The garden is a great place to learn the permaculture principal of “Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback” as espoused by permaculturist and co-founder of the concept, David Holmgren in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. I had to learn that lesson this year. For the past few growing seasons I have maintained four garden plots at a local community garden here in Lancaster, PA. This year I signed up for the same number of plots so that I would have ample space to grow all the wonderful vegetables and flowers that I could possibly want. Each plot is 200 square feet so I had 800 square feet of growing space to work with. I felt like that was completely manageable even if my wife was less involved than in years past due to her new job. Life however has a way of changing our plans as well as our thinking.
This spring my wife Christina and I began the process of buying our first home. The process went smoothly and our realtor, Tami Shaub of Hostetter Realty in Lancaster County, PA, was absolutely fantastic. Christina and I knew nothing about buying a house and Tami walked us through each step in a gracious way that made the entire process a breeze from the initial viewings of available homes to the closing and signing of all the paperwork. That said, it was all time consuming, which meant I got a late start in the garden. Prior to buying the house, I didn’t have a place to start seeds so I direct seeded everything in the raised beds. Some of the seeds actually germinated and did relatively well. Others, didn’t germinate at all. Once the house was purchased, moving in, getting settled, and painting projects further limited the time I had to spend gardening.
I also started having frequent back spasms beginning in the spring and carrying on throughout the summer. At our community gardens, we do not have a well or a water line to hook up a hose. Instead we have three 300 gallon tanks that get filled from a hose line running from one of the other plot holders and the organization pays the owner for the water. Each plot holder then fills up water cans and waters their plot or plots by hand. With 800 square feet to hand water it took over an hour just to splash everything with a little water. Watering effectively would have taken closer to two hours or longer. I quickly learned that my back was simply not up to that much lifting and carrying. After every watering session my back rebelled against me by going into spasm again which would take several days to recover from. I once read a Gene Logsdon book in which he recounted that a local Amish farmer told him that he would only farm as much land as he could farm well. This growing season I learned that 800 square feet of hand watered garden was more than I could garden well. Next season, I’ll drop that in half and that size will hopefully be more manageable and therefore better managed. It may turn out that I get more food as a result!
Having said all of that, I want to iterate an important point, which is that even gardening poorly can yield an abundance of food. I harvested many pounds of winter squash that are now in my basement to be eaten this fall and winter. There are still more to get from the garden as I write this. We got all of our summer squash and most of the tomatoes and peppers that we ate this summer all from our garden. I also harvested a modest amount of potatoes, cucumbers, and turnips along with a steady supply of various leafy greens. All of this abundance of organic vegetable yumminess grew despite the incredibly “hands-off” approach that I had to take in the garden this season and the lack of adequate water in weeks without any rain. So next year, take the plunge and grow some of your own food because doing so is one of the most important things we can do in an age of post peak oil. We can all participate in the transition to a more sustainable agricultural model, starting in our own yards or in local community gardens.