Posts tagged garden
My ugly garden: a tale of garden woe and insecurity

Every year, around this point in the waning days of summer, I become very insecure about the garden. 

I figure for the first two years it was because I knew that I legitimately knew next-to-nothing about what I was doing, but enough to identify large areas for improvement. I was looking forward to expanding into new land, adding new vertical support, just starting the compost piles, building the hügelkultur bed, adding bees. It was a learning process, and I didn't expect much of myself or the garden...anything that happened was a success. The start of year three was, perhaps, an exercise in arrogance, then. For some reason, this spring I was feeling extremely confident. Two whole years under my belt and I was totally sure that I knew enough to really knock it out of the park in year three. Trellising in place, varieties selected that had been consistent winners the two years prior, a loose understanding of which parts of the garden got how much sun and held how much moisture, more compost, cover cropping. This year was slated to be a roaring success. We had done so much legwork to prepare for the time when we didn't have to remove lawn and till new space, when the trellises for climbing plants were in place well before they were needed, when we had started more than enough of everything that we wanted in March for good strong starts to be ready by May, when we had the tools we needed to do the work we needed to do, when winter eased off early. Okay, I thought, now this garden can live up to my expectations without me getting in the way! Everything is in place, now show me what you can do, nature!

Like, way too confident, right?

All of this thinking, of course, makes the fact of this year's inevitable late-summer garden insecurities only more intense. Funny, how nature has a way of humbling you over and over again. It's not that we had any catastrophes, really. Of course the weather has been weird, but that's every year these days, right? You can't just blame the weather for everything. Things got put out on time for the most part, things got enough water, no major storms destroyed the garden, hell, we didn't even have any kids rampage through or hungry strangers pillage the  greens. But despite all of that, this year's late summer garden is a mess. Nutrient deficiencies are noted. The squash bugs do their work tirelessly, obviating the possibility of extra (or even enough) summer squash. The aphids, as always, thrive, dashing any hopes of Brussels sprouts this autumn. The weeds prevail. The bees are cross-combed and inaccessible. The ladybugs and lacewings released months ago seem to have left for other environs. At least the local sparrows and goldfinches are happy, with all of the weeds that have gone to seed. 

So why is the garden so ugly this year? Maybe I'm just learning more, and learning to see more nuanced areas of improvement than the last two years. Maybe, any output at all from the garden, after two years, isn't enough to inspire a celebration anymore (though, shouldn't it be?). Or maybe the garden really is ugly, and maybe that doesn't matter as much as it always feels like it does. 

At this point, I have a choice. I can write a meditation about how the garden is a reflection of the gardener. How, if I had been more mindful of myself this summer, the garden would be in better condition. How, if I had been tending my own garden, my own garden would have been getting tended, as it were. 

But then I started re-reading what I had written. I looked at the pile of eight(ish?) different heirloom tomato varieties sitting on the counter, some split, some bug eaten, some suffering from blossom-end rot, but all eminently, perfectly edible. I considered the half-dozen open tabs related to bird identification in my browser right next to the one where I'm typing this. I looked at the dried lavender on my desk. I considered all of the seeds that I've already saved from the marigolds and the poppies and the bachelors buttons and peppers and tomatoes and herbs. I felt the enveloping late August heat and humidity and thought of how long it had been since I last appreciated Queen Anne's Lace. I cut around the bad spots and ate another tomato.  

And then I decided that maybe expectations and insecurities and disappointment have a lot to do with one another, and even if a garden is a reflection of a gardener, maybe it's in ways that are a little more nuanced and a little more subtle than the yellowed leaves of a few squash plants and the number of weeds gone to seed. Maybe it's in the way the tomatoes and basil taste when they're still hot from the afternoon sun, and the way the bugs sing every night, the color of the new birds growing fat on grass and dill seed, the durable grace of the wildflowers, the volunteer winter squash outperforming their intentional peers, the dozens of varieties of seeds already waiting for next year's cultivation, the accumulated knowledge of another year's worth of gardening. 

My garden, like myself, is and always will be a work in progress. Some years there are things that go right. Surprisingly right, and you end the year tired of preserving zucchini and carrots and greens, freezer full. Some years a late-August storm flattens all of the corn and you mourn what was supposed to be. Some years the weeds grow high and still the carrots produce more than you need. Some days it feels like there aren't enough hands to do all of the work, and some days a whole army of hands shows up just to reassure you that you don't always have to do it all alone. Some years you find poison ivy in the garden and lose battle after battle trying to extricate the toxic weed from your life. Some years the slugs eat more of the cabbage than you do. Some years everything goes to seed, good and bad things both. And you know there will be more weeds to pull, because there are always more weeds to pull. But there will be more flowers and herbs, too. The work will never be over. There will be no garden, this year, next year, or twenty years hence where there isn't room for improvement, where, around late August, I see all of the current year's follies in stark relief. But there will also be no garden that doesn't teach me, yearly, something about patience, and expectations, and surprise, and the generosity of nature. 

