Gardening is one of the most humbling activities I have experienced. You can do everything you need to do perfectly or not at all and that has only a slight effect on whether or not the seeds will grow. I can weed the potatoes every single time I garden, and they may still rot in the ground if it rains too much. I realized all of this (again) the other day as I was gardening after a long period of time when I wasn’t able to do so. I started out by planting some kale and then went to weeding and told myself if I weeded enough rows I could plant more seeds (I’ve learned that I have to give myself incentives for weeding or it won’t happen). As I was weeding the greens that have mysteriously begun to go to seed before they’re big enough to cut, I began to get intensely frustrated. I have thought about this garden and planned out what I wanted to plant where for months and months; then the rains came and I waited to be able to garden for weeks until the monsoons stopped and here I was gardening, and all I had to show for it was weedy potatoes, bitter greens, garlic that will be ready someday and parsnips that I have no idea how to tell how they’re doing. That’s a pretty pathetic excuse for a garden, if you ask me. It is amazing how quickly gardening can bring out every single one of your insecurities, even the ones you haven’t heard from in years. I was suddenly pelted with all of them: “You have a degree in agriculture and you can’t even keep up with your garden”, “you are way too lazy to be a good gardener, you weeded this LAST time you gardened”, and the big kicker “maybe you’re just a bad gardener and you wasted four years of your life and quite a bit of money going to school to study sustainable agriculture.” Here I was, on my hands and knees yanking out tall grass from between my potatoes and harassing myself with these insults. The funny thing about gardening is that even if it is not going well, you have to keep doing it or it will just get worse–it’s a double-edged sword that forces you to return to it and face your mistakes or laziness or plain lack of knowledge and experience. This might be the most valuable part of gardening: you have to keep trying and eventually it will change you. That day in the garden ended up being a good day, after I got all of my frustration out I was able to just garden. But I had to get past that; I had to force myself to ignore the negativity in my head and keep trying, because that’s all I can do. I knew that the garden this year was going to be very experimental, that I was going to have to learn how to juggle time in order to get enough gardening done, and that I was going to have no idea what I was doing most of the time. Being OK with gardening this way takes a level of graciousness that I do not possess, but I’m learning…slowly. In putting effort into the garden I have to realize how little I have to do with the success of the garden but still continue to participate; I have to learn the importance of hard work for something that is not certain, but that is incredibly rewarding regardless.
“A farm asks, and if you don’t give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul.”—The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball