Winters are long in the Midwest. Too long, really. The bad weather starts in November and doesn’t truly let up until April. Six months of blahh. Even though I’ve lived in Illinois for 24 years, I’ve never gotten used to it. I’m originally from Virginia, and my internal clock seems to still be set on their time. I’m used to the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festivals in March! The only blossoms to be found here are crocuses poking their sleepy heads up through the snow.
So I spend my winters enraptured in seed catalogs, nursing droopy houseplants, and pining for green things. And I dream about my how much better my garden is going to be “this time”.
I make plans. Oh boy, do I make plans. And this year, I made some big ones. The entire garden layout needed to change, because even though I loved the methods we were using, they just weren’t working for us.
We’d started here using a no till, wood chip gardening technique called “Back to Eden” or BTE gardening. The technique works great, and we had a beautiful garden the first year. It was so easy that I put in a huge BTE garden, at the age of 43, while heavily pregnant with my 5th child and commuting 125 miles a day. And I only had the help of my teen and toddler, since the hubby was busy building a chicken coop.
But there were a few problems:
- We didn’t use thick enough weed blockers, and we have some VERY tenacious and deep rooted weeds on our property
- We didn’t use thick enough mulch
- The mulch we did use blew away because we have insane winds (jetstream + tornado alley)
- Babies aren’t conducive to garden upkeep. Neither was the rest of my life at the time. When I returned to work, I was still commuting 125 miles a day AND breastfeeding AND not sleeping. Because the baby didn’t sleep through the night. For an entire year. When was I supposed to take care of that huge garden???
- Without upkeep, the garden became a jungle of weeds in the second year. The baby also didn’t walk last summer, which made it even harder to get out and garden at all.
- Without cats (which we had the first year), the bunnies, gophers, and chipmunks had a party with anything and everything I planted. They thought I had set the dinner table for them.
Fast forward to this year: The commute is gone. The baby is now a toddler. We are all finally sleeping and life is slowly getting easier.
Those things aside, we realized we really need some more permanent solutions to address the weeds, critters, wind and the way our garden was organized. We often lost the paths and ended up stepping in the wrong places. I had learned a lot last year when I took a permaculture design course and was eager to start attacking the problems. I also realized we’d have to change the entire direction of the garden if we wanted to use any kind of season extension. It was daunting, but I was going stir crazy and missing my plants; like Persephone banished to the underworld longing for spring. I need my fix of green things!!!
So I spent last winter dreaming up an awesome garden design that would address them all, as well as all the critter losses we’d taken on fruits trees and bushes lately. I had the design to end designs!!! I had cold frames, raised beds, fencing, trellises, compost bins…you name it! I would conquer all and garden even in winter! YES!!! No more underworld for me, thank you very much!
I was pumped. I took a portion of our tax return, like I always do, and ordered some plants to replace the bunny damage we’d had over the winter, since they would need to go in first. (See my review of Burgess for that fun fiasco!) I watched for sales on the supplies we needed and looked on Craiglist and locally to see if we could get any of them free or cheap. My husband rigged up grow lights and a heating mat in our pantry and we watched our little seed babies grow.
And then spring came. Along with rain every weekend. My husband and I both work full time, and we’re just too tired after work for the massive amount of physical labor required. We tried to work around the challenges. I planted trees and bushes around our property every chance I got, but not in the garden. It was too wet most of the time to even get in there. Our seed babies waited, and so did we.
And then my husband got laid off, which slashed our gardening budget down to almost nothing. I’d have to rework my ambitious plan before we reworked our garden.
Still, we’d managed to get some of what we needed. And we have great soil to work with. I had plenty of seeds and the starts were coming along nicely. So all wasn’t lost, it was just delayed or on a longer time frame.
As the weeks rolled by, we started to wonder if we’d ever get into the garden. Maybe someday. If the weeds would let us. They seemed to be the only things in our garden, besides rabbits, gophers, and chipmunks. Seriously- why can’t all the critters just eat all the darned weeds??? That would take care of both problems!
Anyhow, we got some free cats to combat the critters and my husband managed to find a vintage tiller through Craigslist to combat the weeds. He fixed it up and began battling the weeds. We settled on pretreated landscape timbers for our raised beds instead of nicer cedar ones. The pretreated wood doesn’t have arsenic in it anymore and the new stuff is considered safe for food gardens. I’m skeptical, but we’ll try it. They went on sale for half price recently, plus an 11% rebate. We bought as many as we could afford and finally started working on our garden.
We’re still getting rain and strangely cold weather for June. But like a stiff lump of topsoil, the garden is slowly, painfully taking shape. It’s not going to be square or level or perfect by any means, but if we even get half of it done this year, we’ll be happy. (At this point, I’d be happy to just be able to grow a darned salad.) It’s a work in progress, and a huge lesson in faith as well as compromise.
Someday, it will be beautiful.
Someday, it will be finished.
Someday, it will may even be square. (Not likely!)
Someday, it will help feed our family.
Right now, our “Someday Garden” is a big blank slate of luscious, rich soil waiting for us to plant our hopes and dreams upon it. I’ve accepted the fact that this is a journey and it’s not going to be what I envisioned for a while. It’s an organic process that we’re working and growing through. This year is the rough draft, and we’ll continue to tweak it and make it into something special.
In fact, we may end up with a better design because of our challenges than we ever would without them. But isn’t that often how life is? The things that hold us back are often the ones that challenge us to make better choices and real changes.
Maybe our “Someday Gardens” are just a reflection of our “Someday Lives”. And each day, we get up and do the best we can; dreaming and tweaking and learning and changing things until they work for us. Maybe the magic is in the process itself, knowing we are working towards our visions while doing the best we can with what we have. And that, my friends, is something beautiful as well.
And the adventure continues…Click here to read The Someday Garden, Part 2!
Great article!! winter is about to over. I am eagerly waiting for spring as I am planning to plant a hedge tree. What’s your plan?