We already have a decent fruit orchard: red plums, golden plums, cherries, nectarines, peaches, asian pears, standard pears. We also have a decent section dedicated to berries: blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. This spring, we planted a variety of herbs, salad greens, radishes, cabbages, carrots, onions, and brussel sprouts. Of those only about half germinated. We got a large crop of lettuce (two kinds), radishes, and carrots. We are still waiting on the brussel sprouts. They are currently forming the little edible sprouts, but it is taking a lot longer than we expected. We only got one cabbage, which sprung up where I didn't plant them.
Once we harvested most of these foods, we planted the summer crop: Sunflowers, pole beans, peppers, pumpkins, zucchini, crookneck squash and a cherry tomato plant. We also planted four grapevines which will be a permanent part of the garden. I'm planning on training them into a fountain form instead of the traditional way. About the time we put in the summer plants, we also put in a drip irrigation system. The plants did better at this point.
All of this gardening has prompted a variety of thoughts:
- Food grown in your yard tastes better than what you get at the store. The flavors of everything, even the most hum-drum foods, are stronger.
- We spend a lot less on produce these days. One of our daughters thinks she can't go a meal without fruit and our son is starting to think the same way. We used to buy a lot of produce, not anymore.
- When you decide to plant food crops, and land, water, and sun are sufficiently supplied, God will provide an overabundance. I'm inclined to believe that this is because He is generous. I am also inclined to believe that he expects us to be generous with his bounty. Thus some of the food should be given away. Unless you are selling it for a profit, this is a necessary activity if you don't want perfectly good food to go to waste. I'm pretty good at using and saving, but we can only eat and preserve so much. I've got a quart ziploc in the fridge filled with fresh green beans ready to use or preserve. I've made apricot jam (from a neighbors donation). I've made two blackberry pies. I've made dried plum chips (not exactly prunes). I'm making plum fruit leather (my first try at this as I'm desperate to use a huge supply). I've made plum pie (rather tart, note to self... use more sugar). We're having trouble keeping up with the strawberries despite the children's fondness for them so strawberry jam will be made in the next few days. I'm contemplating drying some of the green beans to use in soups this winter. I am so glad my Mom gave me her dehydrator. Thankfully, the blackberries, cherries and plums are finishing up or done. But the Nectarines are starting to ripen. The tree is full. One branch broke the other day and we lost 50-100 nectarines. That was a small portion of what is still on the tree. We will have to work harder at thinning the fruit earlier in the season.
- Gardening helps me refocus on time in a different way than we are accustomed in our culture. You prepare the ground at the right time of year. You plant the seeds when those seeds need to be planted. You water and weed without any sign of growth for weeks. Only then, with patience, do you get the new plants sprouting. You tend and watch them grow. All you can do is water, weed and wait (some people add some fertilizer). You can't make plants grow faster than they do. You can't rush the new fruits or vegetables to form at your convenience. They are ready when they are ready. Once it is time to harvest, you harvest or lose it. Once you harvest, you use it, give it away, or preserve it for later use. If you don't let the garden guide your time-table, you will be doing the needed things at the wrong times and therefore getting a bad result.
- Farming is hard work. I already knew this and I'm not considering myself a farmer. Both of my parents grew up on farms and I visited my grandparent's farm on many occasions. I do not have an idealized view of farming. It is hard work. It is hard on the people working in the fields. It is hard on the people processing the food for later use. You have to be the right kind of person to thrive in this setting. My grandpa was one of those people. He loved being a farmer. He loved trying new crops, working with the animals, keeping bees, going fishing in the pond. It was harder on my grandma, but she managed to run the kitchen, raise six kids, and help sell some of the food to the neighbors (she also learned to paint and became a income tax preparer in her later years). Having a big garden like we have, I understand better what my grandparents were doing with their kitchen garden (about the size of our entire backyard). They fed themselves all year with what they grew in that garden. The field crops were for market. Besides the honey, milk, meat and eggs that they got from the animals (of which they kept only a small portion for themselves and sold the rest), the kitchen garden was what they lived on. My Dad remembers that they would supplement with wild berries and a few fruit trees in the summer. I remember my grandparents had a huge pecan tree in their front yard. They would send us a box of pecans at Christmas time which would last us most of the next year in my Mom's baking of desserts. I realize that we could create a similar kitchen garden to help us lower our food purchases. However, such a garden is a full-time job throughout the growing season. As the kids get older, it is more feasible to do this. Right now, it is just an intense hobby.
- My kids are learning about plants and where food comes from. A garden is a great way to teach botany. The kids can help plant, water, weed and watch the plants develop. They also get to taste the results of the work. Young kids like ours, don't have a lot of patience for the everyday stuff like watering and weeding. But they are fascinated with planting and harvesting. The Pillowfight fairy loves to help me harvest berries. She has plenty of patience for that since she loves to eat them. I'm glad that I'm passing along some of what I learned when my family had a garden when I was a kid. Maybe, at least some of my kids will show an interest in growing some of their own food as they grow up. I will try not to expect them to love it as much as I do.
- Being outside in the garden and just outside in general, is good for us adults. In many ways, our backyard is becoming a little oasis from the cares of the world. That is a very worthwhile thing.