Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Most of my time and energy as a hobby farmer has been devoted to raising various farm animals and sharing my passion for them with local kids and adults through my classes, clubs and camps at Briar Gate Farm.   But I always feel compelled to attempt to grow a few crops along the way, too, as I cherish the idea of eating home-grown vegetables from my own back yard plot.  Problem is, I’m don’t have much of a green thumb so my success is somewhat limited and variable.

Oh, I start out the season with good intentions each year, looking through seed catalogs to get ideas for new varieties to try, drawing diagrams of my 3 raised bed garden plots and shopping at my local nursery to find a good assortment of organic and heirloom seeds and plants to grow.  I turn over my gardens in late fall and add a mix of compost and manure (have I mentioned we have a lot of poop around here?) and then turn everything over again in the early spring as I prepare to plant my cool weather crops.  Some years I actually plan exactly what seeds I’ll plant first, when they will be mature, and then plan a second planting to maximize my space and effort.  So you can see the initial efforts are admirable.

But every year it seems that for all my good planning and intentions, once the seeds get planted I seem to lose my focus or simply get occupied doing everything else that needs to be done around the farm in the spring and summer.  I put a lot of love into the garden initially, but after that, it’s on it’s own.  And because I don’t like to use chemicals but don’t know a lot about organic pest and weed control, my garden becomes a true example of “survival of the fittest.”  Some years the bugs win, some years the weeds win, but occasionally a few of the veggies win.

So, it might surprise you that I have been entering some of my vegetables in the local county fair each year.  I used to think that only expert gardeners and serious farmers entered their goods in local fairs, but once my girls started showing goats at the fairgrounds and I began spending the entire first week of August there, I realized that just about anyone with just about any talent or success could enter.  Everything from amateur baking, photography, various crafting projects, honey, home-made beer, wine and cheese – these are all things that can be entered by anyone at the fair. 

The first year I entered carrots, beans, swiss chard and zucchini and was thrilled when I took home a 2nd, 3rd and two 4th place ribbons.  I also entered several baked goods and won a 1st place with my pumpkin bread (my cooking skills are something I’m a little more confident and successful with).  The next year I got serious about the timing of my veggies and coordinated planting times and maturity rates to correspond with the vegetable entry date.  Imagine my pride when the veggie judge awarded my yellow beans with the blue ribbon!

But this year, between the late spring, three family vacations, summer camps, goat shows and 5 baby goats being born on the farm, my garden has once again taken the back seat.  I plan to enter a few things in the fair next week, but I don’t have much to choose from.  The bugs won this year in my beet rows, the weeds seemed to succeed over my strawberries and I don’t know what the heck happened to my zucchini plants.  But once again, I have some decent beans and a few nice carrots, so I’ll enter them and see what happens.    Wish me luck!

Life Lesson:  You can’t be the best at everything – just enjoy the ride

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