A few years ago my husband and I moved out to the country so we could have a large garden and raise chickens (among other things). People who have known me for any length of time were quite amused by the idea of me getting my hands dirty and growing my own food. Even though I had absolutely no experience gardening, I knew it was something I was supposed to do.
By: Sarah Koontz
I had been struggling with my health for many years, and I knew that I had to do something about the quality of food my family was consuming. Due to underlying health issues, my body doesn’t detoxify normally and I have to be very careful about avoiding chemical exposures. Finding produce that hadn’t been treated with some sort of chemical proved to be extremely difficult.
Because of this, I decided it was time to start growing my own food. I didn’t follow the advice of the experts to “start small,” instead I fenced in a 20 x 30ft space and got to work.
My first year’s garden grew surprisingly well. Of course, we built our house in a fertile valley that had served as a horse pasture for the past 20 years and the soil is amazing.
Our garden also gets full sunshine all day long and the weather was kind to us that first growing season. But I was completely blown away by the fact that I was able to grow and preserve even a small portion of my family’s food.
The next year, I was far more prepared. I spent the long winter months planning my garden and learning everything I could about organic pest control and season extension.
I guess I should mention that I live in zone 3B, a cold place with a short season where only the savviest of gardeners can grow enough food to sustain their family.
During my second season, I learned how to start my own plants from seeds indoors and the art of companion planting. I convinced my husband to build me a chicken coop and we added 10 laying hens to our family. We spent a great deal of time preserving the harvest and survived few major hail storms and an early killing frost.
I am now in the middle of my third gardening season, and recently quadrupled the size of the garden and added fruit trees and berries to the property. I work hard each day to learn what I can about the plants that I am growing, the bugs that are trying to destroy them and to accomplish my impossible goal of a weed free garden. I am not yet growing enough food to sustain my family, but I am well on my way!
If I have learned anything from my first few years of gardening it is that I am a better person because of my garden. Learning how to grow my own food has taught me so much about persistence and perseverance. I love reaping the harvest at the end of the season, but that is never a guarantee.
I have been meaning to write a mid-season garden update for our readers, and I sat down to write my first draft last week when my garden looked perfect!
I wrote, “My garden has already been hailed on 5 times this year, and I am confident that the worst is still to come. But when people ask me what I would do if a storm were to take out my entire garden, I simply smile and say, ‘It would all still be worth it, because spending time in my garden makes me a better version of myself.’”
Less than 48 hours later, my garden received 15 minutes of steady hail ranging in size from pea, to grape, to golf ball. Needless to say, it isn’t looking so good anymore.
I am hopeful my plants will recover and still produce a harvest for me. But, my family has had such a good time working in our garden together this year, I feel that anything my garden gives back to me in produce is just an added bonus.
I am proud of myself for continuing to press on in spite of the many setbacks we have already faced. We had an extremely cold spring with a killing frost on May 28. We had to re-plant all of our squash because of the late frost, our tomatoes didn’t get in until June 6 due to harsh spring weather and we’ve lost many plants to cutworms. The potato bugs are gobbling up all of our potato plants and for some reason the brassicas aren’t doing well this season. The garden has flooded at least 3 times and we have been hailed on 6 times.
On the bright side of things, the beet harvest was delicious. We have had more salad greens than we know what to do with. We are so sick of eating snap peas, want some? The basil plants are producing like mad and it seems like our 34 tomato plants survived the hailstorm with very little damage. We’ve already preserved rhubarb, peaches, hearty greens and tons of herbs. The green beans are coming in nicely, the carrots are ginormous and our corn is doing fabulous.
I used to think people were born with a love for plants and growing things. I now realize that learning to garden is like beginning a new relationship. It is awkward and uncomfortable at the beginning, but once you invest enough time into it, you can’t imagine your life without it. The only way to be certain the relationship is going to last is to go through hard times and discover that you still want to fight for it.
That is when you know you are a gardener, and not just someone who gardens.
I truly love to garden. I work out there at least an hour a day and spend most of my weekends either playing in the dirt or preserving the harvest. Even though things are looking pretty sad at the moment, I am still going to work hard to get whatever I can out of this year’s garden.
Are you a gardener, or someone who gardens? How have you bounced back from a difficult season?
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