A Gardener's Changing Mindset: From Production to Enjoyment
Those of you that have been around my blog for a while know that my main focus for many years has been edibles – they will always be my first love when it comes to the garden. But then there was 2020 and the world stopped – or slowed WAAAAY down, at least. The lockdown(s) and everything that ensued over the next couple of years had everyone, including myself, re-evaluated priorities and taking a hard look at how we wanted to spend our time, both in and out of our gardens.
|Work in Progress|
The ornamental border in the raised bed area before the picket fence install
Growing veg is a lot of work. Just as with growing ornamentals, you have the initial investment of time: Sowing, transplanting & maintaining. However, when growing edibles you also have the added task of keeping up with the harvests, which is usually not as easy as picking a veg and plopping it onto a plate (although, sometimes it is). More often than not, harvesting involves picking, cleaning, preparing and/or preserving. The more you harvest at any one time, the longer all of this takes.
In addition, there’s also the timing factor – harvesting is all about picking veg at their peak – neither too early nor too late. Not a big deal if you are picking a few beans for dinner – but a much bigger deal if you have to pick an entire bed because they’ll be overmature otherwise.
|I remember sowing an entire bed of lettuce at one point.|
These days, I'm down to a small 4' x 3' section &
even that produces more than we can use.
In the beginning, it was all about numbers – how much could I grow, harvest, preserve. My goal was to have homegrown produce to enjoy throughout the entire year. The funny thing is that I was growing SO much, that I usually still had a good amount of practically everything I grew & preserved the year before when the current seasons harvest began. I was so focused on the numbers that I lost sight of why I wanted to grow veg to begin with – the joy that growing and eating homegrown produce gave us.
Don’t get me wrong - having all those homegrown goodies in the pantry, freezer & cold cellar is amazing – beyond amazing actually. In the past 12 years, I can count the number of times I’ve purchased canned tomatoes on one hand (maybe 2 or 3?). But harvesting, preparing and preserving all that produce takes time. A lot of time. Quite frankly, it was becoming more of a burden than a joy.
Over the past few years, I have found my priorities shifting. Initially, this started as a temporary thing when I decommissioned a few raised beds that were rotting and needed to be replaced. This necessitated that I adjust what I grew in the remaining beds, obviously growing less than before. And that’s when the realization came – I was harvesting less but enjoying it more. And, ironically enough, we were actually using MORE of the fresh harvest than we had before because I wasn’t spending nearly as much time cleaning /preparing /preserving a ton of ‘insert any veg here’. I could pick a bowl of kale for dinner and not be worried that if I didn’t get to the other dozen kale plants in the bed (which would then need to be prepped for the freezer), they would end up going to waste.
What I also found was that I thoroughly enjoyed growing those veg that were sown once, harvested once, then easily stored with minimal prep - think onions, squash, dried beans. I could easily grow and store a year's worth with minimal fuss. When it came to most other veg – specifically those that needed to be sown multiple times (i.e. lettuce), constantly picked (i.e. snap beans) or required some prep to store (i.e. blanching), I realized that growing less was more…much more.
|I grew a 4x4 section of green beans last year....and we still have some in the freezer|
This year, I'll be cutting that in half.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been cutting back on the space that I give to many of these time-hogging veg. I'm searching for that sweet-spot - growing enough to enjoy ‘at the moment’ (plus a bit to preserve over the winter for a few select veg like chard and kale) without having so much that I’m forced to deal with gluts or wasting space on produce that ends up in the compost because I don’t get to it in time.
This change in mindset has been rather liberating & in turn, I’ve been enjoying the garden SO much more, especially the ornamental borders. The ones I’ve been working on have been getting better & better and they provide me with the optimal amount of fiddling – enough to get my hands dirty throughout the season but not so much that I’m constantly stressed out about what needs to be done.
|A new-to-the-border perennial that I absolutely adore|
Dicentra 'Pink Diamonds'
That’s it for now – I’m off to the basement to tend to the MANY seedlings under the grow lights. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed – my love of growing from seed. While I’m only growing 3 varieties of kale this year (Starbor, Red Ursa and Lacinato, in case you’re wondering 😉), I have several perennials that I’m trying from seed for the 1st time and am super excited! More on those in a future post 😊
It sounds like you've found the right balance for yourself. My experience with growing vegetables was never as intense as yours - I never had adequate space to do much more than dabble and I never produced enough to even consider preserving anything I grew. I admire people who do that and I imagine it would be fun to give preserved fruits and vegetables to friends but, recognizing my space and time limitations, I decided I'd get more joy out of growing flowers for cutting and giving some of that away so my small vegetable garden became a cutting garden. Someday, when I've had enough of dahlias, I expect I'll go back and grow some tomatoes and peppers, though ;)ReplyDelete
Growing your own food truly is wonderful but I'm basically a one woman show when it comes to growing, harvesting, preserving and cooking - trying to do it all was just not making me happy and, in the end, that's what matters (a lesson that really hit home in 2020/21). It's a good thing that nobody ever said we had to pick the type of gardener we wanted to be and stick to it forever - just as gardens change over time, so do gardeners :) Having said that, I can't imagine that you will ever have enough of dahlias, lol!Delete
Enjoy reading your blog. I like to start seeds indoors but have a problem with my 2 year old LED grow light. I holds 8 bulbs 4' long and after 2 years I ordered 8 new bulbs $10 each, but only 5 of them light. There's something wrong with where they connect to the light. Would like to know what you use. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Hi Diane! My original setup used T12 florescent tubes which I replaced a few years ago with some rather pricy 4' Agrobrite 6-light fixtures (t5's). I wouldn't recommend them as they get pretty hot and the ballasts started to fail after only a couple of years - for how much they cost, it was truly disappointing. Last year I had the ballasts replaced and also subbed out the bulbs on a couple of the fixtures with LED's. I'm setting up another set of shelves and this time I'm doing things very differently - I'm trying out a couple of different types of LED shop lights:Delete
For my 18" wide shelves, I'll be using 4 bulbs (i.e. 2 of LZHOME fixtures & 4 of the Barrina). Per shelf, these cost less than a quarter what the Agrobrite cost and I'm fairly sure they will get the job done just as well - as for longevity, we'll have to wait and see. Hope this helps somewhat!
Margaret, you have a healthy attitude about it all. You always impress me, no matter what strategy you employ. And your harvests and plants always look so lush and healthy! At my previous garden, I grew lots of edibles. But I've had to scale back in my mostly shade garden (good excuse, right?). Once we're hooked on gardening, however, we'll always have gardening goals and gardening joys. Cheers to a new growing season!ReplyDelete
Oh, Beth - you are the sweetest! And you got that right - hooked for life! P.S. Can't wait to see you in Pennsylvania!!Delete
Many new allotment gardeners lose inteest when they realise that growing vegetables isn't a two minute job and that they may have weeded two weeks ago but the weeds soon grow back. They see other well kept vegetable plots and thinkthey develop by magic and without any effort.ReplyDelete
So true, Sue - that's why I would consider "start small" as the best bit of advice for any new gardener.Delete
We keep changing our way of doing things - it's what keeps life interestingReplyDelete