After visiting a few farms this year, I felt inspired. I wanted to get in touch with my “inner farmer,” on the assumption that she existed. On each farm, whether urban or countryside, I felt peace on the property, a desire for natural growth, for the nourishment of animals and plants in a healthy way. There was a “oneness” to the way the farmers saw the soil, animals, plants, and the cycle of the sun and seasons. I wondered, “would it be possible to replicate that oneness at all, in any small way, in my backyard?”
The Soil is the Thing
With that thought and the aid of a good friend, we undertook to build a farm in the backyard. He labored over the soil, like a chemist who does an experiment multiple times until the exact titration is found to bring things into balance. He also ingeniously increased our growth by introducing container gardening.
After much research, we learned that a composite soil with compost, potting soil, and plain old dirt would provide enough drainage and nutrients. We also learned that a modified form of square foot gardening could make maintenance of the plants relatively weed-free with a fair amount of free mulch from the city. This combination of soil created not a farm in my backyard, but rather a teeming, thriving jungle of plants.
Plant the Things You Want to Eat
I did the planning for budgeting the garden-related expenses and the return on investments. Soil, trellises, and containers were start-up costs. I planted the things I wanted to eat or that fell into the category of superfoods. My main goal was making sure that the costs of gardening came in less than two months of organic grocery shopping. Excluding start up costs, we came within budget. We planted beets, rainbow chard, bibb lettuce, healing hands lettuce, broccoli rabe, sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, kale, cucumbers, basil, rosemary, peppermint, thyme, Italian parsley, eggplant, marigolds, Spanish black radish, watermelon radish, arugula, tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots. The cost of seeds and seedlings alone were equivalent to one purchase of a handful of each vegetable or one package of an herb.
We Doubted the Seed, Then We Believed
After planting seeds, we highly doubted that some would survive. They seemed so fragile. A few didn’t make it, and we experienced that disappointment and loss that comes from investing a bit of self into something living, something that farmers do every day. When the seeds turned to seedlings, and grew into larger vegetative monsters sprawling over the garden, my friend experienced something that I’ve only seen in proud fathers talking about the accomplishments of their children.
Weather or Not?
After what will be marked in my memory as the hail storm drill of 2012, I
learned about another challenge of farming, the need to submit to, and accept the weather. I helped move heavy containers of soil and seedlings desperately into shelter while getting drenched from the downpour. I realized that farmers don’t have the luxury of being able to save their crops, but also that in some ways, they need to trust the seeds to grow and the seedlings to survive.
The Aftermath of Abundance
So, the blessing is a small insight and greater reverence for the hard work that our farmers do, with their early rises to greet and water their plants, to monitor bug infestations, and in our case, to keep things organic (sometimes using cheap beer to trap slugs). What I learned about myself, is that I am a better harvester than a steward. I take great joy in the results, the beauty of blossomed zucchini. My friend, the soil scientist, simply enjoys growth–the journey, and checking in on the plants every day like he’s conversing with good friends. We have a good farming partnership. He grows. I gather.
The curse, right now, as I see it, is what do with all these cucumbers? These plants produce so much. What I also see is that if everyone took on a little backyard farming, we could do so much with so little space, and feed a lot of people.
Next up, I’ll learn to make pickles.