Have you been thinking for a few years about starting a garden?
What has stopped you? I asked the folks over on the Frugal Upstate Facebook page and got a variety of answers:
Karina: Lack of information, bad soil and no idea how to fix it, fear of investing money/time/resources into something that will get ruined by my stupidity or something I cannot control like weather or blight.
Kate: One year I did, it was the same year everyone got the tomato blight.
Robin: I don’t have time. Correction, I have been unwilling to MAKE the time.
Melissa: Laziness and I have a black thumb. All my plants die.
Laura: My thoughts are a combination of what I see everyone else posting. For me, it’s a “cost vs. benefit” factor. Last year, I tried “starting” seeds in the house and they all died before planting. Money wasted. Then I was really looking forward to growing my own herbs (first time), they all died. Money wasted. We had very little “yield” from our garden last summer (poor soil, temperature extremes). Again, money wasted. At this point, I feel as though I might be better off joining a CSA or just saving my money and buying from the Farmer’s Market. I feel like no matter what I do, I end up not having enough to can or freeze and have to go to the Farmer’s Market anyway.
Nikki: Time, money, my soil is clay, and I’m trying to learn how to companion planting my garden to get more out of it.
Hope: Deer and woodchucks eat everything but the tomatoes, this discouraged us for a while until we put up a fishing line fence and sprayed with a natural repellant…kept the critters away last year!
Gloria: Lack of sun in my yard. Big neighborhood trees blocking my sunlight.
There are a couple of main themes here. Time/effort required. Past failure. Poor growing conditions. Lack of knowledge.
To me the biggest initial stumbling block is what Laura aptly stated is the “cost vs benefit” factor. Way back when I was a new Lieutenant in the Army, I had a major tell me that all problems could be understood with a triangle labeled “Cheap-Fast-Easy”
He explained that when you were looking for a solution to any problem, that you could only get two “points” on the triangle. So if it was cheap and easy, it wasn’t going to be fast.
If it was fast and easy, it wasn’t going to be cheap. . . and finally if it was cheap and fast it sure wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve found that over and over again in life this little triangle has been true–and that by looking at challenges in this light helps me to see which decision I should make. What do I need most? Does it have to be fast? Well then I have to decide if I want it to be easy and more expensive, or if I want to save money and put out more effort. Is money my biggest challenge in the situation? Well then do I have enough time to do it the easy way, or do I need to plan on having a lot of effort involved to get it done in the timeframe?
Right about now you might be thinking “What does this have to do with gardening, and why do you think it will convince me that THIS year is the year to start?”.
I’m getting there–I promise!
Let’s get back to the Time/Effort issue, which Laura summed up as “cost vs benefit”. In the past the cost (in time, effort and money) were not worth the benefits she gained from growing a garden. She felt it was easier/cheaper/less frustrating to just buy the fresh items from a CSA (community supported agriculture farm) or the local farmers markets. Others would go one step further and say it’s just plain easier to buy the vegetables at the grocery store fresh, canned or frozen.
Honestly, if you don’t ENJOY gardening, you feel like you are failing at it, and you are happy with the quality of the vegetables you can purchase elsewhere. . . then I can concede the point.
Right now buying vegetables from the store answers your problem with “Cheap — Easy” But what if something changes in that equation? What if the cost of vegetables goes up significantly, or if certain items just aren’t available? What would suddenly be worth the time and effort to grow (and to learn how to grow) if it just wasn’t available at the store? What price would the vegetables on the shelves or in the coolers at the grocery have to rise to before it made more sense to try to grow them than to buy them? What if buying from the store was “Fast — Easy” but not cheap?
Why am I bringing all this up?
Well let me answer a question with a question. Did you know that there is a serious drought in California?
A historic drought in California has led to the worst water shortage in more than a century. The Golden State has seen little to no rain this year, affecting residents, farmers, and soon possibly the rest of the country. . . Parched fields, starving livestock, and near-empty water reservoirs led Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency. . . That was two weeks ago. Today, there’s still no rain. . .”Simply put, there is not enough water to go around,” Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said. (CBN)
“There’s going to be a lot of land fallow this year. we’re expecting at least 5-hundred thousand acres of farm land in California,” Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition. said. “Consumers can expect to see shortages. Consumers can expect to see a shortage of crops in some vegetables and fruit crops that they would normally see in the grocery stores such as broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, things like that.” (ABC10 Sacramento)
“Historically, in 135 years of record-keeping, this has been the driest,” Patzert said. “Since July 1, we’ve had less than an inch of rain. In January, which is historically our wettest month, we’ve had zero rainfall. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this.”. . . “The short-term impact is going to be higher food prices,” said Milt McGiffen, a field crop expert at the University of California. “The longer-term impact is going to be you’re just not going to have as much production in the country. It’s part of an overall trend in the next 50 years.” . . . He says as the population increases, the amount for water per person is decreasing. . . (VOA News)
What exactly are the crops they are talking about? Let’s look at this list from La Vida Locavore showing crops and what % of the national total was grown in California in 2007 (this list was created from the 2007 Census of Agriculture)
Pomegranates: 100% Artichokes: 99% Kiwi: 97% Olives: 96%
Figs: 96% Pluots: 95% Plums & Prunes: 94% Brussel Sprouts: 93%
Avocados: 90% Nectarines: 89% Garlic: 85% Celery: 83%
Grapes: 83% Dates: 82% Apricots: 82% Cauliflower: 82%
Broccoli: 81% Lemons: 79% Persimmons: 77% Honeydew: 77%
Tomatoes: 76% Lettuce: 73% Nuts: 65% Carrots: 62%
Strawberries: 59% Spinach: 59% Tangerines: 58% Chinese Cabbage: 49%
Asparagus: 47% Cantaloupes: 46% Peaches: 44% Limes: 42%
Non-Valencia Oranges: 37%
So the part of the country that provides 73% of our lettuce, 62% of our carrots, 81% of our broccoli, 76% of our tomatoes and 83% of our celery is going to have serious problems growing anything this year. These are every day vegetables that we not only buy fresh at our local stores, but as frozen vegetables, canned vegetables and as ingredients of many other products (think canned soup, frozen dinners, salsa. . . )
What is this going to do to prices and availability? I don’t know exactly, but a prudent person could assume that at the very least the cost of many items will increase, and that there may be less variety or even shortages. These changes would probably not hit for at least a growing cycle (after all–it’s the crops that should be growing now and should be planted in the spring that aren’t going to happen–the system usually is set up to ensure production or at least items from storage over the winter months) so the alert consumer does have a bit of time to adapt.
This is why I think that if you’ve been sitting on the fence, if you’ve been considering it at all–this year is the year to start your garden.
Yes, it takes work. Yes, you will have successes and failures. But the sooner you start, the more time you have to learn, and the better you will get each year as you improve your soil, your knowledge and your techniques. As a very smart and experienced lady in a forum I frequent likes to say “Seeds WANT to grow”. You can improve their chances greatly by choosing plants that want to grow best in your particular climate and area, and by giving them a good healthy environment to grow in. . . but people have been growing food for centuries upon centuries and you can learn it and have successes even in your first year!
I have plenty more to say about gardening, thoughts on where to start, what techniques to try and what books to read. . . but those will be in further posts. I also will address the other themes brought up on Facebook: Past failure. Poor growing conditions. Lack of knowledge.
I hope that today I at least have you convinced that this is the year, the year to do it!