I have a confession to make. As much as I grew up on the farm, I really didn’t pay attention to the things my dad used to do while on the farm. I was busy being the labor and didn’t care much about how or what he did to grow things. I was too busy grumbling about having to work.
I now wish I had paid better attention to him now. The last several years has been my own journey to learning how to grow things and what works the best.
I have read so many comments that think all of conventional farming techniques are bad. I’ve heard things from activists stating that it is poisoning the land, too much pesticides, organic is the only way to go, and so on. I had to test this out for myself to see what really works. I also feel that it’s good for kids to learn about growing things also.
Two years ago, I decided to start an aquaponics system. I’ll just say that it didn’t work out the way I planned it too and it isn’t that easy to do. I learned that this is definitely not going to feed the world or us for that matter. Not to mention that the cost to start one up is pretty steep, which is around $250 for just a small 26 quart set up. I turned into a fish feeding pond for my kids.
After that failed to yield, I decided to switch to gardening the old fashion way, but on standing garden boxes. I used the same box as the aquaponics system and designed my own wooden bases to prop them up on. It cost about $100 to get a double garden box set up. I was hoping that my grandmother would take interest, which is why I made it accessible. She didn’t care so I went full swing into it.
I placed lots of potting soil in it and mixed some compost in it the first year. We did get some vegetables like lettuce and beets that were decent in size but didn’t get too big. It didn’t taste all to well either. I asked my dad why the things were so stunted and tasteless, and he said that my compost wasn’t fully broken down and it was actually stealing nutrients from the plants because the bacteria was still present. A stressed plant will not yield much or have good taste. Aha!
I dug up the stuff in the boxes and decided to let it fallow a bit and started again. I did some MiracleGro like my dad instructed and wow, the difference was totally noticeable.
Our second round of beets turned out totally amazing and was nearly 4 times the size of the first batch planted. It also grew in half of the time as the first planting. These were the size of softballs! These were also much more sweeter and fleshier than the first crop.
The Japanese cucumbers we grew were amazing also. Most of the cucumbers grew inches in a matter of a day and got to be about 2 feet long! My dad told me to wrap the flowers in newspaper to keep the fruit flies from stinging it. If I didn’t, I’d land up with worm infested cukes. He was right because we did get a nice worm eaten one. We got to enjoy about 4 before our dog decided that she wanted to enjoy before we could.
The vines were beautiful and really vigorous to start but after the cucumbers came out, I noticed that the ants and the aphids came along for the party too. I only had 2 vines and still had to spray it. Duocrops do get pests. Lesson learned.
By the time my dad, the plant doctor, saw it, he said that I had missed the exponential curve of the bugs. He said that I needed to time to spraying of soap water before the population exploded or it would be too late. In no time at all, the vines were invested in pests and eventually destroyed by the bugs, no matter how I sprayed. I missed the right opportunity. Lesson learned.
The lettuce box was much more successful the second time around after the compost had been completely broken down. My dad reminded me that I’d better put some snail and slug bait around or risk rat lungworm disease. Yet another lesson learned why we need substances with effective pest control chemicals in it for growing our food safely.
After growing a season of lettuce, cucumbers, and beets, I dug out and rotated the soil and to my surprise, I found earthworms! So many people think that by growing conventionally, one is killing the soil. Not so! These worms were huge, with some measuring over 5 inches long! I didn’t use any manure and used MiracleGro and yet there were these beautiful worms.
Later on, I did attempt kale but that was a major fail because I discovered that the bugs love it. It was covered in aphids and caterpillars constantly, as well as needing multiple spraying to keep it free of bugs. My kids looked at it and said, “Gross!” The guinea pig and dog got lucky and got most of the kale that we managed to save.
Yet another lesson learned was why every year there is new seed stock in the garden stores. After our basil plant seeded and spread all over to the other boxes, I discovered that they subsequent generation of basil was not exactly like the first. I asked my dad and he said basic genetics. Light went on in my head. Aha! If you want the best traits of the crop, you have to get new seed each year, if not, you won’t know the next time because of the genetics may or may not be the same.
After going through this experience, I’ve come to realize that growing food is not that easy. It is easy to sit on the internet and read something that tells you what kind of farming is better. Until you actually grow it, you’ll learn first hand what works and what doesn’t. The pests are ever present and ready to destroy your small garden and if not controlled, you get nothing. The same applies to farms big or small.
My garden has taught me that it takes a lot of skill to grow things and until you do it, you’ll know the truth. A garden is just that, a garden. To be successful at gardening, does not translate into expertise in farming. Unless one grows all of their own food and enough food for others, respect the farmers because they have that magic touch to do what they do for us each day we sit to eat.