The sun broke the horizon hours ago. The breakfast dishes stand like clean little soldiers drying, the chickens are fed, emails have been checked, and kids have fallen into their activities for the day. It is the witching hour for me. The only slot left in the day for gardening before it becomes too hot. When weeding scrabbles into last place on the to-do list, heat will not be the catalyst that pulls it to the top. I snatch a hat from the pile and amble outside with a mix of determination and dread.
The 10 a.m. sun already feels searing on my pale complexion as I face the plants. The “little green buddies” as my father affectionately calls them, stare back at me, daring me to tame them. What should I tackle today? The kale being overrun by weedy prickly lettuce or the Swiss chard trying to put on its tertiary leaves under the shadow of new thistles? I decide to turn my back on both and grab a shovel to prepare a bed for bush beans, which could have been planted a month ago.
After two requests from children and an escaped chicken interrupt my time with the dirt, I give up and go inside to attend to all the other matters pressing in on this day. The bed is only half prepared. Better luck tomorrow.
This is my struggle. I grew up with a mother who coaxes the most beautiful landscapes from plain yards and produces enough vegetables to feed the whole neighborhood. I had a Master Gardener as a grandmother and have a mother-in-law with the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen. All of my relatives seem to have the gardening bug (even a sister-in-law with a market garden producing hundreds of pounds of produce each year). We all have our talents and passions, and for whatever reason, gardening is not mine.
All of these people have gardener’s flow. Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow (according to Wikipedia) is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
I get it. I feel it in my kitchen, where menus materialize and ingredients come together in a way so logical and enjoyable to me that no effort seems to have been put forth. I am relaxed, and at the same time energized, by time at the stove or cutting board.
I’m good at caring for animals and children. Their needs seem immediate and familiar – so like mine. Plants, on the other hand, elude me. Without the cry of hunger or the obvious need for fresh bedding or clothes, I find plants easy to ignore. My houseplants suffer periods of drought on a regular basis and I can never quite seem to summon the energy to sculpt a really bountiful garden from the soil.
So why do I bother? Why do I hold myself to participating in an activity that feels a bit obligatory and burdensome? It is mostly the bountiful food a garden can provide. I love eating it, preparing it, and preserving it. That enchantment with the end product keeps me going through the drudgery of weeding. I also cannot deny that the primal nature of gardening pulls up a desire to grow and tend from some deeply-foundational part of me.
Every year, I prepare my garden and buy seeds and starts. With scrabbly bits of dirt under our fingernails, the kids and I get a few things planted and douse them with water. We feel accomplished. Then, the weeds come. Things go to seed overnight. My garden dissolves into one big weedy mess akin to a preschool classroom with an absent teacher.
If you, like me, try to garden or think you should want to garden but really don’t have the passion for it that your sun-browned neighbor putting out their walls of water in early May has, I can help. My love of food has helped me overcome my gardening shortcomings and press forward to the harvest; at least, a small harvest.
To accomplish a bit of gardening in our precariously short mountain growing season without killing myself doing it, and to ensure fresh produce hits our table throughout the season, I subscribe to the eight ideals below:
Support local farmers. If you can’t grow it yourself, support the professionals who really know their craft.
Grow kale. You can’t kill it and it will come back the next year without any effort.
Grow squash. Once you get summer or winter squashes established, they are amazingly productive, and even if you can’t eat 100 pounds of winter squash yourself, you will feel extremely accomplished.
Grow arugula. It grows so quickly it beats weeds offering peppery, tender greens long before you begin loathing going to the garden.
Grow bush beans. These satisfying veggies germinate quickly and don’t require a structure to grow on, the erecting of which can be even lower on the list than weeding.
Avoid tricky vegetables. Carrots are hard to germinate. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant will inevitably succumb to frost before ripeness unless you cover them. Brussels sprouts or parsnips need an extremely long growing season. Salad mix needs to be replanted every two weeks – ha! Climbing things like pole beans and peas require those pesky structures, not the circumspect gardener’s favorite.
Let it go – unless the weeds are choking out your chard. They won’t hurt much.
Enlist slave labor. Your children, if you have them, will work for food.
By all means, if you are a person who derives calm, pleasure, joy, or any other positive emotion from your “little green buddies,” grow it all. I am guessing that there are a good number of you out there who are just like me: a reluctant gardener who wants to try, wants to cultivate, but really doesn’t love time spent in the garden. I give you permission to be a mediocre gardener. It’s OK. Do however much makes sense for you without making you resent the plants that seem to mock you from their overgrown beds.
Once you’ve satisfied your need to prod the ground, seek out a local farmer. They have the passion that coaxes miracles from dust and, in turn, your plate is full.