Gardener’s amnesia

gardening makes you an optimist

Sitting on the porch with the children, we watched the combine work the corn field across the road. They love the roar of the heavy machinery and Bear literally danced with anticipation as the combine approached the grain truck. He jumped and squealed and clapped as they pulled alongside one another and we got to watch the grain pour into the back of the truck.


“This is what it’s all about,” I thought to myself. The season was coming to a close. A season of work, of worry, of challenges. This year’s crop had to face a late freeze that took out the majority of the beet crop, flooding that put counties under water, grasshoppers that left farmers in four Nebraska counties eligible for federal aid and mold and fungus issues as fields slowly dried after the flooding.

Mr. B. had stopped by the week before to chat. Standing in the drive, he affirmed that his crop had escaped the worst Nebraska’s finicky weather had to offer this year and he was pleased with the dry spell that was reducing the moisture content of his corn and readying it for harvest.

“Another weekend of this and it should be around 18%,” he said with an appreciative glance over his field. I knew he was talking about the moisture content, deduced that 18% was worthy of something but unsure exactly what that meant. But since the harvesters were out less than a week later, it must have marked the end of the season.

Now the fields stand empty. Strands of electric fencing have been erected around some of the harvested fields where cattle have been turned out to glean. We cannot see them from our property, but I love listening to them lowing in the fields late at night. Our ducks and geese have discovered the fallen corn and spend their days waddling up and down the rows, cleaning up the spillage.

And I think of my own garden. My own disappointing garden. I’d had high hopes for it, but they seemed destined to be shattered from the start. We got started late, so most of my plans were never planted let alone realized. This left a frighteningly large portion of the garden open to weeds who were more then happy to fill in the vacuum. Then my goslings, who were supposed to be my assistants in the garden, escaped their pen and ate a quarter of my corn. Without decent fencing, I was forced to take them off the garden until the plants matured.

weeder geese

But I jumped the gun on that. Or didn’t realize just how big they were getting and how small my heritage corn was. Now, the corn could have easily withstood the occasional nip to the leaves. But the geese seemed to favor the developing tassles on the corn itself and before I even realized what was happening, they rendered my entire planting incapable of pollinating.

Hail took out my tomatoes and peppers. Weeds overwhelmed my cucumbers, squash and melons. Not to mention me. When we finally gave up on the garden for the season, it had yielded three pounds of green beans, three cucumbers and two pie pumpkins. All wonderfully delicious, but a depressing harvest from a 3,000 square foot garden that was supposed to keep us in garden fresh veggies throughout the growing season and perhaps even overwhelm us with its bounty.

As it was, we got way more out of the unexpected fruits the property offered without our labor and finances. Lilac jelly, black locust blossom fritters and syrup, clover jelly, dandelion syrup, and sharab el toot. We even discovered an elderberry bush, sampled some berries and determined it worthy of propogating next year. Of course, once I add my gardening skills to that poor bush, it will likely go the way of my garden, but one can dream.

Mulberry smile

Looking over the fence at my tattered rows of strawberries, my cold frame of arugula and the rows that never were, I wonder for a moment what next year will bring. But here’s the strange thing about gardening: No matter how bad this year was, there is always next year.

No matter how disappointing every year has been, there is always next year.

Experience is not much of a teacher when it comes to gardening.

Next year’s weeds have not yet sprouted. Next year’s storms not yet brewed. Next year’s heat not yet driven me inside to lemonade and a fan. Instead, I have a calendar full of optimism where seeds are planted in succession and my harvest comes in just a little faster than I can bring it all in.

Whether I’m an incurable optimist or merely suffer that bizarre form of amnesia common to many gardeners I cannot tell. But next year will be better.

It certainly couldn’t be much worse.

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  1. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    It never ceases to amaze me how I always look forward to next year’s garden even, sometimes especially, when this year’s results were less than we had hoped.

    For us, no onions, two carrots (not bunches – just two short, fat orange roots) one radish and the cabbages didn’t even make it. We’re getting pretty good at the cucumbers, beans and tomatoes though.


  2. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    I honestly think the joy of just making one little thing manage to grow makes it all worthwhile.

    For the first few years of my own gardening experience I started with really basic stuff so I would feel good! 🙂 Adding stuff later on was how I managed to learn how to make more grow. Zucchinni is always a great confidence booster! 🙂

  3. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    Even my summer squash didn’t make it! I think the seed was too old, though. Most of it never came up, but what did refused to live even with what seemed like extraordinary effort on my part to keep it watered. 🙂

    Tomatoes and peppers have always done well in the past, though. Can’t help the hail storm that drove them all into the muck and broke their little branches, though.

  4. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    Our garden is done. My husband took Monday off to finish tilling in some leaves. All the trees were removed from our property when the house was moved onto it. So, he goes door to door begging neighbors with mature leaves for what they surely think is trash. Our garden did great, but it is DH’s baby. He even does a majority of the processing and canning.

    Even if none of her children are still at home, my MIL plants 2-acres every year. After she harvested all the tomatoes she felt she could possibly use to feed just two people, she invited us to come harvest the rest. We happened to be there on the day my husband’s sister and father were making silage. Each child got a ride on the tractor. She is there favorite aunt now. Still wish we could find a way to swing moving down near the farm.

  5. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    This sounds like my first garden… its meger fruitings all eaten by a roving gopher tortoise. Live and learn. No garden is ever as good as next year’s. One thing we’ve learned is, no matter how great one crop does one year, continue to diversify. Last summer we were swimming in okra and nothing else. This summer the okra did nothing but the beans were abundant. Last fall we had tons of green peppers. This year all of 1 but the collard greens are great. Certain weather will favor one crop over another. And there’s always plenty to learn. If our parents (presumably since you’re of the same generation as me) hadn’t been lured away from a provide-for-yourself-mentality, we would already have all these lessons learned and not have to learn them again. ANyway, don’t give up. Keep it up, next year will be better!

  6. Reply


    November 10, 2010

    Our okra did well last year. I forgot about that. It came in faster than I could harvest it, unfortunately. Kind of like summer squash in a good year. I’m going to have to add that to my plans for next year.

    I’d much rather lament the abundance I couldn’t find use for. 🙂

  7. Reply


    November 13, 2010

    Be careful with eating the raw elderberries. The seeds and stems contain a toxin (I don’t remember the name right now) that when heated is safe to eat. So making jelly and jam is fine, but I wouldn’t eat the berries raw. I have also made elderberry cordial by soaking the berries in vodka for 6 weeks and then adding a little simple syrup to it (after straining out the berries). Elderberry has immune boosting properties. There are lots of recipes out there for jams and jellies using elderberry. Yummy!

  8. Reply


    November 13, 2010

    Yeah, we were reading about that. But we want to make jelly. I turn everything into jelly, it seems. 🙂


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