Friday, April 30, 2010

Inch By Inch, Row By Row. Part I

I have never been much of a gardener. I don't love getting my hands into the dirt; actually, it feels all gritty and kind of squicks me out. I'm not big on nature; I've always been a city person, and my idea of getting outside is to walk several blocks while people-watching on a street like, say, Broadway in New York or Seattle, or Commercial Drive in Vancouver. I am just fine with buying my produce and flowers. I feel no need to be self-sufficient.

But. Two things happened. No, three. Well, maybe four.

First, we bought a house. Almost two years ago. I'd lived in a house with my spouse (and a mouse! and maybe a louse! and a blouse!) before that, but it was *her* house, and I didn't have the same feeling about the yard that I did when we moved and it was *our* house. Plus, the former owner was a devoted gardener and made a beautiful garden here, and I felt bad just letting it go to rack and ruin.

The second thing that happened was global warming. Well, sort of. The second thing that happened, really, was that, wanting to contribute less to global warming and landfills and the overall trashing of the planet, we got a compost bin from the city, and started putting our non-protein-based kitchen waste in it. And eventually it filled up, and I thought, gee, I should take some of that compost out of the bottom of the bin and put it in... the garden. Right. Garden. What garden?

The third thing that happened--okay, not the third thing, this is actually chronologically the FIRST thing, but I'm just going to leave it third in this list, okay? Anyway, what happened was, I moved to the Northwest. In the East, where I'm from, it's perfectly okay to spend a sunny afternoon curled up on the couch reading the New Yorker, if you are lucky enough to have the leisure, the couch, and the New Yorker enabling you to do so. If you feel like appreciating the weather, you can look out the window and maybe remark to the cat that it certainly is lovely out. But in Seattle, or Vancouver, or anyplace Seattle-or-Vancouver-like, there's this crazy moral imperative where in the unlikely event that the sun is shining and it's not pouring down miserable rain, really you need to be OUTSIDE! Enjoying It! As I mentioned earlier, my favored Outside activity is walking through a bustling cityscape. But I don't actually live right next to a bustling cityscape (I used to! long, long ago, in Seattle, in a lovely little studio apartment that was recently torn down to make a subway station. But that's another story.), there's no convenient way for me to Enjoy being outside when I have no bus to catch and it's not quite warm enough to sit on the porch reading the New Yorker. So what I mostly do, when it's nice out, is sit inside, not enjoying my New Yorker or whatever, but feeling guilty that I'm not outside and resentful that I feel guilty.

After twenty years of this, I got a little tired of it, and thought maybe I should try Enjoying the Outdoors like other people around here do. And I know from several years of Monday-morning staff-room conversations that the main way that people Enjoy the Outdoors, when such is possible, is to work in their gardens.

Okay! Compost moldering in the bin; cultural imperative to Enjoy the Outdoors, backyard all ready to garden in. This is what we call, in the literary analysis biz, overdetermined.

So. A garden, then.

A lot of our garden is already sort of...gardened. I mean, there are perennial plants planted, and they grow, and the weeds haven't gotten them yet. But there's this long, sunny patch of ground over by the garage, that was basically weeds. The former owner told us that the soil over there wasn't very good and if we wanted to do anything with it we should get new soil in. Last year RW bought some flowering plants at the school plant sale and put them in a patch of it, and they looked pretty, but I thought this year I would grow FOOD. Just like Alice Waters in the California elementary schools, and Michelle Obama at the White House, and all. Because I am the Zeitgeist Girl. With my ukulele and my brown hoodie and my little tiny iPod shuffle. Okay, I am the Zeitgeist-of-2-or-3-years-ago Girl. That works for this. Isn't reducing food-miles so 2008?

But first I needed good soil, and that was where I balked. It just didn't seem right to go to the store and BUY DIRT. Isn't the point--one of the points-- of gardening that it is frugal? That you plant seeds and grow your own food and keep at least some of your nutritional needs out of the capitalist stream? Isn't it defeating a purpose to haul a bunch of plastic bags filled with dirt--oh, sorry, soil--up to a cash register? A friend told me that you could mix compost (compost! I have compost! Okay, the grapefruit peels and eggshells are still pretty intact, but I'm sure there's some compost in there somewhere)--right, mix compost with sand from the beach and get usable dirt, but then she said you have to WASH the sand and I threw up my hands in despair.

[More coming. Because I can milk a saga out of ANYTHING. Stay tuned later on for my riveting series on vacuuming the couch.]


Blogger Arwen said...

Don't let anyone fool you: if your time is worth anything and you'd rather NOT be gardening, growing your own is a more expensive pass-time than getting the specials at the Safeway. It is cheaper than other hobbies, but if you're just a hobbyist, not as far as I've seen a greatly efficient way of producing a majority of produce for your kitchen, unless you have a big garden & know how to can/freeze/dry the output.

I've been most successful in terms of actually making a difference to my purchasing with sage, rosemary, spinach, and kale (all year round crops), but that represents only a small fraction of my produce. I have also had rather stunning tomato harvests, some of which has spoiled due to my inefficiency at putting food by.

That said, and there was this guy at Mole Hill who partitioned his plot into square feet and knew what he was doing who fed himself well and was good at the freezing. And I think potatoes might be a good plan - Liz has been doing them.

I've also learned that peas, shelled and blanched, freeze well but for some reason the blanching is important. Why? I DON'T KNOW.

So my experience with gardening has been bizarre. I got a garden at Mole Hill because I had some idea my kids needed the connection to the natural cycle of things. I also hated dirt and its annoying combination of grit and slime. Now, it's like a compulsion has taken me over, enough that I actually *dug a garden plot*.

I think the thing that makes it all worthwhile to me is strawberries. After they start producing, there's nothing to me as rewarding for as little work. Being able to wander outside and pick and eat a strawberry that actually tastes like strawberry - yum. I don't mind not having a huge yield: it's like the easter bunny for adults, leaving these wee treats to find.

11:18 AM  
Blogger rappy said...

Heh. Three years ago your mom gave me Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I have been obsessed with the *idea* of gardening since then, but alas, no suitable garden in which to ply the trade...

Looking forward to hearing more of your gardening adventures :).

1:43 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

What a cliffhanger! I demand resolution!

9:19 AM  
Anonymous cindy said...

Well, I had rather stunning tomato harvests, some of which has spoiled due to my inefficiency at putting food by.

1:37 PM  

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