Somewhere, hidden deep within me, perhaps in my genetic code, there is a farmer that would like to emerge. I know she’s in there. I imagine her as an Alaskan/female version of Wendell Berry.
The Wendell Berry version of myself would get up with the sun, feed the animals and work in the garden. In the evenings she would sit contented at her desk, with a bellyful of homegrown food, and write meaningful prose and honest poetry.
I’m not quite there yet, but it’s a dream.
Recently I was inspired by this article http://www.offgridworld.com/6000-lbs-of-food-on-110th-acre/. It’s impressive that so much food can come from such a small space. We live on five acres here, and it’s got the richest soil you can imagine. Someday I’d like to produce 6000 lbs. of food from our property, and every spring it seems like a possibility.
The optimism this past spring was especially bad. My hopefulness came at me from a few different angles. First, I didn’t grow a garden at all in 2013, and I was eager to get my hands dirty. And then we had three weeks of sunshine and hot weather in May. IN MAY! Surely it would be the year to grow all of those things that don’t normally grow in my garden, like zucchini and pumpkins. I also had a thesis to write and a presentation to put together, so spending hours reclaiming the garden space from the weeds that took over last summer seemed like a good idea.
Well now it’s harvest time. Lots of my friends are posting photos of their summertime bounty. They’re making salsa and jam. They’re cellaring their potatoes and carrots and cabbage. They’re freezing things. They’re canning and pickling and generally working like mad to preserve all of their food. I’m harvesting as well, and taking an inventory of this summer’s garden. I’m not in danger of running out of freezer space or canning jars though.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s garden, but before I get to the numbers, here are a few notes on some of the local flora and fauna:
- Cow Parsnip, locally known as Pushki, is a plant that grows to be about ten feet tall. Many people have a reaction to this plant and I am one of those people. If I touch the stuff, especially on a sunny day, I get what is called a Pushki burn. It may not show up for a day or two, but a blister will form. I can wear long pants, rubber boots and leather gloves and still somehow manage to get the stuff on my skin. Our property is covered with this plant.
- Golden-crowned sparrows. These are lovely little migratory birds that return to the area every spring. They have a distinctive three-syllable song and a pretty yellow stripe down the tops of their heads. While I was working to prepare the garden beds, a handful of these birds perched on the surrounding fence posts and sang their little song over and over again. I’m pretty sure they were calling to all the others of their species within a mile radius to let them know I was planting a garden.
- Slugs. These slimy creatures emerge from the soil and eat cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, chard, beet greens, carrots, potato plants and zucchini. I think zucchini is their favorite.
- Dogs. I’m talking about my own dogs here. Ripple and Gypsy of the Sundmark clan. I can’t blame anyone else’s dogs.
Okay, so we had a warm spring, I was hungry for fresh vegetables and I had just read some Wendell Berry poetry. I bought some seeds and some starts from the local gardening supply store. Here’s how it turned out:
- 50 out of the 50 snap peas planted (newly sprouted/not yet covered with bird net) were consumed in their entirety by golden crowned sparrows.
- 9 out of 9 baby zucchini plants were destroyed by slugs before they were big enough to harvest.
- 75 slugs were plucked from three zucchini plants in one evening–(that is when I essentially gave up on this year’s garden)
- 30 out of 30 potato plants survived and are producing beautiful fingerling potatoes!! (Potatoes are magic, by the way.)
- 3 out of 4 broccoli plants were destroyed by slugs
- 5 out of 5 cauliflower plants were destroyed by slugs
- On 4 separate occasions, the Sundmark dogs were spotted grazing on strawberries.
- 6 out of 6 raspberry transplants survived!
- One seed packet’s worth of carrots are still growing. The biggest one pulled so far was the size of my pinky finger.
- Approximately 1 cup of golden raspberries were harvested from plants that were decimated by wild hares a couple of years ago. (So resilient!)
- An unknown number of golden raspberries were consumed by the Sundmark dogs before we realized they were eating them.
- 3 bags of chopped up rhubarb are in the freezer and several rhubarb crisps were eaten throughout the summer. Yay rhubarb!
- 8-12 lettuce and kale plants were rescued from the slugs and transplanted into pots on the deck.
- 4 kale plants were eaten by birds within the first week that they were transplanted into the pots that were placed on the deck.
- 1 fully mature kale plant was eaten from the pot on the deck, in its entirety, by Gypsy. She felt no remorse. (see empty pot on the ground in the photo)
- 3 beets have been harvested so far. (Our first ones ever!)
- I endured 9 pushki burns. Six on my arms and wrists, three on my face. (These were no big deal. I’m used to them by now.)
- 3 fist-sized cabbages were salvaged before the slugs completely destroyed them.
- 3 cabbages were completely destroyed. (see photo)
Clearly it wasn’t my best gardening year.
I planted a garden and proceeded to neglect it. The yield was low. But what I gained from my time spent within those garden fences last spring can’t be quantified. Putting a figure on fresh air and earthworms and cranes circling overhead is damn near impossible. My baby carrots and fingerling potatoes are like an end of the season bonus. The few deep green kale leaves that survived the sparrows, slugs and Sundmark dogs are more than I had a right to hope for.
Oh yes, my harvest, in all of its insignificance, will be savored.