Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Bit of Earth

On Sunday, I stopped a woman at church and said, "I hear you're the person to talk to about growing a garden. I really, really want this to be the year that I actually have a successful garden and I need your help."
"Of course," she said, and with a look of genuine surprise she added, "But I can't believe you don't know how to garden! I had you pegged as an expert gardener and green thumb. If you don't know how to garden, I can promise that this is the year you discover your hidden, natural talents as a gardener."
So, obviously she's an expert teacher- since the words I most like to hear are words of praise and assurance in my abilities.
But every year I have tried to garden, and every year I have failed. Admittedly, I have no idea what I'm doing, and have previously been too cheap to spend money on things like dirt. (I'm sorry. Spend money on DIRT? I might as well buy fancy bottled water and an oxygen tank to breathe with.) It just seemed unbearable. It seemed like the "garden industry" (that's a thing, right?) was trying to trick me into spending money that I didn't need to spend.
But this year, I'm in it to win it. I want a garden! I will even spend money on dirt!

I went to a garden store and asked the manager questions like "How much should I water plants?" Even though he was of no help whatsoever and kept looking at me like I was an idiot and saying things like, "Water as much as needed."
But wait.
First they say "Don't overwater, your plants will drown, your veggies will swell and rot." Then they say, "Don't underwater, your plants will die of thirst and shrivel up and turn into crunchy brown vines." So, what's the right amount? Do I strive to keep the soil moist at all times? Do I water it a ton every few days and let it dry out in between? What?
And what kind of helpful advice was I given?
"Just as often as seems necessary."
I went to the library to find books about gardening and came home with Square Foot Gardening and Patio Gardens and I learned that both authors assume you have basic understanding of how to keep the herbs on your windowsill from turning yellow and losing leaves. I have no such knowledge. I have no gardening knowledge at all.

To be fair, I grew up in the garden of Eden. And in the garden of Eden (Minnesota) it is warm and damp and lovely, and not hot and dry and terrible.
If you want a tomato plant to grow in your yard, you just need to think about tomatoes and you'll find they've sprung up. In the summer, you need to uproot trees from your drainpipes because all the acorns that fall sprout into oak trees.
I moved here ready to weed every couple days as needed, but completely unprepared to water twice a day.
If you forget to water ONE TIME in Utah, your whole garden is pretty much ruined. No wonder I've failed! Realizing that now, I feel pretty guilty about the friends' gardens that I've neglected and killed while they were on vacation. If you forget to water in Minnesota, it's not that big of a deal.
But it's a big deal here.
I also have yet to figure out the sun. Plants need sun, but how much? How hot? I know it depends on the plant, but I don't know what each plant needs- even when the seed packet says "Full sun" or "partial sun." How much sun is partial??
See what we're dealing with here? Total garden ignorance.
But I think I'm off to a decent start this year.
For one thing, I have been composting my little heart out. Throwing a big bowl of kitchen scraps out on the pile every day and adding a bucketful of dried leaves every once and a while. I even come outside and stir it up every few days. It's starting to look like that "black gold" the Internet promised me.
I have also successfully planted and grown seeds.
My first little seedlings!
They're kind of a failure, but I am still proud. I mean, I planted a big container full of spinach seeds about two weeks ago and now I have 8 tiny sprouts. They definitely don't look like they're going to be enough for us to prepare a salad out of- but let's blame my also-excited four year olds, who regularly uproot my sprouts to wave them in my face and yell, "Look how big our plants grew!"
I ordered a few seed packets from The Seed Savers Exchange. I had a really hard time keeping myself to three tomato plants and three lettuces, but I figured I should focus on a few "easy" plants this year and build up my knowledge and abilities.
I planted three seeds from each packet 6 days ago, and now I have 8 little seedlings. 10 seedlings to go!
I know that seeds turn into plants and plants produce fruit, but staring at these tiny little seeds, I find it almost impossible to believe that they could produce food to feed my family. How can it even be real?!

But I am hoping and praying that I can do it. I am aching to grow something. I want to do it. I want to pick my own berries and cut my own salad. I want to eat warm, red little tomatoes off the vine and stockpile homegrown squash against the winter.
I want to be a homemaker and homesteader in every sense (ps I tried and failed to make cheese yesterday and I'm super frustrated.) I want to collect eggs in the morning, and lock my hens in at night. I want to sow in the spring and reap in the fall. I want to learn how to coax food and flowers from the earth.
So teach me.

You gardening pros (especially those of you in Utah), lend me your tips, tricks, and expertise. What plants do you grow well here? How can I actually grow my own salad and salsa? (I've been trying without luck!) where should I start and what should I know? Raised beds? Patio gardens? Kitchen composting? Have you ever put potatoes in those above-ground cages I keep seeing on Pinterest? For real. Teach me! I'd love to read any comments, and promise to click on all your links.

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Lana said...

First lesson for Utah. You can't plant anything outside that isn't a root vegetable until AFTER mothers day. I know that seems ridiculous, but seriously. Thats the Utah rule. Everything will die from that strange mid April deep freeze. So if you must plant now plant carrots and onions and in a few weeks potatoes.

Emily said...

First of all, I love the title of this post and will probably go listen to the soundtrack of The Secret Garden right after I post this. Second of all, when I ventured into the world of baking, I felt this same way. Everyone gave me advice that was vague and totally unhelpful (like to check the temperature of my water on my wrist... Great! Now I know what it feels like on my wrist, but I still don't know if it's the right temp!). So I guess my point is that it's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels like everyone else seems to think things are obvious when they're really not. And third of all, I don't know anything about gardening either, so you should post what you learn because I want to grow my own salad and salsa too!

-Danica- said...

I'm just going to sneak over here into the corner and awkwardly take notes off of your other readers. I too am a garden failer, and I really need that to not be a thing any longer.

Polly said...

This sounds like hard work. I can't grow anything here in Nevada either but last year with the drip system installed I did better.