Monday, April 5, 2010

[Garden] Putting the Man back in Manual Labor

This weekend was the start of our garden for the 2010 season. That meant hauling out the hoe and breaking up the soil for planting. Then my wife came along behind me and planted some of the seeds for our veggies that are able to go in before the last hard frost. That includes stuff like peas, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and peppers. It was a hard weekend.

When you’re hacking at the dirt with a spade on a stick, you spend a lot of time wondering if there mustn’t be a better way to do all of this. Of course, there is. A roto-tiller would be ideal. It would churn up the dirt and break up the clumps, almost surely better than I could do it by hand. I considered this, to be sure. It’s how my father always used to do it. I could remember him using a roto-tiller every year to do my grandfather’s garden and, in the years when Dad had one, his own.

So why didn’t I? Well, this garden is rather ill-advised to be honest. We don’t eat all that many vegetables and when we do, it’s mostly corn. So why put all this effort into a garden (where, it must be noted, I'm not actually growing corn)? I’ll be damned if I know. Isn’t that odd? I mean, we will sort of eat a lot of what we grow and my parents will eat some, too, so it’s not as if it’s going to waste, it’s just that it’s not really needed and it’s hard to argue that it’s really saving us much money on produce from the store.

So, since it’s not really saving us any money, I hate to spend any MORE money on it than is minimally necessary. I spent quite a bit last year, between fencing, dirt, mulch for the path, seeds, and other stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting. I never totaled it up, but $200-300 is probably in the ballpark (though it wouldn’t surprise me if I got all the receipts together to discover that it was really $400 or more). But that was last year. That money’s spent, regardless of what I do this year. There’s no fancy bookkeeping going on where it would make sense to pretend that I could spread those costs out over multiple years because I can’t. I paid for the stuff last year and the money’s gone.

So now I have this patch of earth with a decent fence around it and a lightly-mulched path (in truth, I need more mulch). Whether I use it or not, it’s there. It’s paid for. Whether I spend $300 more on it this year or nothing at all is up to me, but we’re starting over at $0 spent in 2010 and going from there. So far, I’ve spent about $10 on seeds, some of which it turns out I probably didn’t need. I didn’t realize we’d had so many left over from last year.

So we took a huge loss on the garden last year, no doubt about it. We grew peas and beets, lettuce and spinach, carrots and green onions, and all told probably saved around $30 in terms of actual produce that we would have bought but didn’t have to buy because we got it from the garden instead. Maybe not even that much – we just don’t buy that much produce except for things like grapes, strawberries and bananas that I don’t grow in my garden. So this garden isn’t likely to ever save us real money. Instead, I look at it as improving our nutrition.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with better nutrition. I’d just like to see if I can keep costs under control this year. Since I’m starting with a ready garden, I don’t need any of the stuff I bought last year. I’ve got my seeds (some of which are redundant), and I’ve even got a leftover bag of mulch that I can use to spruce up my paths. I decided that I didn’t need to add in the cost of a roto-tiller if I could possibly do the work myself. So far, I’m about half done with the work. My back aches and my left thumb has a huge raw spot where all the skin was rubbed away.

I’ve lamented in the past that if my family and I were dependent on growing our own food, we’d surely starve. One thing about tilling up the soil myself, I get to know it rather well. I can see where there’s clay beneath the few inches of topsoil I’ve added. I can see where the soil furthest from the house is lined with roots, though I’m not sure from where. Some I suspect are from a nearby willow. I’m at a loss as to where the rest of them are coming from. I can see that the soil does loosen up pretty well when I break it apart, and I can see that there are virtually no rocks in it. I assume that’s good.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s peaceful or relaxing to be out in my garden huffing and sweating and swearing and viciously attacking the earth with my polearm. I wish it were, but it’s not. It’s just hot, tiring, and tedious. It certainly takes a lot longer than it seems like it should. I’m careful to pull out as many of the leftover weeds as I can, since I know they’ll gladly re-root themselves and get back to growing if I leave them there.

Yet, for all of that, I can’t say that I have a real need for a garden or a really good justification for the cost and effort of having one. It’s just one of those things that it seems like I ought to have, so I do. There are certainly worse things I could have talked myself into, so there’s that. And it’s very nice to go out and grab a bowlful of peas and just munch away at them right off the vine. The taste of garden-fresh produce can’t be beat, and gives the lie to anytime you see those words used on a can or package at the store. Garden-fresh and stores are mutually exclusive. So are fat guys and gardens, usually, but I seem to be the exception there. Though I must admit that after a few hours sweating in my garden, there’s nothing fresh about me.

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