Growing up the granddaughter of farmers and the daughter of a mom who loves to grow stuff, I always wanted to grow beautiful house plants or pretty flowers in the yard. But for me, it just didn’t come naturally. My sister is an amazing grower, my Aunt Jodi grows an organic vegetable garden. I would see all these people growing gorgeous plants and flowers and I would try, and kill over and over again. My boss told me one time that I could kill a fake flower. She never was much of a self-esteem booster. She also told me one time, your mom and sister are so talented, what happened to you? Well, enough of that trip down memory lane of toxic people. I have been self-employed for almost 20 years so I would never be in a situation like that again. I would probably handle it a lot differently now though. We live and learn. People would give me gorgeous plants. Maybe not right away, but eventually I would find a way to murder them. So I dubbed the term black thumb.
Fast forward to buying our first home. When looking for a home to purchase, our main goal was to get Kayla out of the school district she was in. Our price range was modest, and our hopes were high. We kept coming back to this one house that was okay, nothing special, but the YARD….amazing! It was filled with so many gardens and beautiful trees. I was enraptured. We looked at other houses, but we kept coming back to this one because of the yard.
Over time, we found that we were not able to care for so many gardens and we took several of them out, but many of them we still have with many of the original plants in them. The previous owners that built these gardens were organic growers and had taken the old clay and shale that was in the beds and amended it or replaced it with quality growing medium. Stuff grew great in them. They had also planted fruit trees, apple, pear, and nectarine that we were able to enjoy.
Fifteen years ago, when I first attempted growing vegetables with my kids here, we used the garden beds the previous owners had made. We had some success. We could just poke seeds in the ground and food would come up. Back then a squash bug, spider, or snake would definitely deter my efforts to continue, but the kids still learned the process. But once the trees grew too much shade for that garden and we tried to grow in the other parts of the yard where we could find sun, we no longer enjoyed such ease in growing. And we didn’t know the secrets of the soil that we had previously used. I am just now realizing what went into those beds they built.
Over the years, we struggled with many obstacles, trying to grow in clay, trying to fight Bermuda grass, trying to grow in the shade where the grass didn’t take over, and I never understood why those plans didn’t work out. I didn’t know that you can’t store your seeds in a hot garage. I didn’t know that clay suffocates roots. I didn’t know that full shade would never yield a harvest. It just seemed like I had no natural instincts like my ancestors had. In addition, I live in Oklahoma and it’s HOT out there! There were times when I got something to grow, but then I would let it die in the heat because it was way too hot to go out and water it.
Once I learned the basics of what I needed to get growing from my mentor, Doug, a light bulb came on in me. I KNEW as I saw what I had been doing wrong, that I COULD grow stuff. I would just have to work at learning the tricks to success. Once I found a small amount of success, I was ready to expand and head towards my dreams of growing my own food. And I learned my grandma’s secret that if you try A LOT, you will find success.
I learned that planting extra for nature is wise. Animals and bugs WILL get some of your crops. Even if you used a mountain of Seven, you will not get rid of every bug and they will get some of your crops, plus you will be eating a lot of poisonous Seven. Even if you use gallons of round up, you will still be picking Bermuda grass and Johnson grass out of your garden, and you will be poisoning yourself and your family. I learned that if you store your seeds properly, you can plant them for years to come and they will still be viable. I learned that 60 foot willow trees do fall on your new garden beds, and that you can pull them up out of the ground and rebuild them. They won’t be as pretty, but they will still grow food. I learned that sometimes you will plant a pound of potatoes and you will get three marbles to harvest. But the next year you might plant two pounds and grow two pounds, meaning for the second year in a row, you would have been better off just eating your seeds. But I also learned not to give up. And who knows what we will harvest this year? I think it’s our year! I learned that if you plant 8 sweet potato slips in your front flower bed, you will be overrun with gorgeous vines that will gain you compliments from multiple people. They will be surprised when you tell them it’s food and when you harvest 68 pounds of sweet potatoes from it. I learned that if you try vegetables a lot of different ways, chances are you will find a way that you like them. For instance, did you know that okra is DELICOUS raw? I would have never tried it because it’s slimy, but when you eat it raw, it’s not. I learned that even if the squash vine borers kill ALL of your summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins, you and your kids still learn about germination and still enjoy the process before everything dies.
The lessons I have learned are incalculable. But mostly what I’ve learned is to give up my desires for perfection, because nature doesn’t work that way. And I have learned to learn something from the process even if it’s a total failure. I’ve learned patience and resilience are REQUIRED to be a “farmer”. I’ve learned to work early in the morning before it gets too hot and to do what we can do. I’ve learned that there is amazing satisfaction in growing food for yourself and your family that cannot be put into words. I’ve learned that my instincts were always there, I just had to wake them up. And I’ve learned that God was preparing me for this moment for my entire life.