Around the bend: Slow and steady wins the race
A friend recently asked me why I continue to grow vegetables every year when I so clearly hate gardening.
Who says I hate it?
She reminded me that in June I described gardening as “neither easy nor particularly enjoyable” and “the pits.”
But I never said I hated it. In fact, right now I actually like it a lot.
In a typical year, by August I have thrown down my hoe in desperation and given the garden over to weeds and pests. I only make quick forays out there to pluck the occasional surfboard-sized zucchini and use it to beat back the overgrowth so I can assess the onslaught of tomatoes and lament that so many of them have survived despite my near-total neglect. (I have mixed feelings about large harvests.)
But this year, I have a garden that’s heavy on produce — mostly tomatoes, since bugs got the squash and zucchini — light on weeds, well mulched and, at least for the time being, all caught up.
Usually I start out the planting season with great determination, putting in entire weekends that leave me sunburned, dehydrated and somewhat bitter about gardening in general. Then I get back to my normal life and the next time I go out to the garden — you know, a month or two later — the thing is a mess.
All this spring I kept thinking: If only there were a way to keep up with the garden so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. But how? And then it came to me: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
As aphorisms go, this one’s pretty weak. I just watched the Olympics and no one is breaking world records using this as a competitive strategy. Then again, gardening is not an Olympic sport (though once, when I fled the garden after accidentally touching a centipede, I rivaled Usain Bolt’s 100-meter time).
Clearly “rushed and intermittent” wasn’t working for me. I decided to give “slow and steady” a chance. So this summer, instead of spending long days in the garden every few weeks, I’ve been putting in a few minutes every day or so. It’s crazy, but it actually works. The garden looks great and I feel empowered. I haven’t cried once.
The only downside is that getting all the planting done took most of the summer. I let a portion of the garden lie fallow (gardenspeak for “full of weeds”) and every few days I cleared a few more square feet and threw in more crops. Some, like the lettuce I planted last week, will have plenty of time to grow before the first frost. I’m not sure about the kohlrabi. (Since I don’t know (a) what kohlrabi is or (b) what you do with it, I won’t care either way.)
Everything is now in. The weeds have all but given up. Healthy vegetables are growing in every tidy row. Not much is ripe yet, but I still go out once a day to check on everything. What I have, essentially, are four to six thousand unripe tomatoes on the vine and a few other plants almost ready for picking. It’s ridiculously easy.
At the moment.
In another couple of weeks there’s going to be a problem. In past years, in spite of my poor gardening practices, I’ve been overwhelmed by a tomato tsunami at the end of the summer. This year the plants are uncharacteristically abundant, healthy, well watered and carefully tended, meaning I’m looking at a yield beyond anything I’ve ever dealt with before.
What have I done?
“Slow and steady” may work for maintaining the garden. But when several tons of tomatoes all come ripe at the same time and the threat of frost looms, moderation isn’t going to cut it. I’ll spend September and October in the kitchen, slogging my way through 40 bushels of tomatoes and a truckload of Ball jars until the pantry shelves are full. Honestly, if it weren’t for the rush of homesteader self-importance I get from bragging about my canning inventory, I’m not sure it would be worth the effort.
I don’t hate gardening, regardless of how my words may have been misconstrued. But when it comes to devoting several hours each night, week after week this fall, processing all that produce — well, to describe it as “neither easy nor particularly enjoyable” would be putting it mildly.
See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.
Ethan Allen Storage 100622 1×1.75