A Pioneer Woman I’m Not

I’ve decided to venture into the world of vegetable gardening this year. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not because of rising fuel and food costs–with all the money I’ve sunk into the blasted thing so far, I could probably do a full week’s worth of grocery shopping. No, I did it for two reasons. 1.) I’ve always liked the idea of gardening. It’s some kind of primitive thing I guess–tilling the land, growing something for my family to eat. The whole hard labor followed by the fruits of my labor thing. And also B.) I thought it would be a good learning experience for my children to see how something grows from seed (or seedling in a lot of cases) to a vegetable bearing plant.

So, aside from the effort that went into digging the rows for the garden, (I had no idea that what is I guess is a clay based soil would be so hard to dig through and so heavy!), and the lugging around 40 pound sacks of topsoil, there are many gardening struggles I was previously unaware of. For example, I am familiar with the concept of drought. I’ve heard about it on the news since I was a kid, read about it in the Little House books, etc., etc. I know that too little rain is a big problem for farmers. I had never considered, however, the problem of too much rain. As it is right now, I appear to be down one cucumber and two broccoli plants because of flooding. It also remains to be seen how many of the carrot and radish seeds may have been washed away. Part of this is, I’m sure, due to poor drainage and a bad slope in the backyard, but I think it’s also partly just that there has been so darn much rain the last few weeks, and plants only need so much water. Lesson learned.

Problem two, which I had considered, but kind of brushed off as not a threat–something eating my plants. Bigger threat than I anticipated. Not only did something (rabbit? skunk? bird?) have the nerve to go after on of my beautiful and amazing smelling basil plants, it apparently had no taste at all, and decided that the basil was no good, leaving the poor leaves to wilt on the ground. And it wasn’t enough to take just one leaf, but whatever it was took every leaf off of one plant. I was really looking forward to fresh pesto, too…

The third problem, which was actually the first one I ran into, was also not something unfamiliar to me, but something I certainly wasn’t expecting in late April–a late season frost. The only things that survived that calamity were the broccoli that can’t hold up to rain, celery, and the onion sets. I suppose I should have known better, but I was eager to plant, and in my defense, my experiences with living down here so far have suggested that late April is a great time for planting.

Problem four, which didn’t actually cause any damage, thankfully, but easily could have, was hail. Good thing for me, the hail was mostly pea sized, but I could see how quickly plants, especially small ones like my seedlings, could be flattened by hail.

Problem five–lack of sun. Now, I know there are some rays of light getting through, even with the crappy weather we’ve been having, but my plants are looking decidedly not green enough, so I’m guessing they’re lacking in the photosynthesis department. Both the plants and I have had enough clouds, thank you very much!

So where does that leave me? I’m just waiting for a plague of grasshoppers or a horde of hungry blackbirds (I read the Little House books a lot as a child, and I’ll admit, also as an adult!) to attack the garden next. I can’t really imagine what else could happen, but I’m sure if it can, I’ll find out about it soon enough. It’s really sobering to consider what trials farmers face–how many things can go wrong each year, and how much of it is completely out of their control. It makes me quite grateful that I don’t have to depend on the land for my survival, and that there are grocery stores and farmers markets where I can get all of the fresh produce I desire, without having to do the work or depend on the weather and wildlife to cooperate with me! I’m happy to have my little garden as a learning experience and pleasant diversion that gives me something fun to do outdoors.

To summarize what I’ve planted, even though I’ve already lost some of it–four broccoli plants, three cucumber plants, three jalepeno plants, three each summer squash and zucchini plants, three roma tomato and six beefsteak tomato plants, three celery plants, one cilantro, four basil, one set of onions (why are they called a set?) and an envelope each of carrot and radish seeds. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, and if I actually get any produce out of this garden this year at all!

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