Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there. ~Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732
Yesterday, when I entered the Dollar General store, the first display I saw was a rack of garden seeds. I know, you're looking out the window and seeing nothing but snow and thinking I'm nuts to be bringing up the subject of gardening during one of the snowiest Winters we've seen in quite a while, but now is the perfect time to be planning a garden.
Many people are under the delusion that you must have acres of land for a garden, but in reality a garden can be as big or small as you want to make it. If you live in an urban area, a garden might be a few pots of herbs on a windowsill. Maybe you live in an apartment with a balcony, wouldn't a pot of tomatoes be nice? When I was growing up many people had little postage stamp-sized yards. They grew tomatoes along with the flowers. Peas climbed up the trellises along with the roses. You know there are many pretty lettuces that can serve as a background just as well as lady's mantle, alyssum, or gypsophila. My first garden was about four feet by four feet. I planted herbs, lettuce, radishes and a few tomato plants. It was enough for some lovely salads for a few months. The cost? The seeds were three packets for one dollar. I think it cost less than three dollars for the entire garden. How much does it cost for a bag of lettuce at the grocers? What does a salad cost at your favorite fast food joint?
Another thing people seem to assume is that it cost a lot of money to start a garden. It is true, that if you went out and bought a rototiller and all the equipment that many gardening magazines and books steer you toward, you could have a lot of money spent before you plant your first seed. But in truth, the only piece of equipment you need is a spade. Not even a trowel (you can use and old tablespoon for that). When I started my garden here at this little cottage, I was fat, unfit, and pushing fifty. Some days I would take my spade and dig no more than half of a foot of land. I kid you not, it was a lot of work, digging the sod and shaking out all of the dirt from the grass, but just by persevering, by the end of the month I had a lovely little plot, free of weeds and well-tilled and my body was much more fit and a little less fat. Alas, there is no exercise for getting older! And do you know that the little plot is still the sweetest one in my garden? Maybe all the extra attention paid off, because I rarely have to weed it. I now have a rototiller, because my garden has expanded to over a quarter of an acre, but those plots need a lot more care then that first little one that was so lovingly dug by hand. As I mentioned, I have purchased seeds from the dollar stores for as little as ten for a dollar. They might not have the varieties that a seed catalog have, but they work. Lately, I have been growing heirloom varieties and saving the seeds. Only non-hybrid seeds will reproduce. It is an added bonus to eat a vegetable that someone living centuries ago may have eaten. History on a plate!
The other thing I hear, is that a garden is very labor intensive. Well that depends on how big it is. A little plot will not take to much time, a few minutes in the evening to keep the weeds at bay is well worth it don't you think? Less time than it takes to watch some silly TV show or have an aimless conversation on the cell phone. If you have pre-teens or teens you can teach them to care for your garden. It is a good life skill and besides children should contribute to the household somehow. It teaches them responsibility, pride in a job well done, etc.
So why talk about a garden in January? Because now is the time to be planning. As you go about your day, observe which spot in the yard gets the most sun. You can buy your seeds now while the selection is best. Depending on where you live you can start your plants soon. Start collecting up little paper cups and aluminum pans to start them in now. No need to buy those little peat pots. Go to the library and get some books on gardening or search the internet. But don't get to bogged down by the information. Goodness! It's a wonder that anyone would plant anything if they followed all the advice that is out there! A friend that was new to gardening was explaining composting to me, going through calculations on the ratio of brown and green materials. I just smiled to myself. For years, I've been making lovely rich compost in nothing but a chicken wired enclosure, just throwing in any old vegetables or peelings. My ancestors have been doing it for centuries, since the first came over on the Mayflower. Remember that nature will plant its own garden if left alone. You should see the lovely tomatoes and pumpkins that grew in the area that was my old compost pile. All I did was not till the area. And I have plenty of orphan herbs that have reseeded themselves.
Is a garden worth it? You bet! As I sit in my pantry/ study looking at the rows of home canned fruits and vegetables, it is a blessed assurance that come what may, we will not starve. It is also the privilege of experiencing that miracle that a single seed can be sown and grown into something that can nourish your body and soul.