Farm Your Yard: There's Always Next Year

Oct 1, 2015

If you are a backyard gardener you are well aware that we are about to turn the last curve into the homestretch of the 2015 gardening season. If you are really on top of things, you already have all or most of your fall greens and roots planted, and if you are really on top of things, those fall veggies are already peeping out of the ground. But don’t worry, if you aren’t quite there, you still have a little time to get outside and plant your last crop of lettuce and radishes for the season. While it might seem a bit premature, let’s stop and take a fond look back at the 2015 gardening season.

Lessons learned in the garden this year can inform next year's plantings, says Carrie Hargrove on this installment of KBIA's occasional series Farm Your Yard.
Credit Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture Farm Manager Carrie Hargrove shares the lessons she learned in the garden this year on this installment of Farm Your Yard
Credit Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture

It might sound like a line out of a Dr. Phil episode, but it really does pay off to work on your relationship with your garden. Gardening can easily be misconstrued as work. And let’s face it, one of the reasons why there are fewer gardeners and farmers now than in past decades is because growing food can be demanding. Gardening is a totally worthwhile endeavor for so many reasons: personal health, culinary delight, family bonding. These are just some of the most obvious benefits.

Let’s focus here on the garden in your backyard as it is right now. Diseased tomatoes, waist high weeds, groundhog damaged kale. Sound familiar? Well, maybe not for you, but that is literally what the garden in my backyard looks like right now. It’s kind of a mess. But I love it! I am still getting wonderful peppers and more tomatillos than I bargained for. And while the kale is not so pretty anymore, I plan on eating it all the way down to it’s stem this winter.

I think this time of year is a great time to make a quick list of the things I want to change for next years’ garden. I like to do this now before winter, when any thoughts of sunlight, greenery, or the semblance of non-furnace produced heat bring tears of longing to my eyes. No, I want memories of heat, weeds, the bug bites to be fresh, so that I can be as realistic about next year’s plan as possible. Because if there is anything that I have learned from teaching other people how to garden it is that success and enjoyment beget more gardens. People really don’t love a hobby that feels like work and that ends with failure. So, with that in mind, here are some things I plan on doing differently in my garden next year.

I bring an intensity to my backyard garden that I rarely exhibit in any other situation in my life. It probably stems from the fact that my paycheck comes from farming, so I bring that desire for efficiency, economies of scale, and an all-around take no prisoner attitude every March when I get my seed packets in order and trot out to backyard to kick butt. That attitude is probably why I ended up with 140 feet of carrots planted this march. That’s almost 1,000 carrots, and since my family consists of me and my husband, that really was over doing it a bit. Next year, maybe I’ll plant 14 feet.

In previous years, I have started all of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and any other thing that needs to be transplanted on a sunny windowsill in my house. This year, when I was caught up in all of the spring craziness that my job brings, I forgot to start tomatoes for my personal garden. For a minute, I filp-flopped between just forgoing my personal tomato patch or buying tomato plants from somewhere else. I ended up buying extra tomato plants from Bradford Research and Extension Center. That was a good choice. Plants grown in a greenhouse are always healthier than the spindly plants I would get from my windowsill. Totally worth the twenty bucks I spent.

I grew only green onions in my garden this year. But I am a veritable onion lover. In my house, onions go in every single dish. Next year, I want to grow some of my own. And since I promised myself I will grow less carrots, I should have plenty of room.

Next year, I am not going to be embarrassed about how my garden looks when I bring guests over. If you have spent any time gardening, you know that Martha Stewart’s garden is a hoax set up for a professional photo shoot. Gardens are nature, and nature is not landscaping. Yes, my garden will have lots of weeds, it will have pests, and I will have some plants that won’t look perfect next year. But you know what? I will have a bumper crop of something-like my tomatillos this year- and I am going to get to enjoy the delicious fruits of my labor with the ones I love. And that is what it is all about.

Vegetable gardening is not about keeping up with the Jones’, it is about something much deeper. It is about staying at the kitchen table with friends and family that much longer while enjoying a cucumber salad instead of heading in different directions with our faces glued to a screen. It is about reconnecting with the outdoors and eating better. And most importantly, it is about fulfillment. Fulfillment that comes from acknowledging our successes and failures that are inevitable in everything in life, and especially in gardening. It is about the fulfillment that comes from not giving up after your first failed attempt at growing a tomato plant. It is about the fulfillment that comes from teaching your toddler that pickles are cucumbers and cucumbers grow on a vine in your backyard. It is the fulfillment of doing something more worthwhile than living a life completely indoors.

The season is almost over, and for me, this is the best time of the year. While I sit here eating my carrots, I look back and am deeply satisfied by the struggles and a successes that 2015 gardening season brought, and look forward to facing different ones in 2016.

Carrie Hargrove is the Farm Manager for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.