Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I tilled it with my two hands...

First of all: thank you so much for all your comments on those posts written in darker days. It finally feels like the sun has come out, or rather the moon and the sun both. It seems that, at least for our family, the Vernal Equinox marked the beginning of a new, lighter era and hopefully this will be true for all of you and the wider world as well.

In the spirit of spring, renewal and waking from our hibernation, this will be an entirely un-serious week here, filled with things I love and want to share with you.

Starting guessed it: my garden.
I thought that I would share my humble tips to having a garden that gives you food, peace of mind and eases stress, rather than creates it. I just want to dispel any notion that you need some sort of experience, knowledge, or good sense to have a garden patch.

Unfortunately, the rumors are true: organic gardening (Or any kind for that matter, that just happens to be the kind I practice. There are varying degrees of gardening ease, from round-up to bio-dynamic and back again...) takes a lot of time, so much so that some crazy people have come up with the myth of the 20 dollar tomato to measure it (or the even bigger myth of the 64 dollar tomato). Meaning that the time, effort, equipment and care will end up costing you far more than a bag of seed and a few hours of shoveling.

However, if you don't harbor illusions of grandeur, or value your time quite so highly, a home-grown, organic (if you wish), delicious tomato is something anyone can achieve for the low-low prise of...well, best not think about it. After all, you can't put a prise on a delicious, home-grown tomato, people.
Starting a garden can be rather intimidating, simply because it's a place loaded with dreams. Dreams of fruition, of harvest, of beauty. The very human dreams of making orderly rows out of the chaos that is nature left to its own devices. Or, as the case maybe, not. As a novice gardener I don't feel like I'm in a place to offer a lot of advice, but I will offer this: dream big, plant small. The easiest way to end up with a huge, expensive garden is, to quote R. Kelly, believing you can fly. You can't.

Seriously, so often you hear people saying they're going to start their first garden and it's going to be huge and they'll have everything that grows under the sun in it. While I know that there are people (I know some, they are amazing. I worship the ground beneath their feet. There's beets in that ground.) out there who can pull off a huge garden in their first (or second, or third, or fourth) year, my advice is that you plant only the things you really want, and not the seventeen different varieties of corn that looked so cool in the seed catalogue. (Seed catalogues are like porn, people, it's not like that in real life.)

The first question you need to answer when starting your (first, second, or hundredth) garden is: What does your family like to eat? Vegetables? Good. What vegetables (Or fruits. I hear you can grow fruits. What a weird idea.) do you buy most often at the store? Can you grow those?

Don't think about what you should have, think about what you need. That way you don't end up with giant, tasteless zucchinis, because nobody in your circle likes them, or radishes that sit in the bottom of the veggie crisper all summer, because you were planning to use them for that exotic pie that would have impressed everyone if only you'd made it.

Pick like 5 of your favorites, throw in some herbs and add a couple of oddities, like that crazy corn. Just for fun.
Got my hoes
Figure out what those plants need. Light, nutrition, pest control? Can you provide that for less than 20 bucks per tomato?

Okay good. Then go ahead and buy some seeds. (Just remember: seed catalogues=garden porn. Don't fall for it. You'll never have a satisfying real garden life.)
Spring bloom
As for tools, in my experience, you only need a couple: A shovel, a hoe, a weeding hoe and a hori-knife. What's a hori-knife? Only the most useful garden tool ever. Now go get one.

You'll also need fertilizer. How about getting some chickens? No but seriously, good fertilizer is key. Did you know you can mix your own to suit your soil? Sounds like chemistry, but since I have no math-brain, I like to think of it as cooking. Plants need a meal and since you're their momma, you need to fix it.
Seed collection
Knowing what kind of soil you have is important, but frankly, if you want to start out with some lettuce and spinach and take it from there, there's plenty of time to get to know your soil next year. Most likely you'll figure it out because something you want just won't grow, no matter how much water and yummy fertilizer it gets.

As a final tip I heartily recommend getting a local gardening book. I got this one and it blew my mind. Figure out when the last and first frost are in your area, and what zone you're in. Then start your seed(ling)s as per instructions. Bam! You're now a gardener.

And next year you'll know more. What you did wrong, how much more you want to do, whether that crazy corn can survive in your zone, or just your yard. That's how you get to the perfect garden, the Platonian idea of a garden that you see in front of you when you close your eyes after looking at seed catalogues ("Porn! Porn! Porn"). Like everything in life, you must work towards it, shifting slowly through the earth. Now you can really fly, Little Grasshopper. Be free and garden.
Too much?
Like people, our gardens too are all individuals, with a distinct look. I may fantasize of a wild riot of colors and plants, aesthetically pleasing, carefully organized around their companions, but right now it's just a bunch of soggy cardboard and piles of plastic pots.

It's everything I ever dreamed of. Speaking of which: dig my technicolor-dream-catcher? I got it in a little town along the Oregon coast. The key is from an estate sale and they crystal bullet by the lovely and amazing Sadie Rose.

