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Winter has long been my favorite season, but as I get older and as my interests shift, I’m starting to discover that I really love and enjoy every season, in different but equal ways.
Even just a year or two ago, I would have adamantly said that Summer was my least favorite time of year – not as much that I didn’t like it, than that IT didn’t like ME. I’m pretty fair-skinned and in the sunniest months of the year, I will sunburn in under twenty minutes. With the summer sun routinely trying to kill me, you can’t quite blame me for not loving it.
And yet there are aspects of summer I have always loved, like the late-setting sun and the early sunrises. My energy level seems to be directly tied to the sun’s path and I find I have a LOT more energy in the summer when it’s bright and cheery outside. I wake up easier and I don’t feel desperate to climb into bed by 8:30 every night. And, of course, the food that summer brings – local watermelon and cantaloupe and wild black raspberries to hunt for. And all the beautiful flowers that spring up everywhere!
For years after Chad and I married, I really wanted to start a garden, but our home was located in a very shady area and there was just not enough sun to get away with it. Also, being in a development, there wasn’t a ton of land to commit to that anyway. I contented myself with growing a few things in pots on my deck.
Once we owned the farm, I immediately made plans for a garden and I was determined to start it ASAP. Without having water. Without having a tiller. Without a single building on the property or any equipment at all. Before we had a house, I had my garden. I also had the biggest cooler I could fit shoved in the back of my SUV, which I routinely filled with water from our current home and drove over to my garden to water the plants. Sometimes when I didn’t need as much, I filled up buckets with water from our stream 1/8 mile away instead. In regards to watering, though, I was lucky in the sense that it ended up being one of the wettest years on record.
This happened routinely that year:
The Year of My First Garden
In 2018, I made myself a garden with a shovel and a rake and my bare hands (gardening gloves were quickly added to my shopping list). I planted everything by hand. I planted tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, some watermelon, and sunflowers and zinnia. I didn’t have much rhyme or reason for what varieties I chose to grow or where I put them.
I weeded once or twice, but the weeds persisted and I did not. I didn’t mulch. I didn’t fertilize. I met my first hornworm and I did not stay to chat. The tomatoes and flowers were the only things that did well. The peppers never got very big, and the watermelons and zucchini would start to grow but rot out because the ground stayed so wet, as you can see in the picture above (though my garden was on much higher ground than the creek).
I didn’t go into that garden with high expectations. I pretty much KNEW from the get-go that it wasn’t going to have high yields. But I wanted it bad enough to deal with the circumstances of limited resources, and I was content with the little it did produce (which was more than my deck pots). I loved my sunflowers, which did exceptionally well!
I learned so much that first year.
The Year of My Imaginary Garden
Summer of 2019 (really, ALL of 2019) was the time when Chad and I were most busy with building our house. SO SO SO many decisions were being made literally every day and we took so many trips out of town searching down various things. Plus we still weren’t going to have water on the property by summer. I decided pretty early on that year that I simply wasn’t going to have time for a garden and I was absolutely 100% correct. No regrets.
NOT growing a garden in 2019 actually gave me that much more motivation to have one – an amazing one! – the following year. I did a ton of research online about what plants did well in our area and how I should place them in the garden. I learned about companion planting and square foot gardening and how to fertilize properly and what type of soil to use. I wrote many-a-list of the types of plants I wanted to grow and the varieties I wanted to specifically look for.
NOT having a garden gave me a little break to learn about how to actually SUCCESSFULLY have one.
Over winter, before the year really got busy, Chad built three raised garden beds out of cedar, with the intention of adding a few more in the fall. The only thing that went in my garden that summer were blueberry bushes, because I wanted them to have time to get established so I’d get some fruit the next growing season, and also mint which I transplanted from my mom’s garden (she was moving and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on that tea!).
Even though my garden existed largely in my head, I found a lot of joy in that journey of research.
I learned so much that second year.
The Year of My First (Successful) Garden
In Spring of 2020, we built four more raised beds. (I am still hoping to build one more for 2021). I also had Chad use the bucket on his tractor to make me a ground bed, which we then covered with topsoil. When it was warm enough to plant, I was fully ready.
I bought all my plant starts and seeds from local nurseries. I bought lots of varieties of tomatoes and bell peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, watermelons and cantaloupe, brussels sprouts, zucchini and herbs like oregano, parsley, basil, and rosemary. Plus, I had my already-planted blueberries and mint. From seed, I planted several varieties of carrots, celery, lettuce, pumpkins, more watermelon, more cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, zinnias, marigold, calendula, and sunflowers.
We installed irrigation to the beds (and spent a lot of time tweaking it as we went) and it ended up being both my easiest and most successful garden ever. I cooed over every new tomato. I carefully tied the watermelon vines up their trellises. I fertilized everything. I picked off all the hornworms and cabbageworms without cringing. I weeded the beds regularly (I found it was was so much easier to manage them in raised beds than on the ground). I made friends with the butterflies (and bees, which seemed to be ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE and whom I learned were not actually trigger-happy, flying needles, but instead very useful, gentle, fuzzy, flying pollen-deliverers).
In general, I spent a ton of time in the garden. I got tanner last summer (even slathered in my 100 SPF sunscreen) than ever before in my pale, tanless life, even when I’d been purposely trying to get tan for my wedding! And I noticed that my perspective about summer was changing. Even though I was often much sweatier and dirtier than I would have preferred, I loved being outside. I craved visiting my garden and seeing what new things had popped into existence overnight.
I harvested so many tomatoes that I had to pawn them off on everyone I know. I harvested enough cucumbers to make six batches of pickles plus eat one almost every day (and still have to pawn the rest off onto everyone I know). I had too many bell peppers for a family of three to utilize. I made gallons and gallons of mint tea. My daughter ate almost every strawberry straight off the vine so not very many of those made it inside. We picked the borage flowers and ate them together, laughing about the silliness of eating flowers. We picked blueberries and ate as many of them as we brought inside. Evie tried so many things that I had never been able to get that super-picky eater to try before.
Of course, there were some challenges, too. I had to replace a few plants almost immediately when a sneaky frost claimed a few lives. Then, halfway through summer a bad storm knocked over a trellis and took half my watermelon and cantaloupe plants with it. I dealt with some really annoying pests who stole away some of my better crops. I had a little disease to contend with. Somethings just didn’t do well. They got too much sun or too little. Too much water or too little. Had too much nitrogen in the soil or not enough.
Through all the successes and things that didn’t work out, I found such joy in that garden.
I learned so much that third year.
That brings us to 2021, which I have thus-deemed:
The Year of My Overly-Ambitious Garden
I’m so excited to get out in the garden again this spring. The successes (and failures) of previous years’ gardens have only motivated me to grow more and do it better this time around. Everything I experienced in the years before has influenced my planning for this year’s garden.
I recently finished ordering all my seeds. This is my first time buying them online. Plus last year, I saved a bunch of seeds from pumpkins, so I have those as well! Now that I know for sure what all I’m getting, I’m listing everything out and making my official garden plan. I have A LOT in the works (as you might have guessed from the name I have given this year’s garden). Once I’ve got everything a bit more worked out, I’ll share my plans and start a series on my 2021 garden.
I’ll just say… I’m anticipating my biggest, best garden ever!
Of course things could go terribly wrong, too. Maybe it’ll be a horrible year for crops. But, I could also end up with my most successful year yet! That’s the best part of a garden. You get to keep trying again every year and I think there will always be new things to surprise you no matter how many times you do it.
The only thing I’m 100 percent sure about is that I will learn so much this year.