Friday, May 23, 2008

Original Thin

With all the excitement I've expressed here on the blog this spring about having a garden again this summer, you'd never guess I really have a love-it-or-leave-it attitude about growing my own food.

There's much to love, of course: the thrill of choosing seeds and plants, the rich loamy scent of the soil as I plant, the peace of gardening, and the warmth and full flavors of freshly-picked vegetables.

What I'd prefer to leave behind, though, is all the stuff in the middle -- the work. I'm not a fan of weeding or even (heaven help me) thinning the seedlings in order to let the hardiest plants survive. It's all tedious, back-straining work, and though I'm getting better at it, I can't often view it as meditative, stress-reducing activity or even a pleasant respite from housework.

Still, it all has to be done, so I have to deal with it. And this year, since I'm trying to teach My Adorable Nephews about gardening, I have to be fair and show them all the hard work that goes into good food. (It's a pain being a role model sometimes!)

So I stopped by the garden after work today to see how everything is coming along -- splendidly, as you can see -- and to thin out a couple of the first crops.

The pac choi, which had so astonished me with its lush growth last week, needed thinning first. The Southern Belle sat down with me and learned how to thread her way through the seedlings with a gentle touch, selecting sturdy sprouts at a reasonable distance from each other and pulling the rest.

We trimmed off the roots as we worked, and by the time we had finished thinning a yard-long row, we had a very large bowl filled with tender leaves with a sharp taste. Though I've never eaten pac choi raw before, I knew it would make an exciting addition to salads, and I was even more pleased that both Beaker and Scooter, with their very young and not overly adventurous palates, liked it very much!

After the success with the pac choi, I moved over to the first row of carrots and thinned them radically so that we'll get some nice-sized roots growing on them. None of the other plantings needed such attention, though, so I was able to stop before I got well and truly fed up with the work.

I know already that I'll have to discipline myself to check on the garden once or twice a week during the summer so that I can stay on top of the weeding and such as well as harvesting. I know it's hardly a sin to consider such tasks as drudgery, but I do feel a little guilty about wanting to reap all the rewards with little work.

I'm learning, though, to appreciate the hard-won delights of my own little Eden.



At 5/28/2008 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, hate thinning. One technique I heard of - but never used - is to take 1-inch wide strips on paper towel, dampen it and spread on flour/water paste, then place perfectly-spaced seeds onto the strips while sitting in a comfy chair. Press on a cover strip of towel and plant the whole thing in the garden. Dunno...sounds like more work to I just plant stuff further apart in the garden. :) "Pelleted" seeds can make that easier, too.

At 5/28/2008 8:04 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

It is hard work. That's why big American agriculture relies on imported laborers to do it.

In any case, that's why I've been more than happy to cede the growing responsibilities to my CSA and other local farmers. They do the back-breaking labor, and my only sacrifice (?) is paying more for produce that is infinitely better than the stuffed trucked in from elsewhere. I admire those, such as yourself, who willingly do that work and suffer dealing with the bugs. Ugh!

At 5/29/2008 7:19 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Emily, that's an interesting technique, so thanks for passing it along. I've seen seeds sold in strips or pellets, but I simply bought packets this year. And with having my nephews help sow seeds... and not understanding how to spread out the tiny seeds... well... :-)

Janet, you're so right, and you've put it beautifully. I try to tell my favorite farmers I'm always willing to pay them full price, even when they want to give me a deal, because I know how much work they put in. (Doesn't always work.) But at least I'm learning to space out the work so that I don't get overwhelmed or bored or frustrated quite so often.

At 5/29/2008 8:46 AM, Anonymous Jasmine said...

You have hit on my reasons for calling myself a failed gardener and also several run-ins with over eager animals who ate tremendous amounts of seedlings. I have tried. Both my mother and sister garden extensively and I seem able to kill just about everything -- my raspberry plants? disappeared. Sweet 100's? I got three tomatoes. My herbs? just limping along. Two CSAs and a plethora of Farmers' markets -- it is just easier to pay good money to avoid the disappointment.

At 5/29/2008 8:51 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

There are so many frustrations to gardening, Jasmine, you're right. I've been lucky not to have animal problems with my gardens, though I face that reality if I want to put in a patch at the Farm sometime. I know there are ways to deal with the problems, but in some instances, it is much easier and much more sensible to go directly to the farmers. Thank goodness we still have those to choose from, right? :-)


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