On our way back home, we got stuck in a snowstorm in near the border in Oregon and dipped into a little farm store to warm up. The proprietress looked the amethyst bullet carefully over and asked me if I was a Spiritual Warrior. I told her I guess I'd like to think so. Aren't we all Spiritual Warriors on a quest in an increasingly crazy world?
These prison walls can't hold me.
My trusty side-kick is not much of an Animal Helper, when it comes to tilling and planting. She does do the vole patrol, which has been immensely useful. Voles have done me more wrong than slugs.
Speaking of slugs, I've had to kill so so many as I've taken out the cardboard. I once read of a Buddhist monk who said that when slugs came to his garden he just asked them to leave. I hope that in some future life I'll be able to do the same. It's not very likely though at the rate I'm killing slugs. I'll probably be reborn as a slug. The irony.
Stop taking my picture mama!
If I could only be reborn as a catten-tat, that would make me very happy indeed. They get to laze about in the sun, while others work.
All in a day's workDone!
Seriously though, gardening is hardly work on a sunny day like this. There is something atavistically pleasing about planting even the tiniest seeds. Like you're suddenly such a provider.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I must add that I don't always garden in such dainty garb. Some days it just feels right to wear favorite clothes from some of your favorite sisters. The rubber boots are a stalwart though. If you can't abide them you'll be out of luck in the next month.
They're back!
Beyond seedlings and garden lust, a sure-fire sign of spring is the return of migratory birds. We spotted both hummingbirds and campers today. I hope for their sake this wondrous weather continues.
Gather while you may
My (it's not really mine, but we humans are so territorial) plum tree bloomed a little later this year, thank goodness, since last year we didn't get a single plum.
PoserTree inside
Coming in from the porch where you've had a beer with your sweetheart, to the scent of plum blossoms and cooking some of your own over-wintered greens, now that's plenty to be blissed about. This has been the best day in a long long time. I'm so happy I could share it with you.

How's your world? Please share gardening tips? Happiness?

Love, light, blessings and pale green things,


  1. How the light gets in, through open-curtained dawn tendrils, open laptop blue gaze a beautiful blogs pictures and authors hopeful voice

    Thank you!

  2. oh lady love. your garden is the perfect place to spend a march day. who is it that says at the end of a spring day your hands should smell like dirt? well your hands should smell like milla's hands i am sure. a little seedling, a little plum blossom, greens and peas and cats. all the lovelies.

    my plum trees are in full blossom too! so beautiful. last year we had no fruit either, and usually they are small and hard and tart but i do like them! i hope they return to us this year. we do nothing to help except sing and smile under their boughs from time to time.

    it is so cold here still! i have a few tiny seedlings in my kitchen, but am timid to try to let anything grow outside yet. it might snow tonight. i am not going to complain though i am purely ready for springtime activity.

    my dearheart i love how you assuage my gardening fears. i am such an amateur and always flying by the seat of my pants and so proud and so grateful to get ANY bit of edible goodness from the work of my bumbling hands. a tomato here, a leaf of lettuce there, a tiny pepper, a snippet of basil...oh the joys that soar through me! can't wait to get truly started this year. a bunch of springly love to you soil sister!

  3. We still have tomatoes on our vines...the vines are looking sad but the tomatoes are many and ripening so quickly. In my small community we are trying to start up a barter system. I've harvested a bowl of tomatoes which i am swapping with a friend for 8 venison sausages (her husband hunts sometimes) - at least the meat is free-range and organic. My tomatoes are grown by us using our soil and compost...but i know that the seeds themselves could be a different story. You look very happy and suited to the Spring weather and gardening ..such a sweet dress! I hope for many plums for you this year...homemade plum jam is better than any other.

  4. this totally inspires me to get into my garden and start weeding and digging!

  5. oh how i wish i could garden. i have wonderful gardens in my mind, but they just never seem to come to life. my partner's dad is an amazing gardener, he has one of those huge, magical gardens with everything in it. i'm so happy to read all these happy posts in all my fave blogs. spring is here! hope! starting over! i can feel the renewal in everyone's happy words. your tree is gorgeous, and you are the cutest gardener EVER! viva spring!

  6. Dear Milla, the world is brightening up over here as well with warm sunshine and longer evenings. My one gardening tip is soapy water for green/black fly on roses and lots of pots of basil indoors to keep flies out! Thank you for your lovely blog and pictures which brighten my day no end. ~Siobhan

  7. Have you been able to grow tomatoes here? I tried little tomatoes and only one ripened last year, it was so sad. I was told that tomatoes don't grow here because it doesn't get enough hot sun. If you've been able to grow them here, maybe I will try again.

