Welcome To The Garden!
Updated: Feb 24
Savoring the harvest is just one of the many perks of growing your own garden. From tilling the soil to plucking your first ripe tomato, gardening is a labor of love that provides year round benefits to body and soul, and the rewards are many and great.
When you think of gardening what image comes to mind? Is it a pleasant memory of your grandmother in her straw hat picking peas, a small patio filled with potted tomato plants, the neighbor down the street selling fresh eggs and jams, a backyard acre filled with perfectly grown corn and peppers? Or... does the very word gardening make your palms sweat while remembering tiny paper cups filled with wilted bean sprouts from preschool fill your head, coupled with the idea of having to tend to anything else at the end of a long work day, along with abandoned dreams of growing something edible to feed your family? For some, the idea of gardening is something only farm families do by trade, and the desire to produce their own food never extends past the local farmer's market. Whatever your perspective or personal experience with gardening, be it positive or negative, the fundamental idea is always the same, to obtain fresh foods naturally with which to create wonderful ways to nourish our bodies.
It always puzzles me when I meet people who have never seen or experienced the joy of gardening for themselves, because gardening was in my genes long before I was born. My mother's family were sharecroppers from South Carolina who tended tobacco, potato, and corn fields, as well as raising hogs and cows for market, until moving to Georgia where they retired and maintained a home garden and small chicken coop. My grandfather hunted and fished for meat, kept two gardens with everything from peanuts to sugarcane, grew three varieties of grapes for jelly and wine, and harvested nuts and melons from siblings farms. Aside from buying dairy, grains, and Jello instant pudding, they were totally self-sufficient for the bulk of their food needs, and that meant healthy meals for everyone who stopped by.
Growing up eating home grown fruits and vegetables, and marrying into a family who did the same for a living, I had a natural tendency toward gardening, even though my first attempts were small and sad at best. The raised bed that my husband built while our children were young proved to be perfect for growing strawberries and zinnias, but the beans the kids planted wilted in the sun, the carrots barely sprouted, and my few tiny tomatoes were ultimately stolen by turtles and squirrels before a single one ever graced our plates. I felt like my genes were cheating me out of the bounty that should have magically poured from my fingertips as they did my mother's and grandfather's. Had I given up then and there with a plate full of strawberries and an empty freezer, I never would have known the feeling of success that comes with patience and practice in the art of growing things. In all aspects of gardening, be it flowers, fruits, or veggies, patience is the most important factor!
It wasn't long after moving to a larger property with our then school age children that my husband and I decided to once again try our hand at growing a small garden, this time from the ground up. We carefully chose a spot that would receive ample sunlight, prepared the soil as best we could, and carefully planted the things we thought would do best in our unforgiving, red Georgia clay. We weeded and watered and waited for weeks while imagining our success and bragging about our improved skills, but after months of work we only managed to harvest enough beans to make an appetizer, and grew one mini pumpkin that was positively perfect. The rest didn't survive the bugs, birds, deer, and other assorted wildlife that found it within weeks of production, and all semblance of our efforts were washed away with the autumn rains. I decided then that the earth hated me.
Dejected and feeling utterly defeated, we once again called it quits for a few years before resuming our attempts to nourish our family by way of a potted deck garden. We bought deep pots and filled them to overflowing with tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, squash, herbs, and a lovely arch for climbing beans ascending from two matching troughs. The start up cost was a bit more working from plants instead of seeds, and the work was surprisingly less considering the elements involved, but this time we succeeded! While I like to think it was because the natural talent that I knew was hiding in me somewhere finally blossomed to fruition, in truth it was probably the Miracle Grow potting soil and a more controlled environment that aided our success. Be it patience, perseverance, or the alignment of the stars, we finally tasted the fruits of our labors, and were greatly blessed by the bounty. I was hooked!
With a season of success under our belts and our faith in the planet restored, the urge to expand our deck's abilities to produce enough food to last more than the summer crept into our minds along with the notion of expanding our mission to become self-sustaining. We decided to add chickens to our budding homestead for fresh eggs, cleared over half of our backyard for a coop and workshop, and dedicated a large 27 foot square area made available by the construction to a new garden plot. This time the soil was NOT going to get the better of us! We bought a rear-tine tiller to chew through the hard clay, amended it with leaf matter, peat moss, sand, manure, and compost, then fenced the area to keep the wildlife at bay. The first year we planted it we were rewarded with a bounty that far surpassed our expectations. We cooked, pickled, and shared with the neighbors to celebrate our success, all the while wanting to try more challenging crops like corn, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. The proverbial gardening bee had not only bitten us, but had set up a hive in our souls that would in years to come create a rich honey that we couldn't live without.
As our children, flock, and garden grew, we eventually started tailoring it yearly to meet the specific needs of our family, as well as adding in enough to share with our flock. If one year produced an overload of tomatoes, beans, and peppers, then the next we focused on corn, squash, and sweet potatoes. We also began winter gardening, expanding our menu to include collards, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Herbs are something else that I discovered grew better in the garden than in my deck pots. Fig, blueberry, and blackberry bushes were added around the property to offer variety, and I began sprinkling seeds of my beloved zinnias around to feed the bees and add color to the greenery. The only things I can honestly say I have not been able to successfully grow are carrots, radishes, beets, and peas... four of my favorite veggies! I refuse to give up on them though, and plant them in new locations every year, as past experience has taught me that not everything grows according to our time.
Our journey to becoming gardeners may have been a painfully slow and arduous one filled with obstacles and failures along the way, but there was also love, laughter, and learning as we worked through each problem together and came out green on the other side. With the introduction of big Ag food production and more focus on working outside the home, what was once commonplace to our forefathers as a way of life has become less of a necessity to today's generation, creating a rift in our connectivity to the earth and the way it works to sustain us. Getting back to the practice of growing what you need to survive has an immeasurable value both physically and emotionally as we learn to sync with the earth and reap the harvest it holds for us. As I said in the beginning, patience is the key to all things, and gardening is a labor of love where the journey is half the fun.