thoughts: one gardener's journey johanna_lea Oct 18, 2009 4 Comments

i once had almost an acre in vegetable gardens. i built and dug in at least 3 large
compost piles a year and planned and double-dug and built up so many raised beds.
i worked out there hours every day, getting tired and dirty....i loved it.
i grew or tried to grow everything i fancied in the many catalogs. some desired
plants were just not happy in the ga.heat. rhubarb, cherry trees...
things that failed, i crossed off my lists. i grew all the 'common' garden veggies,
and i always planted a huge corn patch, [hand-hoed]
and much more food than i ever away was a given,
work was more like play, and every new discovery such a thrill.

one year,i threw blackeyed peas out into the corn patch, and they ran wild up
the stalks. the deer DIDN'T eat them all that year, but it was like crawling in a
thick, humid jungle to pick both the peas and corn. that was one of many of my
experiments planting legumes with anything...i found "double cropping" the beds
increased yields, but could often be a pain in the butt to keep the beds weeded,
also to get everything properly harvested. mixed planting 'mini-environments'
are said to be beneficial and i still interplant legumes-green beans- and flowers
-all kinds of marigolds-as well as different aromatic herbs everywhere; they are far less exuberant than the wild black-eyed peas and winter peas!

i guess, my point in this ramble, is that we all are super-energized as we begin
our long affair with our gardens. testing all our armchair readings and theories,
finding what will or won't grow, hauling manure, making lots of compost, building
the soil and its tilth, landscaping, transplanting [even big things] and moving
things around, starting seedlings and rooting your own plants. the list goes on and on.
we're eager to explore different concepts and discoveries. we have the strength and endurance to "dig in" to everything to be learned and tested in creating our own life of garden "practice"

over the years, my garden process is changing to one of subtracting.. paring
down and winnowing out certain time/space wasters-- removing things i just had
a hard time growing or didnt really flourish in my garden environment.
i have become both more knowledgeable and complacent...and selective with my
crop choices each year.
for example:
there are 2 generations of squash vine borer, so you must replant and harvest
several different times. or give it up after that first fruiting and pull it. i have always had more than enough field rats to eat on any and all the melons that i tried to grow.

the yellows illness that often affects cukes as well, is very happy in our hot
humid weather. viruses and bugs and blights can thrive in these fecund, often
steamy overheated garden spaces in the south.
everyone told me: "you just CANT grow organic down here!"
so i planted alot in a big space, and there was generally enough food
for the various invaders and for me and my son. good healthy soil grew good healthy
plants... all that compost helped everything withstand insects and illness. vigilant bug patrols with a pail of oil, and wood-ash, cayenne or garlic powder dusting have been good pest controls. i have had much more trouble with 4-legged
problems- deer, rabbits, goats that escape their pasture.

it seems to me that the driving force pushing us to put in more and more land into
garden space, shrubs, and flowerbeds changes as we are-at last- entirely familiar and
comfortable with our piece of earth and all its seasonal changes. i found myself
relaxing and refining, planting less space, and not growing every vegetable on earth!
being choosey has great benefits--
changing the garden plan gave me more time to care for it all much more tenderly.
quality rather than quantity....the time saved picking/putting up/selling all summer
meant much more pleasant time for me to pickle and can and jelly.
i began to focus on only a few things to grow for marketing-- organic specialties
that brought in more income than the baskets of organic green beans, peppers
and tomatoes i used to harvest and haul to the farm market.

this post began as a reply to ilona's email declaring she is so behind with so many
different garden tasks. she has always got many irons in the fire... garden-wise
along with her blogs and e-presence. plus being a major mom, and teacher....
i cannot begin to visualize her busy life, and i know i could never sustain
such a pace as she does. my thoughts for her [and to all veteran gardeners]
are that slowing down and paring down our many tasks and projects might be
a good idea. fewer preoccupations makes room for the time to fully enjoy our work,
and to accomplish our chosen garden jobs as to give our full attention
to each growing thing in our care.
plus more time to savor the sunshine and the smell of the fresh dug earth.

this is either older-and-wiser OR simply older slower-paced
lifestyle was, and is a deliberate choice. my goals here on this farm were to
live simply and cheaply, to grow enough fresh food for my small family to
eat healthy first years were devoted to serious soil improvement, which
i have written about here on this blog ['making dirt',etc]. all sorts of organic
amendments were incorporated, copious compost and various manures.
the many plowdowns of green manure clover, winter peas, beans those first years,
and THEN beginning to plan out and plant big gardens.... work work work!
the 'selling-organic-produce-and-herbs' phase grew out of that [pardon the pun]
and my workload increased. in my 'prime time', i had boundless energy and
spent it all every day. i am proud to have been a farmer.

these days, i tend a much smaller garden. my long-term asparagus venture has
been a good income success for years. the hard work of planting 23 years ago
is paying off nicely these days. this spring i put in 20 more plants- an investment
in the future for me, or the next gardener who comes after me......
there are now health food co-ops who will buy organic produce for a good price.
i have seen the foodie world turn to "fresh-local-organic", and i have finally
reached a time of good return for all my work.

the process of elimination has actually brought me many rewards.
i enjoy much more time with the landscape, the flowers and shrubs. my yard is
much improved, the bonsai get much-needed time, and my back is much happier!
i feel i have come full circle. as my gardens grew and matured so did their steward
fall happily in love with her place in the country. i have settled comfortably into
the ebb and flow of all life here at patagonia farm......the circle of my world.

vty, j-lea

by Ilona Erwin

A gardener, blogger, writer, who has been blogging here since 2004, and writing for my website, Ilona's Garden since 1998.

Follow me @ Twitter | Facebook | Google Plus


  1. Life sounds good on patagonia farm.

    I like that name.

    Good idea to plant legumes amongst the corn, fixing all that nitrogen.

  2. It makes me tired to just think of all that work. My mind might be willing...but my back can't take it!

    Like all things in season there is the waxing and waning, and I am in more of the waning phase. To choose the essence and the epitome and leave the excess to the younger self of long ago. I am happy for all the garden experiences I've had, though, like you.

    I like the name of your farm too... have been inspired to think of something here for my little acreage, but so far nada.

  3. "To choose the essence and the epitome and leave the excess to the younger self of long ago. I am happy for all the garden experiences I've had" see, ilona, you expressed my whole wordy post in two sentences! here's 17 syllables...


    pared down to essence-

    embrace simplicity, find

    that one perfect rose.

  4. ilona, you might have missed my twitter:
    prairie rose...prairie wind...
    prairie heart farm


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