  8. what beauty you're surrounded by! this post made me oh so happy! and your colorful garb goes perfectly with that unbelievably blue sky.

    there's a community garden down the street that i have considered trying to get in on, but right now it will have to wait :( maybe next year. for now, i will be satsified with my csa baskets. have any good recipes for collard greens?

    i am so happy to hear that the clouds of life have parted and you're feeling better :D

  9. oops! my husband was signed in! it's anne :D

  10. always of course. The days here are leaning towards more sunshine and warmth, but still with rain and wind blowing in from southern California I'm a bit concerned with setting about to plant in my own little oasis. Your post brings to heart many fond memories of my youth. We had one of those magical gardens that you could get lost in, and my Dad being a culinary genius, was fond of his herbs... I spent a whole spring laying out the most wonderous herb garden with him when I was nine. It was complete with walkways made out of old railroad ties... Oh, and the bounty that came forth!! My heart sings to see you beaming with such joy after your more disheartening posts the last little while. I am glad to see that you keep writing, and posting such beautiful pictures for the world to see. I wish the world possessed more spirits like would be a better place for all. That dress is so cheery and bright...who needs flowers!! Love the dream catcher necklace...

  11. I'm just starting my little terrace garden, so thank you for the inspiration! I keep having fears that they'll never sprout, which is a very sad thought indeed!

  12. I love the flower garden of your scarf and dress!
    Have you tried broken-up eggshell pieces for keeping the slugs away? It's a little bit of a bother to rinse them out, dry them, save them, but it's worth it when summer comes. You just sprinkle a bunch of the broken up bits in a circle all around the plants that slugs tend to like. Since the slugs can't slither across that without injuring themselves, they just stay away, and you don't have to worry about them. There's my tip -- that and the old potatoes that may have grown roots in the back of your garden are probably secretly a fail-proof crop of yummy potatoes this fall! Maybe you know already.
    Gorgeous plum tree and I'm glad you are feeling happier. Warm spring wishes to you!

  13. oops... old potatoes in the back of a cupboard, not garden!

  14. Oh the irony that you posted this today! Last week the remaining snow finally melted in our town, I got all excited about gardening and drew up my plans... and today, more freakin' snow. Ugh.

    I made the typical beginner's mistakes last year with my first-ever veggie garden: I bought too many seeds, and planted things too late, or in the wrong place. My onions drowned in too-wet soil, my peas didn't get enough sun, my lettuce bolted, my spinach was devoured by slugs. I learned a lot. This year I am better organized. I took notes last year about temperatures, sun exposure and the like.

    I have to say that I have found container gardening very satisfying (regardless of the previously mentioned mistakes). Our tiny urban backyard is mostly clay, but we added a couple of containers and voila! we had more space for veggies than we needed. I can't wait for all this stupid snow to melt again...

  15. Just reading your post has filled me with happiness and warmth. I can feel the sun inside me. Here, too, spring is coming closer with every day, the last few days have been so wonderful and warm, it almost makes me forget about the long and dark winter.
    Thank you for your post! One day, I'm going to get a vegetable garden, for now I'll practice on my herbs ;)

  16. this is one of my favorite blog posts of all time from any one , any where!
    I love it! I just got a little garden plot a few blocks away from my house, and I must admit I was quite intimated by that blank soil staring back at me. but , your blog post just boosted my confidence !
    Thanks so much!

  17. Oh, I can not wait for spring to really hit down here! It's still stormy stormy stormy, ugh, but your lovely post here is giving me hope for all the sunshiny goodness to come, sooooon, I hope :)

    What a gardening inspiration you are! In fact you're making me want to stop being such a catten-tat (w/ extrememly poor vole patrol skills, I might add) when it comes to our own garden. I'm so spoiled, having my own personal gardener and all ;)

  18. I seriously needed this! I get so intimidated every spring. Actually, we don't get enough sunlight at our house to grow veggies (we finally got one green tomato last October) but our herb garden is pretty kick ass.
    I especially appreciate the tool breakdown, as I find that aspect quite confusing. Do I need all this shit? I appreciate the clever and engaging writing quite a bit too.
    So, I am for sure coming back to this post whenever we move into a house in which actual beams of sunlight actually shine through my actual window.
    Catten-tat :-)
    The last two photos are my favorite.
    As for what's making me happy- honestly your and Heather's super bright springtime posts are doing it better than anything in my actual life. Not that I'm bummed, just cold and wet and obsessively visualizing myself wearing summer dresses. Without layers of sweaters and tights.
    More honestly- the snow outside my window is beautiful right now.

  19. it is cold gray and wet here, and has been for days, and i am fighting a case of the mean reds. gardening would surely calm me down; it always does. thank you for the inspiring post.

  20. I love garden pictures. I love yours. thks.

  21. Greetings from Finland! What a beautiful life you have there. Here I just have to wait for gardening, it’s still snowing.. I love your blog and visit it often, it really inspires me! Thank you!

  22. aah. back to this post. I love it so much.

  23. That was such a beautiful post! I'm so glad you could share it with us. My parents were always avid gardeners as I grew up but I was never really all that interested. Funny that now I just want to go back to the land and grow my own food. You have a lovely garden. :)