During this pandemic gardening year, many people bought vegetable seeds for the first time, grew their first gardens and discovered the pleasures and challenges of growing food. Long-time vegetable gardeners shared extra seeds and gardening tips and often grew a little extra as insurance against these uncertain times. Confined to home, we all had time to garden.
As the year winds down toward Winter Solstice and the holidays, we now have time to look back on the gardening year and ahead to what the New Year offers. How will we think about growing food in the year ahead and what seeds will we order for 2021?
Ten years ago, I asked gardening friends to tell me why they grow vegetable gardens and published their responses in the monthly column I was writing at the time. I reread this column the other day and realized that the observations have perhaps even more resonance today as we reflect on why so many of us grew food this year.
Why We Grow Vegetable Gardens
For all of us who grow vegetable gardens, the New Year is a good time to pause and consider why we choose to spend our time planting and harvesting food. There’s the food, of course, but as a sampling of Lopez gardeners reveals, there’s also a sense of self-reliance and most of all there’s the garden itself.
But first to the food: “The obvious reason to grow a vegetable garden is to have fresh and delicious organic produce, especially the types that are either highly perishable (raspberries, lettuce) or mysteriously expensive (leeks, artichokes, kale). Be careful, though—our children now have expensive tastes and turn up their noses at pesto from the market.”
Others agree: “there’s the intense flavor.” “Homegrown food just tastes better. I’ll always remember the first time I ate a sweet pepper from my garden (it was a sweet banana). It was so crisp, juicy, so flavorful. The tastes can spoil you.”
And, others add, there are the health benefits of eating homegrown food. “As more information continues to surface on chemical contamination and GMOs (“Frankenstein Foods”), I feel so blessed to be relatively free of those threats to my body.”
Freedom, security, and independence: these are more reasons people grow their own food. “I love the security of not being dependent on other sources for my food. Truthfully, I have always possessed a ‘doomsday’ mentality. Not in a morbid, fearful way but simply in a non-dependence on the ‘system’ way.”
Another considers herself “more of a subsistence gardener, growing as much of my family’s food as I can, including grains, dry beans, edible seeds, etc., and seeds to plant in future years; my intention is also to provide as many material needs as possible from the garden (e.g. fuel, fiber, medicines, etc.). Mother Earth provides abundance for free, and I celebrate how that gives me some small measure of independence from a cash economy that enslaves people and brings about terrible harm.”
“When I first became interested in gardening (as a teen),” another writes, “it was mainly for the idea of growing my own food, to be self-reliant. Having my garden produce food is a given at this point.”
And for another family, there’s “the satisfaction of eating a meal made up largely of our own produce. We sit at the table sometimes and list off all the foods that came from our own patch of dirt!”
Food we grow ourselves is important, but all the effort isn’t only for the food.
“I garden because I love spending my days in nature, amazed by plants, insects, birds, sky and I feel blessed to participate in the wondrous and the miraculous.”
“There is the eternal miracle of a tiny brown seed becoming a huge green plant. The transition from nearly bare brown spring soil to late summer, when there is barely room for a weed, astonishes every year.” “I’m still in awe that seeds will sprout, that cuttings will form roots.”
“There is also an adventurous piece to gardening—you never know what will flourish and what will succumb in a given year. Gardens are for optimists!” “Gardening teaches acceptance: there will always be some plants that just don’t thrive. OK, I lied about that—I still feel a little sad when a plant doesn’t make it.”
“I love the peace and solitude of my garden. It is the pure joy of being on the land raising my own vital foods that keeps me hunkered down with my hands in the soil.”
“The garden surrounds us with enlivening energy, provides a place to see into nature, gently humbles, and welcomes us no matter what. What a privilege!”
“I don’t think I would garden only to be growing food. There are so many excellent farms in the area that can provide. I garden because I love the process, the satisfaction of producing from seed to soup. When I eat from my garden, I have a personal history with that food—it goes beyond sustenance, politics or economy.”
I’m grateful for all of these observations. They remind me of the many reasons growing vegetables gives us pleasure.
Turning from reflections to practical tasks, an important step this time of year for all of us gardeners is getting seeds for next year’s gardens. Some seeds we’ve saved from plants in our gardens; others we order. With seed catalogs arriving daily, I’m reminded that this time of year I usually write a post about seed ordering, sharing the steps I follow and questions I ask myself. Looking back through years of December and January entries, I see that I’ve written about getting organized by alphabetizing seed packets, inventorying the contents and checking the longevity of seed varieties to help me decide what to keep and what to discard;
about using catalog information like “days to maturity” to help me decide what variety to order; about the search for new varieties because an old favorite has been discontinued or because I’m ready for something new; about the pleasant distractions of reading through seed catalogs.
The turn of the year is a perfect time to look back on the garden year past and to immerse ourselves in seed choices for the year ahead. Happy new gardening year! Welcome 2021!