Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Squirrel: Gardening isn’t for everyone…or is it?

Green Beans

So I started my “urban farm” earlier in the spring.  It lacks the uniformity of what you’d typically visualize of a garden…or at the least the kinds that come to mind for me.  I think of neat and tidy rows, with mounds going down a long patch of field, with at least a dozen rows, not including corn.

Some people don’t take this seriously. They just throw stuff out there, planting wherever there is an open patch.  Not me, I carefully nurtured dozens of seedlings indoors for several weeks, careful to mark the plants.

When planting day came, I went out to see what I had to work with.  And while it wasn’t exactly a nicely tilled field, waiting for attention…I figured I could make it work with a little creativity, hard work, and commitment.

I spy...hmmm.  I'll have to get back to you!
I had three what I would call “growing areas” inbetween the brick pavers on my patio, plus numerous planters from my tropical decorative trees from summers past.

Now budgets.  A typical summer design on the patio (with me doing all the work/ materials and plants only) has run around $600.00 per year, to transform my backyard patio into a garden oasis, with a tropical feel and an outdoor room you want to spend every spare second in during the spring, summer, and fall season.

This year, I knew right away I wasn’t going to drop that much cash on plants that die at the end of the season.  So I focused my attention on pulling together a mix of flowers and vegetables, growing and living in harmony side by side.

I am almost certain that my budget did not exceed $100.00, including seeds, two hanging plants, and a flat of purple flowers to sprinkle around my planters.

Last year, I went for height to achieve the tropical feel.  I chose corn stalks this year; they grow tall, have long leafy stalks, and look different throughout the growing and harvest season.  I sprinkled a few purple flowers around the base and yes, planted them right into a container (5 total of same variety to ensure healthy cross pollination). 
Corn and a little "John Deere Green" for luck

I smartly bought plastic labeling stakes on Amazon to label everything.  I used a Sharpie Marker, with bright orange. 

At first, I wanted to make sure every plant had a unique spot to grow.  Then it became crowded and the seedlings were out of control in the flat I had on the kitchen table.  I moved it outdoors, which only made it worse.

Throwing caution to the wind, I quickly found a warm bed and new home for every seedling I’d grown.  Halfway through the process, I gave up on labeling…which in hindsight, really didn’t matter because as it turned out, Sharpie ink runs off plastic plant stakes and while I have cute little white bubbles sticking out of the ground, they are signs going nowhere…because they no longer have any writing at all and I have resorted to guessing plants as they grow and produce.  The green beans were easy, same with tomatoes.  I’m pretty sure these really pretty orange flowering vines are cantaloupes, but they could just as easy be watermelon…I’ll let you know when something sprouts obvious.

Harvest time is kind of a sliding scale.  It started a few weeks ago…when I was able to snag a strawberry a day from my new plant.  That single berry was the sweetest, best tasting berry ever…probably because I’d taken it from seed to plant to food.  This is way more cool than I expected.  I lived on a farm and benefited from a fresh garden every summer.  But I wasn’t the one that tilled the garden, prepped it, and planted seeds.  I was the one that would walk out back and trudge through dirt and pick the choice corn, tomatoes, beans…whatever was on the dinner menu.  I took for granted this simple chore as much as I do picking up fresh produce from a grocery store.  Because it wasn’t mine.

It all goes back to what you work for in life, how hard it takes to get it, and how you feel when you get to reap the rewards.  In my backyard garden, I have “harvested” about a dozen green beans, 3 or 4 strawberries, and am working on a spice jar for dill weed, which is apparently really easy to grow.

It’s funny because I didn’t even know the beans had sprouted until I was pulling a few weeds out of the way.  And I couldn’t help thinking that much like life, we often miss the best stuff because we don’t feel like going too far into the weeds.

And the strawberries?  I had to watch them every morning and evening just to get a handful to sample before the birds took them away.  I think about other things in life I’m not watching that closely.  And I wonder how much of my life flew away like the birds while I wasn’t paying attention.
Mason Jars have always been a "thing"

My corn, though, I have the highest of expectations for.  And they are the funniest story of the entire hodge podge of my make due garden.  You see, last year, I thought some old corn seeds came back (yes, I know now they don’t do that) and there was a patch of gorgeous stalks growing all summer.  So proud was I to have them looking so lush and fruitful,  
Wall of "Corn" from 2013
it didn’t occur to me to question why at the end of the summer, they were 9 foot tall and producing no corn.

I sought some expert advice and the answer deflated my farming pride to a new low…because I learned that the “corn” I’d been cultivating, feeding, watering and nurturing was in fact a look alike plant, more weed than plant…and extremely invasive and destructive…and tough to kill.  My corn is a running joke and this season, I aim to put an end to it.  My corn tasseled last week and I’m expecting the first ears in a few more weeks.  And then I’ll never confuse the two again (or admit it anyways).

If you leave a garden unattended, the results are going to be mixed, and you will have little influence and control over the outcome.  So my choice location for my garden was in the heart of my home…my backyard patio, where we spend a lot of our time.  Instead of picking a field (which truth be told, I don’t have in the city), I chose to plant around life, with me and my boys in the middle…sitting out on the patio chairs, watching the trees, roasting marshmallows at night.  Because putting my garden in plain sight ensures it’s not an add on to anything.  It’s part of life, with my boys growing faster than the weeds, and my own life moving swiftly along as well.  But being surrounded by this very unique garden, I can tell you that there are so many moments inbetween that we stop and see something that gives us pause and makes us smile.  It might be our favorite humming bird or it could be a shy rabbit in the yard.  The bloom of a new flower…the bouquet of fresh flowers in a mason jar sitting on the table.   And almost daily, several deer looking strangely out of place in the city, but pure delight for us to experience.
Campfire aka "burn can"

I used to think faster is better.  Really!  In all things.  Why do something by hand that you can do in half the time with something automatic? 

Canning, making jelly…slowing down to look at life close up, it’s like all that good stuff you find only if you’re willing to go a little deeper in the weeds.

I’ve decided the view is way better, once you’ve faced whatever weed is holding you back…in my garden, it was a weed that looked like corn.  In my life, it’s my own reluctance to pull back layers, be willing to trim and cut away the past, so that I can slow down and consider the time we all have here on a moment by moment basis…without worrying about missing out on what may or may not be a better moment in the future.  Pick your present like a delicate flower, and keep it in the center of your life.  And only let go when the moment has passed and there is a new moment to be treasured, enjoyed, and remembered. 
Never guess this is a city sky

I guess growing a garden isn’t for everyone, but there are some basic similarities for reapplication in life…and I think we could all benefit from a community garden, where we share a little more with one another.


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