Thursday, August 23, 2012

How do the weeds in my garden grow? Quite well, in fact.

Your fearless blogger holds a garden tomato.
I've said it before and I'll say it now: Anyone who chirps that all you need to do to cut food costs is to plant a vegetable garden needs a smack upside the head.  Not because I hate gardening--I love gardening.  But because it's a lot of work and the results are scatter-shot, especially when you're first doing it.

Here's the thing: my plot at work, despite our best efforts to mulch it with a couple of feet of seaweed, is still overrun with weeds.  I pull them and they grow right back.  I'll be taking a day next week to really attack them--pull them, rake them out, and re-mulch so that at least they won't take hold in the latter part of the summer, and I might be able to plant some winter crops like spinach. My garden partner is going to try and re-stake the tomatoes this weekend because, again, despite our best efforts, they are growing every which way and pulling the stakes down.

Gardening takes work.  You can't just plant things and traipse out there to harvest bushels of vegetables.  It's highly unlikely that you'll be able to just maintain the garden for an hour a day, unless you have container gardens (which can still have weeds) or you have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of mulch built up (or a weed barrier, which is fine for some plants and not so great for others).  You wage war against weeds, pests (vine borers destroyed our zucchini plants, and cucumber beetles wrecked out cucumber plants), rodents (I cannot tell you how many tomatoes I picked that ended up having large bites taken out of them), blight/fungus, and weather.  Among other things.  And if you get a lot of produce, you have to have the time to preserve it.

That's the thing--you don't want to let tomatoes sit in your kitchen for a week before canning them or making sauce and freezing it.  Maybe a couple of days, if you have to (I have to this week) but no longer.  And canning takes time.  Dip the tomatoes in hot water for 30-60 seconds, dip them in ice water to cool, peel off the skins, maybe cut into sections if they are large, and can them.  Sounds easy, but it is labor intensive and quite messy.  And it does take time.  Can you do this when you get home from work, or are you too tired?

Peppers! And lots of weeds. Pity rabbits don't eat weeds.
A lot of frugal things take work, and the first few times you do them, they don't turn out well. My advice to anyone who's facing immediate financial problems and who's never gardened before and needs help now would not be to garden or do projects that can be frugal but require a lot of know-how.  It would be to bring in more money, cut down on expenses, things like that.  If you have the time and the resources, yes, I'd say this is a worthwhile pastime.

Gardening can cost you money. If someone was hoping to slash their food bill with a garden, they may find themselves behind the eight ball after spending money on the seeds or seedlings and supplies like cages or stakes.  They'll also find that unless they spend a lot of time on the garden, they will lose the war with weeds and pests and other garden adversaries--and sometimes these things can wreak havoc even if you spend a lot of time on the garden.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't garden.  I love it.  Even during the most frustrating days--like yesterday, when I came down to the plot and saw the prairie and thought, "I JUST PULLED THOSE THINGS", I was rewarded with a decent tomato crop.  This is turning out to be a good year for tomatoes (unlike last year, which was a disaster for me).  Even when I get nothing, it's nice to plant things and watch them grow and learn.

But I've always said this is a hobby for me. I enjoy this hobby, and one large reason why I do it is because I do want to know how to grow things.  I do not want these kinds of skills to fade into the background--we're already losing so much knowledge about this stuff.  I understand in visceral ways how it is that weather conditions--like, say the current drought--can affect the food supply.  It's no longer a remote thing for me emotionally.  And on one level, I do feel empowered.  Even if most of the crops I raise fail, I'll still know basically what to do.  It's rare to have absolutely nothing.


  1. Great post! My husband does the majority of our gardening because he truly loves it. Every year, and I mean EVERY year, something doesn't grow well (or at all). We've had problems the past 2 years with seeds or plants being mis-labeled and not getting what we thought we were getting. It's sort of an adventure. I think you are right on target in saying that gardening is not the first place to start being frugal. There are too many variables.

    Your tomato looks great! Enjoy!

  2. I love gardening. I think you have more of a weed problem than me though, mainly because our weather is so rubbish! :) I only have to pull them every week or so, but if I leave it for a month it turns into a meadow, not a veg patch!

    Look at the size of that tomato!!

    I just got some seeds for next year. There's an offer on for seeds that are best before 2013-2015, because it's the wrong season to plant. Managed to get six veg seed packets for £3! :)

    I agree that it probably doesn't save you crazy amounts of money, but it probably gives you better quality products. My veg is all organic and tastes waaay better than supermarket stuff! :) (The stuff that wasn't eaten by slugs or pigeons anyway!)

  3. You fertilize with seaweed? How very Celtic of you. I didn't know anyone outside the Aran Islands did that!

    Glad you are enjoying the trials and rewards of gardening. It nice to live vicariously through your efforts. Love the posts on the garden!

  4. Oh, P.S. The bad weather has pretty much ruined most of my crops! I have a few tomato plants inside doing ok, and the cabbage outside is doing well, but the potato plants died back too early from black leg and the "harvest" was about a dozen TINY potatoes and maybe 8 normal sized ones! Boo!

    My onions still look like challots too. :( Still holding out hope for my swede but haven't seen much from them yet!

  5. I look at gardening as one of those hobbies that can be profitable. Some years the weather just does not cooperate, and I don't get much as a result. But if I think of it as a hobby, I don't mind as much. I could've chosen a different hobby, one that would only cost and wouldn't have any return at all. So I figure I'm ahead of the game in that respect.

    And as with all investments, if you diversify (plant a wide variety of vegetables), something will yield a good return. This year's return has been lettuce, chard, kale and carrots.