I tried my hand at gardening and became addicted to the new colors, flavors, and textures hidden from us by conventional markets.
I wish we could all have Bridgerton style gardens or homey cottage gardens with various flowers and wild edibles.
After watching tons of Ron Finley (AKA Gangsta Gardener) and James Prigioni from The Garden Channel), I was ready to get down and dirty in my own garden and transform my plain, ugly, plot of rocks into a thriving food forest.
I expected to get tons of beautiful, juicy tomatoes, lush herbs, and giant leafy greens that could feed us for a good month. I was so excited to grow things unavailable in grocery stores, and live out my food snob days of eating real food.
FIRST, THE BAD BITS
Not Everything Survived
For the first few years, I did experience a lot f death in my garden. Nearly 50% of the seeds I started with either never germinated, or died before they could produce any fruit. I am still learning how to improve conditions for my plants; it is a lifelong struggle.
I also ended up having a really bad slug infestation. I wish I had photos, but to put it all into perspective, I would go outside at night after it had rained, and find THOUSANDS of slugs, all over the side of my house, and they were just munching away on my greens and marigolds.
The summer heat and sun were sometimes extremely harsh on my plants, causing fruit blossoms to drop despite daily watering and using wood chips. Unfortunately, as heat worsens due to climate change, I imagine having more issues in the future with dropped blossoms.
You WILL Run into Wildlife
You will have to deal with wildlife—and that can be as beautiful as it is terrifying. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into a garter snake. If you’re unlucky, you’ll run into a cottonmouth. The healthier your garden, the more terrifying the wildlife.
Unfortunately, I either can’t find or accidentally deleted the footage, but I did run into several snakes, even inside of my pots, and I’ve had to learn how to differentiate between venomous ones and non-venomous ones.
Before I gardened, there were NEVER snakes around my house. So, I had to get used to the fact that healthy gardens WILL attract snakes…. But, this is actually a good thing when they are garden snakes.
They have reduced the rodent population and they eat up the insects that wreak havoc on your garden. Be good to them, and they’ll be good to you.
The healthier your garden, the more you’ll also have to share with the wildlife. You’re growing food, after all. Birds will run away with your cherry tomatoes and berries. And, sometimes that cute bunny will take ALL of your lettuce.
Growing Your Own Food is Hard and Messy Work
You will NOT be wearing beautiful pinafores while tending to your garden. This is messy work with a lot of dirt, mud, manure, and bugs. I got up in there with sweats and hoodies, or a t shirt and pants with beat up shoes. I just didn’t want to risk getting rashes and cuts, or deal with hitchhikers in the form of ticks, ants, and other crawlies. You will get hurt while gardening, whether it’s something stinging you, getting stabbed by thorns or even dead foliage, splinters from raised beds or fences, or even just straining your back.
NOW, THE GOOD
Insects are our friends
I learned to not kill every insect in sight, and how to identify helpful insects and destructive ones. Although I have caved in and murdered a ton of slugs (which I know aren’t actually insects), I do try not to mess with my garden’s ecosystem unless there are aphids and slugs.
I love to see praying mantises, honeybees, beetles, caterpillars, butterflies, and other beautiful insects that just weren’t there before I started gardening. Planting anything can improve the environment.
Supermarket produce DOES taste worse
Homegrown everything tastes so much better. I used to suffer eating leafy green vegetables until I grew my own. I often grow butter lettuce, red sails lettuce, kale, and any variety of oakleaf lettuce. Let me tell you! The taste difference between homegrown and store bought is astounding.
There are so many varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs available to gardeners, and they each have unique and robust flavors. You might even find that you love a particular kind of fruit, herb, and vegetable that you will always need to grow in order to be able to eat it. For me, that’s lemon balm thyme and dragon tongue beans. English thyme can be very medicinal. If I want thyme in my food, I make sure I always have lemon thyme on hand.
When the weather gets warm, I love to have homegrown beans, peas, and leafy greens to either eat in salads or throw into stews.
Foraging is a thing
I found out that pretty much all of the weeds that grow around my house are edible. These include (but are not limited to) dandelion, Persian speedwell, deadnettle, and chickweed. A neighbor even beat me to foraging the local dandelion along a major street in my neighborhood.
It’s a bit frustrating that America has so much natural food just hanging out in the open, and it’s mistaken for weeds. I even found mulberries and blackberries near me.
It can be intimidating if you’ve never foraged before (I know I’m definitely not comfortable with it), but I learned to see plants in a whole new light.
You build a bond with others
Building a community with other gardeners is both fun and socially healthy. Friends and coworkers of mine have shared their produce with me and vice versa. You will appreciate what they have grown, and work really hard not to waste it. Plus, you might find that one gardener might have better luck with growing one type of produce over another. For example, I haven’t been successful yet in growing cucumbers with my land, but my friend has. She gave me a cucumber and I put it into an amazing salad and used the rest to make cucumber water with mint. I gave one of my friends a bunch of herbs since I have a lot of success growing and maintaining herbs. It’s a lot of fun trading these special goodies.
Nature is healing. I now spend a lot more time outside in natural environments. I go to parks multiple times a week just to take walks and ride my bike. This time is priceless to me because I will spend it meditating on things going on in my life, the good and the bad. I come out of the woods with a better grasp on my situation, able to accept the things I can’t change, and ready to take on the things I can.
Life will never be perfect, but you can take and collect the small wins you do earn.