The good and Bad of Growing your own
Matthew Marsden September 2023
A friend asked me to write a few paragraphs describing my experience growing a vegetable garden on his farm this summer, to help people understand what's involved. So I’ll do my best.
I was very fortunate to find a person who was willing to allow me to garden a plot on his farm without any fee. I help out with a few small jobs around the farm from time to time like helping to prepare the garden beds in the spring, helping to lay out irrigation pipes, and helping with the baling and storing of hay. I enjoyed these little jobs and learned a few things along the way; so, the arrangement worked well for me.
I worked in agriculture when I was a teen; so, it was nostalgic and the people I was working with were all very nice. But the work sometimes involves using machinery, lifting things and working cooperatively with others. It can be hot and dusty and some people might not enjoy it. I was given a plot to garden, about 8 feet by 50 feet, as well as a plot around 30ft x 30ft. In hindsight, this was way too much for me, but my goal was to grow most of the food we’d need for the year.
I felt frustrated by paying high prices for poor quality food at the retail stores. This is where things got good, bad and ugly. I’ll start with the good. I have to say that for me, there are few things in life that have made me feel as satisfied as sitting down to a meal where I have grown everything except the meat that is on the table. It’s really special.
For me, gardening is very relaxing and grounding. Not everyone will like getting dirty and sweaty but for me it has really helped to calm me when other parts of my life are challenging. I have learned so many things about gardening this summer. How using the no till method to prepare the plot reduces weeds. How to plant carrots so they actually germinate and grow, the importance of row spacing and thinning seedlings, and most importantly why it’s important to prune and tie up your tomato plants. I have had the opportunity to do some things that very few people are able to do anymore like plowing with draft horses, learning how to harness them and just how smart and funny horses can be.
I’ve met some really great people who can all work together to get a job done and have shared produce when there was an abundance. It feels really good. I could continue but you’d get tired of reading.
The bad is more like the things you probably wouldn’t think of when you start your garden.
I have a 25 minute drive to the farm from where I live. Seems completely doable in the spring, but if you're trying to save money by growing your own food I don’t believe it’s possible if you have to drive more than a few minutes. Also, I had some car trouble this summer that kept me from going to the farm for several days at a time. When you're a gardener a lot can happen in several days. Most people don’t realize how much time is involved in having a successful garden. Plan for 2 hrs every other day for a small to medium garden and when you start to harvest the time needed to do that is added to the work. It’s really easy to get behind and that can lead to all sorts of problems. You need to plan what you are going to do with your harvest. In August and September, everything is ready at the same time. You have piles of tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, squash, and carrots that need to be processed and saved for the winter. Where will you store it? The freezer in your fridge isn’t big enough and cold rooms need shelving for jars. Jars and freezer bags are expensive the first year and there is an impossible amount of work.
Most people are very busy these days with very little spare time. There are lots of costs associated with starting your garden. Seeds, boxed plants, stakes for tomatoes, etc, etc.
And now for the ugly: Tomatoes. If you miss the opportunity to stake and prune your tomatoes like I did, you will end up with a jungle of tangled tomato vines. This makes it easier for diseases to attack your plants. They will overwhelm the other plants near them. In my case, peppers, potatoes and strawberries. It makes it much harder to pick your produce, and you will lose lots of tomatoes to rot and bugs from being on the ground. This is just an example of something that needs to be done when it needs to be done. It is time consuming, and this time is also added to the minimum 2 hrs every other day.
In conclusion, I want to be clear. For me, my summer gardening experience was wonderful but there were problems, disappointments, and failures. All this is part of the experience. It has made me more aware of the work and hardships our ancestors faced trying to live off of the land, and of the work and planning it takes to be self-sufficient.