This was a big spring for me in the growing department. Last year’s project in our yard was the Treehouse. But this was the year for the vegetable garden.
We have this underutilized sunny side yard that if left to its own desires would grow into some combination of a fern jungle and tall grass prairie. Great for creating a commune for all the local rodents, not great for a family of humans, especially this human who prefers to keep Angelina Ballerina as the only mouse allowed into our home.
I knew from the beginning I wanted to turn this into a space that worked for our family. If I have learned anything from small space living it is that you must take advantage of every corner that belongs to you. A long and skinny space with lots of sun isn’t great for play. But it is exactly the home in every growing vegetable’s dreams.
When the days were still short and the snow was still a regular part of my backyard view, this is when the dream began. Thoughts of little green sprouts climbing up a trellis and snacking on scarlet tomatoes warm from the sun and bees bouncing from flower to flower like they've never been happier. This kept me alive. This kept me hopeful. Late winter/early spring can be challenging but not when there is a garden to plan.
As a tip from a neighbor after I cooed over her garden last spring, I looked into the Square Foot Gardening technique. I am not going to explain all the details but rather point you to the book and concept created by Mel Bartholomew. The general idea is that by planting one particular vegetable in each square foot raised garden bed, you take advantage of small spaces and also save energy and effort along the way. While the book was full of self promotion, I was sold.
And so begins my story on how I became a vegetable gardener. As I checked in on my word of the year, Begin, and what I learned during the spring, I discovered every lesson returns back to the garden. This should not be surprising. I believe Mother Nature to be our greatest teacher. As I ventured forth into the world of vegetable growing, She taught me more than just how to take a seed and turn it into sustenance. She taught me about myself.
Here are the lessons on Begin I learned this spring…
Being a beginner is scary but empowering. Planning and dreaming is one thing. It’s the doing part that terrifies me the most. And often it’s the step that I never take. Not this year. This is my year of begin. So as soon as the last pile of snow had melted into the earth, as soon as the increasing sunshine warmed the soil with the promise of better days ahead, I made my lists and I began to build. I picked up power tools for the first time. I researched and sourced the precise recipe for the soil recommended for this type of gardening. I studied up on how to properly plant seeds and when the climate is just right for Minnesota gardening. With each step of the process I gathered increasing knowledge. Instead of letting the fear that accompanies every beginner hold me back, I trusted the process and pushed forward. I am fully aware that there will be mistakes along the way. But you can only makes mistakes if you begin. With every lesson gathered, I am keeping notes to improve on for next year. This is what it means to be a learner, a doer, a beginner. It can be scary to begin anything. But as uncomfortable as it may be, there is also power in beginning. I have less fear to begin.
Rely on the support of others. They say the more you learn, the more you discover what you don’t know. This proved to be true for my gardening experience. It’s one thing to buy some herbs, put them in a pot and water them when they get droopy. It’s a whole other thing when you are trying to take a bunch of tiny little seeds and turn it into something to feed your family. But as I leaned into my "beginner-ness" I humbled myself to learn from others. Beyond the research from the book, I followed Instagram accounts with experts, or expert beginners, in the field of small kitchen gardens for inspiration. I found a community of local gardeners on Facebook helping me better understand the growing season of my specific area. I even discovered our local library to be a fantastic source of help in collecting FREE seeds through their Seed Catalog. Did you even know this was a thing? I certainly didn’t. Yet in opening myself up to learning and relying on others, I feel stronger, better supported.
I am trying to apply this to other areas of my life. I am lucky to have a partner who cheers me on in all I endeavor. Using him as an accountability resource is a necessary step in making sure I take the time for the things that matter. Fitting in both writing and exercise into my weekly routine is something I struggle to balance. But when we come together, discussing what works best for both of us and putting it in ink on the calendar, I am more likely to make it happen. When beginning something feels hard, relying on others for support makes me stronger. This is why I write about my goals in this space in the first place. You, readers, are my greatest source of support.
The beginning stage is still beautiful. If you asked I would tell you all the things I want to do differently with my garden. I would tell you how I want to add mulch so we don’t have to mow around the boxes. I would tell you how I want to plant more radishes next year and maybe skip the chard. I would tell you that I need to figure out how to keep the squirrels from seeing this project as a 24 hour open salad bar. If I let my mind wander, and I do this often, I always have a way to make things better. I don’t just do this with my garden. I do this in the rest of my home. And if I really got deep I would tell you I do this with my own personal growth too.
This memorial day weekend we hosted a gathering of close friends and family to celebrate Leo’s baptism. As I saw the approaching date on the calendar, I began making detailed lists of all the different places in our home that needed improvements. Essentially, I was planning a total home renovation to be completed in under four weeks. When I came to my senses and admitted this wasn’t happening, I felt the disappointment. I wanted to make our home the perfect place I know it can be. But when I expressed my fears to my friend, she graced me with the best advice. "We are coming to see you. Not your house. Not some perfect picture. You. You are all we need."
Of course. This home is just a house. This garden is just a garden. Me, right where I am today, is what matters the most. To Begin means to "Undergo the first part of." The first part. Not the final part. And the first part is beautiful. Because it is exactly who we are in this moment. This is a beautiful place to be.
Patience. Patience. Patience. I think if I had to learn only one thing from Mother Nature it is of patience. My first seeds went into the carefully mixed soil in the perfectly squared boxes at the end of April. I was heading out the next day to be away for the weekend but the forecast called for nothing but rain. I felt I was leaving my new babies in good hands. Unfortunately, when we returned, it appeared the rain hadn’t come as promised. And when I didn’t see any signs of growth that next week, I declared my first attempts a failure. I knew I could plant more seeds but it felt like a disappointing beginning to my project. You know how this story ends, though. I kept coming back each morning, peering in close. The arugula came up first. Then the radishes. And then one by one, each little seed once buried deep in the chilly soil took it’s necessary time to send down roots and reach up sprouts. In their own time, at their own pace, those precious seeds taught me to believe.
Having patience is about waiting, quietly, hopeful, and trusting that some things take longer than you think. Like plants growing. Children growing. And me growing too.
I promised you four lessons on Begin for this spring. But there is one more I can’t forget.
In case you missed it, I began a new writing adventure this season as a regular contributor on Twin Cities Moms Blog. And fittingly, my first article was in When Gardening Lessons Teach us More Than Gardening.
I am excited at the learning that will come from beginning this process as a writer. My garden, and myself, we’ll grow together.