Funny things happen in your thirties.
Either you start making kids, have an awesome career, or you have to find other hobbies to keep you busy. I’ve outgrown the hobbies of my twenties, such as dating weirdos and getting drunk at goth clubs, and have taken up crazy bullshit like jogging 5 days a week and figuring out how to make grain-free donuts. I’m in this Martha Stewart/pinterest-assed phase right now where I’m living in a small hippy-ish town in Indiana and want to make the most of my summer, and the fact that I have a muthafuckin’ back yard for the first time since I was a kid.
I got a bee on my bonnet about gardening last winter, when I realized I actually kind of have space to grow stuff now. I can’t really justify digging up my landlord’s lawn to grow cabbages, but I did invest in this neat “raised bed in a bag” thingy which can be filled with dirt. I started my garden a little under a month ago, with no idea what I was doing. I still have no what idea what I am doing, but I am LEARNING STUFF:
1. Having a garden will not save you money on food (at least not initially).
I eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and I had this whole fantasy that I was going to grow ALL THIS FREE ORGANIC FOOD like MAGIC! I am slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve spent at least $200 in start up costs already: raised bed, dirt, seed starter kit, tools, fertilizer, seedlings, etc. This shit is not cheap. I am hoping I get a decent return on investment over the course of this spring/summer and next, but we shall see.
2. You need more dirt than you think you do.
My raised bed holds 0.5 cubic yards of soil, so I asked grad wife how much dirt to buy (she took me to Lowes in her minivan as my birthday present since I don’t have a car). “A yard is like…3 feet, so two 1 foot bags, yeah?” OMG WRONG. Cubic, duh! So really I needed like five 1 foot bags, and I seriously lost track of how many bags and trips to the store were involved, but that raised bed is like a black hole. Dirt is surprisingly expensive for…dirt.
3. Prepare to McGyver some shit.
We have tons of rabbits in Bloomington, so I jerry rigged a rabbit fence out of plastic chicken wire, but it is FLOPPY AS A MOTHERFUCK. It is currently being held semi-upright with safety pins, twist-ties and tomato stakes. I am not too proud to McGyver some shit. I am really impressed by the crazy stuff urban gardeners pull off on their apartment balconies, too. And of my friends grows stuff in rotting straw bales! Amazing.
4. Growing from seed is some bullshit.
This seems like a cool idea since seed is cheap, but it’s easier said than done. I started a bunch of seeds in a windowsill with a self-watering kit, and a bunch of them got all gangly and fucked up looking without getting any bigger due to the uneven light source, so I had to transplant them outside when they were all leggy and frail and most of them died. Ok, so the cucumber and zucchini seedlings were super high on life, and they are still doing well. But seeds take a long time, and a lot of them will die. Seedlings are still cheap, will probably not die when you transplant them, and you get a quicker pay-off. The strawberry plants I bought three weeks ago are already producing berries (they’re not red yet, but so what!) which would not be happening if I started from seed. But if you must use seeds….
5. Plant the whole packet of seeds.
I didn’t actually do this, since Grad Wife’s girlfriend gave me her leftover seeds and told me she wants them back so I guess I am not supposed to use them all. But another friend gave me this advice, and it’s not bad. It’s better to have too many seedlings than too few- you can weed out the weak ones and give your extras to your new gardening buddies (see #9).
6. Get ready to put the ethical smack down on critters
The rabbit fence is pretty effective, but it won’t keep out bugs. SOMETHING IS EATING MY MF-ING COLLARD GREENS TO DEATH. I am a big hippy and don’t want to use pesticides so I am trying to figure out ways to keep this from happening. I put cups of beer into the ground to trap baby slugs, which seems to work but they start to get rank and nasty pretty quickly. So I planted Marigolds between my plants and am regularly spraying the leaves with a solution of water and Dr. Bronners peppermint soap, since insects apparently hate the smell of mint and marigold. We’ll see how that goes.
7. Let go of emotional attachment to plants
Some shit is going to die. You are going to accidentally snap the stem on a healthy young zucchini plant and weepily duct tape it back together in the hopes that you can keep it alive, but the reality is SOME SHIT IS GOING TO DIE. None of the beet seedlings I started survived the transplanting process. (See #4). Some varmint will eat your shit (see #6) and make you cry. You gotta plant your shit, eat what survives and forget the rest.
8. Be prepared to deal with some high maintenance plant drama.
There are plants that are like beta fish- THEY NEED THEIR SPAAAACE. Some plants get freaking huge and will cannibalize other plants. Cilantro apparently can make stuff it grows next to taste weird, so it gets its own pot. You have to figure out which plants have special needs apparatus like trellises and stakes and whatnot. You need random bullshit like fertilizer, compost, and mulch to keep your plants happy, and to plant stuff that bees like in the hope that they come pollinate stuff so you get fruit. Still working on figuring all that out.
9. Make friends with your neighbors, and other gardeners.
Your neighbors, because you will need them to water your shit when you go visit your partner in Chicago on a regular basis. Other gardeners, who will give you seedlings and rides to Lowes and help you be less of a dumbass. You don’t actively need to seek out other gardeners, because you will obsessively babble about your garden to everyone and find out that a lot of people share your not-so-secret obsession. It’s like how I didn’t realize all of my friends are obsessed with running until I got obsessed with running.
10. Gardening will take over your life.
I actually thought gardening would be this annoying chore that I would have to maintain to get my free food. Instead I am fucking OBSESSED. I have to check the progress of my plants at least three times daily like a worried mother. I probably water too much and should leave them the fuck alone. My sister described gardening as “a cross between owning a pet and an art project” except (most) pets don’t give you food, and you don’t have to talk your garden for walks. And it gives you a nice excuse to be outside doing stuff.
I realize this post has a lot of swear words, and I am going to blame Thug Kitchen for that.
So, my herbivorous ninjas, have you caught the gardening bug, and if so, what are you growing?