As I wrote early this year, I knew one of my greatest challenges as a new farmer and a new mother would be figuring out how gardening with a baby in tow would work. To not get overwhelmed by this prospect, I gave myself three major goals:
- Can my own tomatoes.
- Grow my own medicinal herbs.
- Enlist weed help.
I can very humbly report that I succeeded in accomplishing exactly zero of these goals. My tomatoes were not bountiful enough to can. Few of the herb seeds I started germinated, and the ones that did germinate died after transplanting. And I never laid mulch to block weedsâ€”I donâ€™t even have an excuse for that one; it just didnâ€™t happen.
While Iâ€™m tempted to think of myself as a complete failure in the garden this year, I will say that Iâ€™ve learned quite a lotâ€”if not about the gardening process, then about myself. Admitting my shortcomings isnâ€™t always easy. In fact, I find it downright excruciating. But if I want to improve at this farming thing, I have to reflect on what didnâ€™t go as planned and then tweak the process to work in my favor in the coming years.
So here are my lessons learned. Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll get many rounds of â€śTold ya so!â€ť and â€śBeen there, done that!â€ť from those with more experience, but bear with me. The learning curve involved in gardening with a baby is sharp, and Iâ€™m slowly making my way around the bend.
1. I Donâ€™t Love Growing Vegetables
Wow. It took me a long time to come around to this realization. I learned this year that I just canâ€™t grow produce as well as the market farmers in my areaâ€”at least not with the current time and resources that raising a family has allotted me. When I lived in town and had a small raised-bed garden, growing my own vegetables was a novelty to supplement my farmers-market purchases. For some reason, I believed that moving to the country included the need to grow a significant portion of my food myself. First, thatâ€™s just not true, and second, I just donâ€™t enjoy it that much. In the case of vegetables, growing less brings more joy.
What I do love, however, is growing herbs that I use to make homemade teas, salves, tinctures and more. These are things I canâ€™t buy from others in my community, and therefore, it seems like a more worthy investment of my time. Plus, I simply prefer herbsâ€”theyâ€™re more forgiving, they’re prettier, and they’re great for the bees. Will I grow vegetables in the future? Probably. I might even attempt a large kitchen garden again once Iâ€™m not carrying a little one on my back. For the near future, though, herbs are where Iâ€™d rather focus my time.
2. Smaller Is Better
I know, I know. The No. 1 mantra for beginning farmers is â€śstart small.â€ť I foolishly thought that because Iâ€™d done it small in the city, I could go bigger when I got more land. Thatâ€™s just not so. For one, this is a new piece of land weâ€™re working with, so we have a lot to learn about it. The process of getting to know a new place takes time. It makes sense that we should get to know it in small chunks, not all at once. Second, raising a child takes a lot of time. The garden is no longer my babyâ€”my baby is my babyâ€”and I donâ€™t have the attention to gardening a large, needy plot with lots of plants right now. Next year, weâ€™ll scale it back a bit.
3. Closer Is Better
One of my favorite things about our property? It was formerly owned by market gardeners, so it came with an amazing irrigation setup. A solar-powered well pump pushes water into a huge cistern at the top of the hill, which then gravity feeds down to the garden. The problem? It’s 1/4 mile from the house. When I want to garden, I have to gather up all my tools, load up my baby and make my way down to the garden.
With the garden so far away from the house, thereâ€™s no picking weeds when traveling from the car to the mudroom door, or watering plants while the baby naps or harvesting basil when in the middle of cooking dinner. When I do visit the garden, I need to spend a significant chunk of time there. That doesnâ€™t sit so well with the little one. She usually hangs out for about 20 minutes before itâ€™s time to eat or get a nap or snuggle. (Pretty much all things with this one involve snuggling.) As much as it pains me not to use the really cool resource we have, for the next few years, I need to do my gardening closer to the house.
4. Itâ€™s Not Cheating to Use Containers
Iâ€™ve put a lot of pressure on myself to garden the â€śrightâ€ť way because now we have our place in the country. We no longer need to bother with patio gardens and raised bedsâ€”we have land! Humph! I can now look back at this attitude and understand how completely naive I was.
Soil needs to be built up.
Weeds need to be dealt with.
Deer need to be fenced out.
All of these things require time and tools. Yes, we can start working on them and accumulating our arsenal of equipment, but it might be a little while until weâ€™ve fully arrived. Right now, when I have a little one constantly on my hip, I need to admit that itâ€™s not cheating to grow some things in containers. (Iâ€™ll call them my â€śpet plants.â€ť) Doing so will help me keep my green thumb in shape until I can feasibly do more.
5. Itâ€™s Not Cheating to Let Someone Else Start My Seeds
One of the biggest bummers this year was losing a good portion of the seeds I started. I donâ€™t know whether my seed-starting soil was bad or I didnâ€™t give the baby plants the attention they needed. Whatever the reason, it was a huge hit to my self-esteem. While Iâ€™ll continue to try to hone this skill, next year I wonâ€™t put all my seeds into one basket, per se. Maybe Iâ€™ll buy some starts or ask a more experienced friend to start some seeds for me.
I learned a lot this year with not much to show for it. Hopefully, in the coming years, these hard lessons will pay off.