For about a month now they’ve been marching through my door. They arrive curled in the mailbox, exploding with colorful, exciting promises of spring. So many promises, so many options provide such welcomed relief in this, the darkest, grayest part of the year.
The seed catalogs have begun making their annual appearance and with them, my dreams of bigger, better, more colorful gardens spring to the forefront. Why yes, I’d sure like to plant more of that and that, maybe try some of that this year, oooh, a new flower bed full of nothing but red and yellow flowers is definitely what I need!
And I start picking from the pages. A little of this, a little of that, who doesn’t want to try a purple carrot or a row of kohlrabi? Who says I don’t need 12 varieties of tomatoes and 16 varieties of beans and peppers and melons? I go a little crazy when I start picking out the seeds I’d like to have. I want to try EVERYTHING and the descriptions of the flavors and the smells of each delightful fruit, vegetable and flower does not help keep my enthusiasm in check. Buttery, nut-flavored squash? Yes, please! A melon with an exotic flavor that hints of banana and pineapple? Absolutely!
But, eventually, as my want-to-have seed list grows and grows and grows, reality sets in. I’d need five acres of tilled, amended soil to even begin to plant what I want to grow. That’s a lot of work, and all that work requires time I know I won’t have. So, I scale it down. Purple carrots are fun, but they aren’t a necessity. I decide what we will definitely eat, how much we’ll need, in reality, and add maybe one or two fun crops just to keep things exciting. Last year, we planted way to much chard and way too much lettuce. We had salad every. freakin’. day. I love salad, but trying to keep up with a bed that’s going to bolt if you don’t eat it can become tedious. I did not plant enough beans and I went overboard with the varieties of peppers and tomatoes. We needed more potatoes and more onions, so I’ll increase those this year and cut back on what I went overboard on.
Simplicity and feeding my family through the winter months is the goal. If I can’t can it, freeze it, dehydrate it or otherwise store it, forget it. Lettuces, while I can’t preserve it, I will plant it, but much, much less of it.
The biggest mistake most new gardeners make is too much, too big, too soon. It’s easy to plan it all, it’s easy to plant the seeds or tenderly transplant young vegetables and flowers with great plans of big, beautiful, productive plants in mind, but, within a month, the truth is evident in the weeds choking out the crops and the flowers. Weeding is time-consuming and is usually the biggest reason to be in the garden, aside from regular plant checkups for health and insect infestation. Ninety percent of my time in the garden is to pull weeds and attempt to keep them under control. The other ten percent is for harvesting, amending the soil, working the soil around the plants and watering. The weeds always seem to grow about 20 times faster than the plants! When you don’t use any kind of herbicide or insecticide, gardening can be very, very labor-intensive.
It is a labor of love. I love being in the garden, I love spending time with the plants, watching my hard work flourish as the tiny seedlings thrive and grow and produce. I like keeping things orderly and healthy and bringing in buckets of fresh produce to feed my family. But, I also know how much time I have and how much time it takes. I’d love to be able to dedicate a couple of hours to my gardens and flower beds every day, but I know I can’t make that kind of commitment.
It’s easy to dream big, but when it comes to the reality of it, it’s far easier, and more rewarding, to keep things under control.
Sorry, beautiful little purple carrots and blue squash, you just aren’t on my list of must-haves this year. But that buttery, nut-like squash? Most definitely!