A little bit on gardening and self-sufficiency

Bill and I just renewed the lease on our apartment, so we’ll be staying in this house about another year. It’s already the longest I, personally, have stayed put in my adult life. By the time we leave, which we intend to do next year, it will feel as if we’ve lived in this home forever. In fact, it’ll have been a little less than three years.

The first year we lived here, we moved in the middle of the summer. Heck, we mentioned it briefly here on this little blog. Of course, August is entirely too late in the year to plant anything, so for our first summer here, we grew nothing.

Last year, I posted about our first little garden early in the year, and then basically nothing for the rest of the year. That’s largely because of my “strict policy of benign neglect” for plants, I’m sure. I really enjoyed growing things last year, but I think we harvested about 10 cherry tomatoes, tops.

This year, I threw myself into gardening with benign neglect all over again. I got half again as many tomato plants (three), and many more herbs. Sturdier herbs, though. Ones that can take my ignoring them for days at a time. Oddly, all the plants have all done surprisingly well this year, in terms of being green and pretty. In terms of producing tomatoes and edible herbs? Well, was that ever really the point?

To be honest, I don’t know. Certainly, I love the idea of growing tons of my own food. Or any of it. I have a total sense of glee every time Bill and I eat cherry tomatoes off our vines (even the tiny ones!). On top of that, our tomatoes are better than anything we can buy, but I can’t tell how much is just the enjoyment of having grown our own and how much is that we can let it stay on the vine until it is precisely, perfectly ripe. But, as much as I love all of that, I can’t say I’m really devoted to the idea of growing my own food. I can’t say that producing tomatoes and edible herbs was ever truly the point.

Why not? Well, part of it is just the sheer joy I have every time I look on our balcony (or at our houseplants) and see all the green. So, clearly, there’s something giving back to me just in knowing I have, yet again, failed to kill off all the plants I bought. That’s pretty badass. I love that.

But part of it is that I live in the city. Right now, I live six stories up and have a small balcony as my entire growing space. A small balcony that almost certainly does not get full sun (which rumor has it all veggies need to grow well). Growing a substantial amount of food was never going to happen, even if I daydream about it.

In truth, I don’t know how much I want to, even with the daydreams of bigger gardens1.

I recently started reading Northwest Edible Life, which is a pretty and very fun blog, mostly about raising that family’s own food as much as possible. I sure do enjoy reading it, and her garden photos are amazing! But, honestly, it’s really more like “self-sufficiency” porn for me than actually good directions.

This isn’t because Erica, the blogger, doesn’t have good directions on there – she very much does. It’s because there’s almost zero intersection between my life and self-sufficiency. Indeed, I was once unsure if I’d potentially started a fight by commenting that “We choose not to try to be self-sufficient”. A fight was not my intent, but given increased self-sufficiency sometimes seems to be the blogger’s goal and often seems the goal of her other readers, I wasn’t sure that she or they wouldn’t have taken it as needling.

I wasn’t needling. I was simply stating a truth for Bill and I. One that had been kind of rattling around in the back of my head, but that I hadn’t fully formulated until I wrote that comment. Bill and I are very dependent on other humans, some we know and some we don’t, for all of our life’s needs, including food. And not only are we okay with that, it’s a vital part of how we approach our living.

We live six stories up. We don’t own a car, so we mostly rely on public transit to get us places. Sometimes, we’ll take a taxi or rent a Zipcar or iGo car. We get a lot of our staples, such as pasta, from Whole Foods, but we get most of our produce from local farms in the summer and fall. Hell, from late spring to early winter we have a CSA. We get all of our meat from either farmers we know or Butcher & Larder.

We aren’t self-sufficient in most ways. We’re interdependent. By choice.

I’ve been struggling with writing this post for several days now. Each time, until today, I’ve worked on it, it’s been chaotic. Mostly, I now realize, because I’ve spent so much time trying to explain the reasons we choose to be interdependent. And I could. I could get into more; tell you all about juggling our perceived environmental impact or how much we believe in local small business or whatever. Maybe you’re even interested in all that2. But, for now, the point really is simpler.

This is exactly how we like it.

Note: Remember how I said on Monday I’d scheduled a post, but had to bump it to share Tomato Soda with you? Well, this is that post. I wrote this post before Erica posted about the joys of canning, so my impression when I wrote this post about her goals for the food, gardening and DIY things she does is not spot on. It was an impression born of both her competency and some of her comments (and posts), but formed before her awesome and eloquent post about the love and joy behind her choices. Thus, when I saw her post on Tuesday, I had to laugh at myself, knowing this post was coming. It seems (to me, at least) her post and mine both end up revealing that the motivations in the food/DIY/reclaiming old skills/etc sphere are more complex and less one-note than at first meets the eye.


1 Which we are planning to have by this time next year. That’s the plan, anyway. We all know what “they” say about plans.

2 If you are, let me know. Trust me, I’ll be more than happy to share. Here on the blog, in person over a beer, in person over tea, in a phone call, whatever.

2 thoughts on “A little bit on gardening and self-sufficiency

  1. Next time you plant tomatoes, drop some epsom salts in the bottom of the hole before you put the plant in. That’s what Dave does, and we get good results (as you have nommed).

  2. You’re one of the more DIY folks I know. Really, both of you posting so far are! I’m glad to have you guys as friends. Lucky, even.

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