my mind, over and over. In my mind I see my old neighbor at our summer house in Sweden, the only farmer left in the village. How he walked the fields just as like generations before him walked the fields, looking at the sky and the hay drying on the racks. Isn't that what they say; that for a farmer it's always too warm or too cold, too wet or too dry?
But maybe, at the end of the day, I am just a person with weak nerves doing something that depends on so many unknown factors – the weather, the bug population, the quality of seeds and some plain ol' luck. Perhaps I can settle one day; I'll have the experience, I can better balance my ambitions and I'll have grown stronger nerves. Perhaps I'll have to eat lfewer carrots that year but still might get as many beets. I know you can have a wonderful garden with half the ambitions, none of the worries and all of the sleep. I just need to learn how to cultivate that.
Anneli blogs for MOTHER EARTH NEWS about her insights and ideas from a handmade, DIY-everything homestead and hostel on Deer Isle, Maine.
Photo by Fotolia/Xalanx