2017: A Pretend Homestead Year in Review
Do you know what is the most difficult thing to do in the entire world? Change your habits. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you a gym membership. I am a great thinker and I love planning. Nothing gets me more excited that the prospect of what the new me is going to look like. Then I set out to become the new me and I am really great at it for about 3 weeks and then I burn out.
This year I began my homesteading journey. I scoured pinterest. I learned about self-sufficiency. I wrote down, in this blog, all the things I was going to do. Then work got busy and I got tired. Going outside and tending my garden seemed a lot less attractive than laying on the couch in the air conditioning, and little by little I made allowances until everything fell apart, just like it always does. Now, two weeks after I promised I'd write this post for New Years (and 2 months after I first started writing it), I trudge on. The most important lesson I learned in my first year is that I'm not great at this. And that's ok. I just have to keep trying because a different way of life is out there and I can attain it, but it's not going to be easy. I have to unlearn an entire lifetime of bad habits - throwing money at problems, expecting success on the first try, giving up if I'm not immediately successful, and being so absolutely terrified of failure that I don't ever truly try in the first place.
I look out at my garden boxes every morning when I let the dog out, all covered in snow... Let me be the first to say that my Year One garden was a friggin' disaster. Cheap soil, bunny trouble, dog vomit slime mold... the list goes on. Literally.
So let's really dig and uncover my failures, shall we?
1) What did grow barely grew:
- I got a few knobby white carrots. They honestly looked like the Mandrakes from Harry Potter. Except less impressive. I roasted what I could salvage with salt and pepper and they were actually quite good, but it wasn't exactly a bounty, or a success. That is a haiku about the experience to your right.
- That beautiful squash flower that I posted several months back turned out to be maybe a pumpkin? We got three of them, none of which were any bigger than a child's basketball (the fisher price kind.)
- We got three weird, nubby cucumbers which were promptly eaten by chipmunks.
-My cilantro went to flower because I was a bum and didn't take care of it. I consider that a personal tragedy.
-I planted my tomatoes way too close together and, while I got a ton of tomatoes, most of them remained green.
2) Critters, critters everywhere! Even after we solved our bunny trouble, we had hungry squirrels and chipmunks who continued to climb over the fence and nibble all my beautiful lettuce.
3) My watering was sub-par at best. First, I got one of those fancy shmancy automatic waterers which died within a week. Then, it rained like crazy so I never knew when to water. Sometimes I would remember to turn on the sprinkler and then forget to turn it off for 2 hours. Then I got some of that drip irrigation hose but never installed it. So my garden was generally dry or a soggy mess.
4) I am lazy as hell. There - I said it. I have such great ideas but actually sticking with a project is really hard for me, and since everything seemed like a shit disaster anyways, I just mostly ignored it. Know what doesn't help plants grow? Ignoring them.
Everything that went wrong was my fault. I did just enough to say I was doing it, and then expected everything to just work out. How unbelievably foolish of me! I blame The Field of Dreams for instilling false expectations about how invested I need to be. "If you build it, they will come?" Give me a break. Nothing has ever worked out that way. Fortunately, I'm pretty stubborn. In my adulthood, I've learned that while sticktoitiveness (it's a word... sound it out) isn't my forte, I can double down on my stubbornness to achieve my goals if I decide that's what I'm going to do.
So then - what can I do differently next year to set myself up for success?
1) Love thy soil. Doing things on a shoestring budget is tough. In Year One, I was able to get some soil. In Year Two, I'm going to LOVE that soil. I'm going to give it the goodies it needs to produce me some delicious foods. This will probably be done the non-organic way because I don't have a composter. But I will get a composter... then we'll have yummy, ORGANIC soil in Year Three.
2) Less is more. I was so excited to replace all the veggies I buy with ones I grew, I didn't stop for a second to think "hey dude, you don't know how to grow anything. Maybe you should start small. Also your garden beds are tiny so maybe you should grow things that produce a lot off one plant." This year I'm narrowing it down to just a few things that I really enjoyed eating and had some mild success with:
-I'm going to plant a whole box of lettuce because Marcel and I really enjoyed being able to clip a few leaves for our salads. We eat a ton of salad and those pre-packaged boxes of mixed greens are stupidly expensive. I think what lettuce we got was my favorite part of Year One.
-We're also going to do tomatoes because those grew like the dickens. We're just going to plant them far enough apart that they eventually turn red.
-Herbs that I actually like (goodbye parsley!) in pots close to my house. I know it sounds incredibly lazy (because it is), but walking the 15 feet to the garden and unhooking the stupid fence to snip some cilantro often seemed like too much work. Pathetic. I know! But it was the truth 75% of the time I was begrudgingly cooking after a full day of work. So herbs that are closer to the back door and easier to tend are on the agenda.
3) Fool-proof my watering from day one. I'm going to install the irrigation tubes as I plant which should help. I'm also going to buy a mechanical (non-electric) timer. Yes, I will have to walk around the back of the house to turn it on, but once I do, I will not need to remember to turn it back off. It's the second part that's a real kiss of death for my pea brain.
4) Install ducks. Yep... you heard that right. I'm going to get ducks. Those ducks will live in a run on the edge of our property. I will have to walk past the garden every day to feed and water the ducks. I can't not ignore an actually living, waddling, quacking thing that needs my attention the way I can ignore plants. I'm hoping that the sheer act of being around my garden, which will be better organized, will help keep my interest in the plants.
I'm pretty excited to take the lessons I learned in Year One to set my Year Two up for success. This whole adventure is very complicated, but it's about growing, and learning about my shortcomings and then moving past them. I'm sharing this story with all of you so that it keeps me beholden to the journey. I can promise that I am not ready to quit my day job and move to nowhere Vermont and start a farm. I learned that this year! But I am ready to do a little bit better next time.