A Garden Is Only As Good As The Cook

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There is a lot of wasted work in this world. I do much of it myself, so I am certainly not throwing stones at others; but it does tend to beg the question: “Is it time to reassess?”

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about her vegetable garden – what she was growing, how it was doing, and what problems she’d had with pests and lack of rain. Overall, things seemed to be going well, but she said something in passing that resonated in the back of my mind and haunted me as I tended my own garden days later.

“I’m really good at the growing,” she smiled. “It’s just all the harvesting I never seem to get around to.”

Sadly, I would hasten a guess that there are more than a few fellow gardeners out there – eyes lowered and heads down in shame – who could echo this statement.

With the first rains of spring, the light is lit within us to get out there, get dirty and get planting. Days are cool, moisture is abundant and winter was horrific – our one and only thought is to chop fresh salsa and sauté green beans until the summer sun sinks low on the horizon.

Then reality comes knocking. Pest populations become overwhelming. Rain is not forthcoming. Blackberry canes take over the back quarter of the property and the weeds stage a coup in the chard bed. When you do manage to get yourself out to the vegetables, the mozzies and gnats go to town on your ankles and it feels like you are running an obstacle course to get a decent tomato on the table. Before you know it the beans have gone to seed and you were never able to pick one, much less sauté it.

And I haven’t even mentioned the heat yet.

The further the season progresses, the more overwhelmed you feel, especially when you pick up a glossy mag in the supermarket checkout line and hear how Janie Gardenmaster canned 600 pints of tomatoes in an afternoon and still had time to throw together an informal vegetarian dinner party for eight using produce from her two acre plot. Oh and did she mention the brick greenhouse she’s currently building with vintage six-pane windows?

Feeling a trifle inadequate? A few points to consider before we tackle the problem of the harvest:

  • Summer is hot, often humid, and definitely humorless – but it happens every year to a garden near you…guaranteed.
  • It is self-esteem suicide to read those magazines. They portray lifeSTYLES not life. Keep both hands firmly on the shopping cart and your eyes straight ahead at all times.
  • Whether it’s wasted work or wasted food, waste is a terrible thing and to be avoided. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone – but it’s time to reassess what you can and can’t do and make some constructive changes towards the ultimate goal of living within your ability to cope gracefully and cope well.

We all garden for different reasons, and those reasons will determine the size of our garden, the time we spend on our garden, and what we hope to gain from our garden. So with that in mind…

It's heartbreaking to let produce go bad

Realistically assess your needs and your time constraints – Perhaps you are just wishing to supplement grocery produce. In that case, keep the garden small and well within manageable limits when the going gets tough – for it will. Big gardens equal big heartaches without big amounts of time lavished upon them.

Conversely, if your budget is dependent on your garden stocking your fridge and your pantry, you’ll need to focus on your garden as your job. Yet take heart – when you recognize your garden as a priority and treat it as such, your attitude often brightens from the shift in thinking.

Get into a daily routine of light maintenance and harvesting – This is best accomplished in the early morning, before kids, life and work get in the way. Plus, this provides ingredients and inspiration for dinner that evening.

Give away produce to friends who can use it – Far better that you give ten pounds of tomatoes away to someone who could actually use them than let them rot on your sink while you try and find the time to can them. Similarly, don’t take veggies that you know you will never use – it just adds to more waste and more guilt.

Learn your lessons from this year and plant appropriately for the next – Maybe you didn’t need so many berry canes. Perhaps six kale and ten chard plants will more than adequately deal with your family’s need for greens. If you end up with extra garden space, lend it to an apartment-bound friend.

And again, don’t read the magazines. No matter how red her tomatoes, I’m willing to bet that Janie Gardenmaster has a first class therapist, a cleaner, and a divorce lawyer on standby. Some things really are too good to be true.

By | 2018-02-20T20:41:32+00:00 August 19th, 2011|

About the Author:

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Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

4 Comments

  1. John August 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    Ah reality has certainly raised its ugly head this year. I suppose it would be easier to care for a less than 5000 sq ft garden. Just give in to the lack of rain in MD. But i can’t help remembering the times when it all went as planned … 🙂

    • MB Willburn August 20, 2011 at 8:27 am - Reply

      So my question to native Mid-Atlantic gardeners always is: “Is the weather really worse now, or are you looking at it with the rose-colored glasses through which we tend to view all memories?” General consensus seems to be – the temps are more extreme and so is the precipitation (or lack thereof). Anyone else want to weigh in? As a California native, I’m not really qualified! – Marianne

  2. The Sage Butterfly August 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    It’s not the growing or harvesting that gets me, it is the using the harvest that becomes the challenge. In the past, I have inadvertently let things rot in the refrigerator because I did not eat them fast enough. Now, I freeze, dry, give away, and make dishes based on what I harvest. I am getting better at it.

  3. Jean August 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    Years ago, I realized that growing food just didn’t make sense for my one-person households. (I make an exception for herbs, so I can run outside a snip what I need when I’m cooking). Instead, I join a CSA and shop at local farmer’s markets, choosing to support local farmers and save my energies for the cooking and preserving. It still gets away from me occasionally, but mostly I can use the harvest I’m buying.

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