Lessons learned during my summer of “doing”

Even though it’s still August and the growing season stretches out in front of us until October (and, truly, all winter for certain things), I can see the signs that production is waning – yellowing cucumber leaves, powdery mildew on the zucchini plants, sunflowers that are toppling over. I have more food in jars on my shelves than I do in my garden. The 100+ degree days are (hopefully) behind us, and I’m starting to look forward to cozy fall and winter nights with a soup on the stove and a pie in the oven.

I’ve learned a lot about how to grow and process food in a hot climate. For example:

  • Crops that aren’t even planted in June in Seattle are already bolting in Mendocino. Accept the new reality of your fast-bolting world.
  • There is no such thing as too many tomatoes (even if your boyfriend prohibits you from planting more).
  • There is such a thing as too many cucumbers.
  • Separate spicy and sweet peppers in the garden. Also… one spicy pepper plant is enough. Having lived in a climate where peppers refuse to grow, this was a new crop to me.
  • Grow basil and zucchini in the ground, not in pots.
  • It’s okay if the occasional food goes to waste – the cilantro will bolt, a few cucumbers will get so big they become bitter, and a lot of fruit will end up on the ground. DON’T PANIC. Life goes on.
  • Sometimes you have to stand over a hot stove in an already-sweltering kitchen if you want to preserve your goods. Food doesn’t wait for cooler temperatures.
  • Your refrigerator will hold more jars of pickles than you think.

garden bounty

My biggest struggle this summer has been doing vs. documenting. I remember an old coworker of mine saying (during a tight production timeline) that she had time to “create processes and documents about how the work should be done, or do the work itself, but not both.”

I love to document things. I like to take pictures and make lists, write notes and save recipes with any modifications I made. In Seattle, Katie and I would draw a garden map and keep a journal with when things sprouted, flowered, and produced food; what worked and what didn’t; and all the new words and skills Jacob was learning along the way. I love that those journals exist.

This year, I did none of that. I didn’t draw a garden map. I didn’t take notes on what worked and what didn’t. All I have to guide me next year will be my notoriously faulty memory – we’ll see how I do.

What I got for my lack of documentation were a lot of agenda-free evenings in the yard, digging and deadheading and weeding and planting and harvesting whatever was ready. I can’t tell you how many successions of radishes we planted because I didn’t write it down, but I can tell you we’ve had a constant supply of them and they keep forever in the fridge. Releasing myself from the requirement to capture what I was doing and simply DOING it was quite freeing.

Of course, next year I hope to keep a garden journal, if I can get my act together. Old habits die hard…

jars of food

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2 thoughts on “Lessons learned during my summer of “doing”

  1. I’m so impressed with your industriousness! When things die down, I’d love to see a pic of your larder full of jars. Wish you were here and we could do some sort of sewing/food trade 🙂

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