It’s been over a year since I’ve written anything and it’s been the hardest year I’ve ever experienced. I’ve started writing many times and stopped again, feeling that my thoughts, tainted by the events of this year, were too trite. Not wanting to come across as a gushing bag of emotion, or someone desperately looking for sympathy, I shoved a stopper into most of these outpourings and put them back on the shelf. This year has been riddled with loss, conflict, trauma and a tractor load of stress for myself and those who are important to me.

A year of trauma also brings a lot of opportunity for self-realization. It gives you the opportunity to really see your relationships and your own actions for what they truly are. Although it’s been a tough year in general, one thing that’s gone really well is my garden and my CSA. I can’t help but feel that was a rather significant factor this year in achieving some fragile balance.

I’ve spent 6 years now learning how to grow things. What I didn’t consider is that in those 6 years I’ve also been learning how to grow myself. This is the year I think I’ve successfully grown the most, both in the garden, and in my confidence to deal with all the rotted manure life can sling. What have I learned from one of the hardest years yet? These are a few of the lessons I’ve taken away:

  1. When weeds seem to be choking out the good, you have to pull them. Some weeds are easy to deal with, but others, those with deep roots or those that creep, take a lot more effort. Sometimes you have to dig up an entire bed and start again, sacrificing the parts of it that are going well. That requires a lot of confidence in the other things you’ve nurtured, because starting again takes time to produce results. Turning under something when you’ve put a lot of effort and love into it seems counterproductive at the time, but sometimes it’s the only way to ensure a clean start. I’m notorious for wanting to see the good… if a plant looks interesting I’ll let it grow until I can identify it, regardless of whether it belongs there or not, and usually my gut knows better. That can cause a lot of damage. Better to nip trouble in the bud.
  2. The immature plants in your garden will always require the most time and energy. If you can help them to grow it’s worth a reasonable amount of effort, but if they consume everything you’ve got and don’t seem to change, you should likely try another variety.
  3. There are always challenges, and there are always ways to survive them. A multitude of variables in the garden keep you on your toes. If you’re not dealing with pests you’re dealing with drought, excess water or chemical imbalances. You can allow those variables to bring you down, or you can look for better ways to keep going under the circumstances. I lost a couple of years worth of cucurbits to squash bugs before realizing I could eradicate the little bastards with my weed torch. Sometimes the solution is right under your eyes, you just need to approach it from a different angle.
  4. You have to stick to your convictions. If you truly believe in growing spray-free  you can’t run for pesticides the second the bugs get out of control. There is always another way to mitigate damage. Sometimes it takes years to figure out, but integrity is everything when it comes to feeding people and nurturing yourself.
  5. Stress is not always a bad thing. Many studies have shown that plants grown with moderate stressors actually end up having a higher nutritional value. The key is to manage the stress so that it doesn’t become fatal. Of course, sometimes taking a weed torch or hoe out and playing terminator can be therapeutic. Stress can be productive.
  6. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Grow for yourself and those who appreciate what you do will come on board. If variety keeps your life interesting, don’t stick to the basic carrots and potatoes. If you hate tomatoes, you’ll never convince anyone that yours are the ones they should buy. There are lots of people who cater to the lowest common denominator. By finding your niche and sticking to it you can thrive.
  7. Nurture the right relationships. Beans grow well with cabbage and cucumber but not so much with onions and garlic. It doesn’t mean that onions and garlic are bad, it just means they’re not great companions for beans. You can’t grow and flourish if you align with the wrong companions. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error before you figure out which companions are the ones that will promote growth and which ones are trying to take you down.

This year isn’t quite over yet, but in reflecting on the things that have come from it I feel ready to move forward instead of letting it get me down. Soon the seed catalogues will start filling my mailbox and that’s always a good sign that something new and exciting is on the way. If anyone wants to help me pull some weeds, I’ve made room for some good companions in 2020. Bring it!





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