Last year, we built our first deer fence and planted a few beds. Cucumber beetles eventually killed off the cucumber plant. Blight started killing the tomatoes from the ground up. But not before we had days of cucumber in our salad of homegrown greens, thickly sliced tomatoes on our lunchtime burgers and zuchinni and peppers sautéed for pasta sauces. Our carrots, on the other hand, were sadly stunted, the radishes bitter and chewy, and, by the time I got around to trying my hand at canning, I had only enough tomatoes for three jars. Year one's garden was both discouraging and encouraging.
Then Bill read to me from an article that asserted it can take ten seasons to learn how to farm sustainably. That resonated with me. Across those years, you have time to learn your growing conditions and improve your soil. You figure out a watering system and a plan to keep varmints out of your beds. You learn to recognize pests before they take out a plant and experiment with organic solutions to the problems. You keep track of what grows well and what you like to eat.
I began to see the garden not as a plant-by-plant test of will and a season-by-season project, but as a longer-term, educational practice. I approached this year feeling more relaxed and slightly more confident. We built more beds and got our farmlet underway. Naturally we still had problems and I still did my share of freaking out, but I also took action. When tomatoes leaves started curling, I still despaired, but I also studied them closely and found the aphids responsible, spraying them with insecticidal soap. When blotches appeared on the leaves of the pumpkin and squash, I knew to go after the powderly mildew right away with neem oil.
Pictured above are the veggies I picked today. An armful of fresh, beautiful food. It still amazes me that the seeds we scattered and the little, tender plants we nestled into the soil have grown to spill out of their beds and produce more food than we can eat in a day. As a result, one of this year's challenges has been to get more inventive about making certain all our produce turns into meals. We give some away. We eat a lot of salad and stir-fry. But I also made refrigerator pickles when six cucumbers came in the same day; the fresh cukes would last about a week, the pickles six weeks. I shredded some of our excess zucchini and froze it for bread and pasta sauces down the road. I made a big batch of hummus, seasoned with our homegrown garlic and now-fading cilantro, and froze portions of it. Next up: canning. (Note to self: get those lids!)
I'm going to declare year two of the vegetable garden a success already. Not because of the armloads of harvest (peppers, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, green beans, garlic, onion, cucumbers, chard, arugula, lettuce, carrots), but because I've learned so much. I've learned more about making compost to enrich our soil, learned about recognizing pests before they take out a crop and, most importantly, learned that this is all (the harvest and the pests, the food and the work to produce it) an ongoing experiment as I learn to live more in sync with the world around me.