Harvest, preserve, retreat indoors

I'll be honest, at this point, I feel like this post is almost exclusively to relieve the guilt that I have about not blogging for the last hmrhsmchsomething months by offloading a bunch of pictures onto the internet to fill the space and save my words-ed out brain from having to write too much, so I can get back to the sanding and drilling and polishing and cutting and pressing and sewing and cooking and webmastering and Airbnbing.

Not that this is news to me exactly, but it turns out that it's actually really difficult to continue maintaining the "do 100% everything with our own two hands" thing and keep up with it all when we ceaselessly add more things to the pile because we're loathe to choose one thing over another and will just do all the things until we die instead so long as our time and energy and health and razor-thin budget will allow. Surely there are diagnoses for this sort of attitude, but who cares (not us)? We couldn't afford to hire out if we wanted to anyway and I fear that we would somehow be taking something away from ourselves in doing so. So sometimes long-overdue writing goes by the wayside, a casualty of our reluctance to dilute our efforts, and a casualty of my frequent desire to sew and sand and strum instead of write. Until we either become Doctor Manhattans operating outside of the bounds of time and space, find a way to add more people who value productivity and independence far more than their sanity to the project, have some huge financial windfall land on us, or some combination thereof, here I am, blogging once every hmrhsmchsomething months.

I make magnificent excuses, don't I? At least lengthy ones. 

The good news is that, while I may be garbage at weekly or even monthly blogging, I am less garbage at updating our social media presence! So if you thirst for more snippets of our work and life, you can mosey on over to Frontier Industry, LLC on Facebook and/or our Instagram page and keep up with our far more frequent updates there about what we're fussing with in the garden and kitchen and workshops and new products as they're completed and posted. 

So, what about all of those pictures I was talking about, eh? I'm such a liar when it comes to promises of conciseness. 

The bulk of the last few months was occupied by slowly putting the garden to bed - harvesting, composting, and doing the first cover cropping that we've tried out so far, though that last thing didn't happen until quite late in the season and will probably wind up being minimally effective, especially considering the very cold November that just passed. And, of course, the preserving! We planted so much more this year and though we shared generously with interested passers-by, friends, and neighbors, we ended the season with a truly monstrous amount of collard greens and kale, resulting in the crock pot going nonstop for the better part of two weeks, cooking them down by two-gallon-sized batches into prepared greens for the freezer. After that it was the seemingly endless task of washing, chopping, blanching, and freezing the beets, carrots, and parsnips. But after a month in the kitchen, we end this year's garden with a full chest freezer, another milestone in our endeavors to be more self sufficient. 

The next hurdle may well be our impending adventures in trying to finally buy the land that we've been farming for two years now, but I'm not even slightly prepared to begin knowing where to start on that one. Detroit real estate is many things....simple and straightforward is rarely one of them. So we'll save that bit for the springtime.


And one last minor plant-related development: we finally got our indoor hydroponic garden set up! Having a few of these set up in a sunny spot indoors is a perfect way to preserve cuttings from plants that did particularly well outside this year, not to mention a good way to have a kitchen herbs on hand throughout the year!

In addition to the effort of wrapping up the garden for the season, we've been busy in the workshops, Matt turning out a batch of the Metropolis mods (the first time he's ever been able to do a proper run of them to be put in the store for immediate sale, without the 2-4 week long turn around time otherwise!), and me working on as many new items of clothing as our budget for fabric will allow, in addition to expanding my own work with wood to include jewelry and knickknacks and whatnots, using the leftover wood from Matt's work and other collected materials from my meanderings. We've been expanding into new techniques and materials in both fabrics and woods, which keeps things creatively interesting, but is also in pursuit of chasing down a niche in which to work that is creatively inspired, practical for our own purposes, and can find us a larger market so that we can leverage ourselves out of the "hopefully we can pay all of the bills this winter" category and into something a little more reliable.

If we can keep up our hustle, perhaps this time next year we'll be set up to work with a serger and some high-performance, high-durability technical fabrics in the sewing shop and maybe even a desktop CNC in the workshop for speedier turnaround on mods (not to mention all of the other amazing stuff we could dream up with a tool like that). It's exciting to feel like maybe there's some surer footing growing under our feet, that maybe there isn't a futility in trying to find purchase for our creative pursuits. Maybe we can make this artist thing actually work out. For now we're happy just to have the vintage tank of a sewing machine and band saw and estate-sale-please-just-get-this-off-my-hands drill press and the sander and our dusty and calloused hands....for now. So much for hibernating! I think it's going to be a busy winter...