I thank my friends for my garden. I’ve tried gardening for decades, never growing enough to make it worthwhile, but being persistent because I want to know how to grow. This year is a culmination of efforts and gifts, and lots of sun and rain, and a lot fewer pests. I might even get more than one apple this year. Even that would’ve been tough without my friends. Thanks.
Some of my friends grow the majority of their food. I don’t. The weeds and pests have a tendency to win because they have the advantage of uninterrupted diligence. I have a series of jobs, which I appreciate; but which also leave little time for life maintenance. Gardening only gets a slice of that time. This year, it may be enough.
One advantage of having friends who garden is getting what they can’t use. They get more seedlings to sprout than they can plant, and I get some starts. They trim some of their healthier bushes, and I get cuttings. They decide some of their seeds are getting too old, and I give them a new home and a chance. As I receive each gift, I apologize to the plants. They aren’t totally on their own, but sometimes their best defense against pests and dry spells is luck. Surprisingly, many survive.
A garden is an act of home-based frugality, as well. One of the best donors to my garden is my kitchen. Scraps grow. Potatoes and onions and garlic sprout in the pantry, which means the best place to store them is in the ground where they have a chance to make more. I also buy a few seeds because seeds and dirt are cheap – or, at least they are cheap now that I am making a bit more money. For a few years, even dirt was expensive. The news reports are right; it is expensive to be poor. Get poor enough and you may have to buy food rather than grow it because the scramble to live takes up all the time and leaves no money.
Welcome to a tour of my garden, and a demonstration of the generosity of others (at little or no cost to them.)
Long time readers and Whidbey residents know about the caterpillar onslaught of a few years ago. My trees were finally maturing, then the bugs ate everything. Just to make it worse, the fence fell down and the deer came in to dine. Two of the trees have yet to produce fruit. I started them from bare root stock, but they were beside the fence that fell. The best tree is the gift tree. Two of my neighbors had a borderline conflict. One forced the other to move a fence six inches, which meant taking out three reasonably mature trees. I found out about it just in time to save the third tree; the other two were cut down. Now, the one tree has the biggest crop I’ve seen it produce. I should probably thin it, but I don’t want to get in the way of its exuberance.
Another bare root planting that I bought back before my Triple Whammy, the fig tree is sprouting dozens of figs. I can see the appeal for fruit trees; they are perennial, and potential produce more each year. Amortize that cost out over years and the ROI is impressive.
Raspberries, especially on Whidbey, like to throw up new canes and can crowd themselves out. A friend has an impressive raspberry patch that is meticulously maintained, defended, and supported. Just as a matter of thinning the row, I ended up with a dozen plants or so that are somehow surviving my neglect.
Tomatoes and Peppers
Last year, a friend gave me their leftover tomato starts. This year, I bought a pack of cheap seeds. The more generous contribution was from another friend who was tossing out some cracked pots. The pots may not last many more seasons, but pots are expensive. They gave me seven, and cages to go with them. Finally, I have enough to buy dirt and compost, and I have a line of containers sprouting seedlings on my deck.
More pruning means more cuttings for me. As others gardens expand, they’ve trimmed mint, oregano, and maybe marjoram (I’ll know better after it’s grown so more.) Another friend gave me fresh herbs for cooking. I used most of them, but they were so fresh that cutting took root. Add basil to the pantry.
Onions and Garlic
The world must want me to grow more garlic and onions because I had a variety of sources. Between my pantry, their gardens, and one person’s lucky garden run, I have a variety of onions and garlic sprouting. They particularly need luck because, with my weeding skills, I’m likely to mistake their stalks for the grass that’s invaded the garden.
Potatoes, Squash, and Ginger
Kitchen scraps grow. We eat plants. Plants like to grow. I plant potatoes that sprout because I took too long to cook them (but they were on sale for $1.50 for 5 pounds!). Squash and pumpkin seeds are saved from last year’s harvest – which included a squash from Langley’s edible landscaping. Langley is a tourist tour maintained to attract people with lots of money; but rather than emphasize the ornamental, the town’s public spaces are growing edibles. Free food. Free food is so uncommon that most people walk by without realizing they can pick strawberries, peas, artichokes, and pumpkins. I tend to nibble a bit, but didn’t really harvest until after the tourist season last year. Now, I have a line of pumpkins and squash that grow faster than the slugs can eat them. The ginger is similarly easy. Buy a bit of ginger in the store, plant it, water it, wait because it grows slowly, and then harvest a bit and replant the rest. Another good bit ROI.
By the way, one defense against slugs seems to be working. Most of the pots are on crowns of wire. I took a bit of fence material, turned it into a ring, and placed the pots on top. Slugs can slime and slide up things, but the wires are much narrower than the slugs. There’s less for them to grab onto, and much of their bottom is exposed and drying out if they try to climb the wire. They seem to be hunting elsewhere. Stay tuned.
Some grow gardens for fun. Others for necessity. I know several who do it as an emergency resource. One way to store three days (or three months) of food is to grow it. Whether from a natural or societal disaster, there’s something comforting about knowing there is a pile of potatoes already delivered and stored.
There are enough dystopic scenarios to raise worries. The Earth quakes. Volcanoes erupt. Winds blow. Governments become dysfunctional. Finances fail. Societies revolt. I’d be amazed if there wasn’t a major upset, because there always is. And yet, we continue.
My optimism comes from the simple acts that have helped produce my garden. While some will hoard during a crisis, a healthy community tends to tend to itself. There will be tough times, and bad timing can be terrible, but the intent and generosity convinces me that seeds may be shared, cuttings distributed, and lessons taught. My garden can only provide a small portion of my needs; but, it can provide a sense of accomplishment, lessons in sustainability, and the opportunity to pay it forward by sharing.
In the meantime, I might just have a few special additions to my recipes: homegrown tomatoes, jalapenos, ginger, plenty of herbs – and don’t forget the mushrooms. I had to pay for them, but knowing I am growing a source of tasty protein is a harvest I look forward to. If there was only a way to know when they’d fruit. Oh well, there are always more lessons to learn – and more thanks to give. Thanks, everyone.