i was pondering this at work today, while doing a fairly boring task. my plants have taught me a lot more than i would have ever thought before i started really trying to work out how to keep them alive/grow food.
1. food takes effort.
this is obvious. i know. but every time i buy something from a shop – a peach, or a tomato, or whatever, i have a greater understanding of exactly how much effort – human effort – it takes to produce this. i have a fair few plants on the Tiny Balcony. and i’ve nurtured, and coaxed, and cared for them. and yet, i don’t get nearly enough food to even cut out anything other than buying herbs.
on a balcony, you don’t save money on anything other than the herbs, for the first few years. the herbs are great. they are cost effective, and have saved a significant amount. the tomatos? well, we still need to buy them, though the plants supplement our tomato needs significantly. the chilli? two fruit. eggplant? two fruit. capsicum? two fruit. strawberries? almost none this year (too hot?). and this is with hours of careful nurturing. speaking to more seasoned (mind the pun) gardeners at work, they’ve not even had any tomatoes this year, due to the weather in canberra.
overall i’ve not saved money. it’s actually cost more than i’ve saved, by far. this is partly because i’ve bought a lot of the plants as seedlings, and spent the cash on the set up (a fair few terracotta and self-watering pots). i’ll be investing more – an Earth Box is $90 without the trellis, and another $60 with one. growing food takes effort. pest control is tricky, and consists of hand picking bugs if you don’t want to spray. it involves pruning, and watching, and sometimes, bad losses of entire branches of basil to a big green bug.
food takes effort, and time, and work. every thing we eat takes effort, time, and work.
2. gardening is not as time consuming as i thought.
i spend maybe 10-15 minutes a day on the balcony – mostly because i like looking at the plants. some of that is picking off dead leaves, some is checking for bugs, some is just looking at the plants and feeling happy, some is picking fruit. but, once you’ve set it up, it sort of takes care of itself, as long as you stay on top of the little things every day. i sweep the balcony now. i reorganise the plants when they need to be moved. but it’s not that difficult, and it’s a pure pleasure. sometimes, i wish it took longer, because i enjoy it so much. it’s also forgiving. if i have a bad day, and can’t get out of bed to water the plants, as long as they are mulched, and fertilised, and monitored closely for a little bit of time every day, it’s fine for a day. this is something i can learn from in the rest of my life, in regards to cleaning, money management, etc. a little bit every day saves a huge amount of work Or stuff dying.
3. i now know when the sun sets, and what areas get hot.
i need to watch the temperature and give plants extra water. i know when the sun sets, because i like to water them when the light makes a small, narrow triangle on the building next to where our apartment is. i know that in the corner, with two white cement walls, it gets too hot for EVERYTHING (apart from chillis, maybe?). i know that basil sometimes needs to be moved around, and that only mint thrives on the edge of the roof (sadly. it’s good space that i don’t know how to use). but i know far more about my balcony as a result of the plants than i ever did. the environment in which i live is something i now notice and respond to. a hot day means something more than ‘i hope the animals are ok, well, they have frozen drink bottles they should be fine’ – it means i might have killed a few plants (or at least given them a knock-about). as someone who is pretty vague, this is a really valuable thing to have learned.
4. things do not grow into food overnight.
it takes time for food to grow. it takes time for plants to mature. it takes a lot of effort where the only gain is watching things grow a little – no food, no nothing, just a slightly bigger leaf. i have trouble with impulse control. serious issues. waiting for plants to grow, and keeping with it – watering, taking time, caring for them, has been enormously good for me in making me more patient about things over which i have no control over.
5. plants die
and that’s ok. it’s not always my fault, and it doesn’t make me a bad person if i kill my Black Russian, or three eggplants, even if i feel like i should have done Something different. i am learning to accept those things which i cannot control, or save, or help, and that even if i do my best, i’ll fuck it up sometimes, and end up with an eggplant that looked fine in the morning, and was completely dead by night. it’s what happens. sometimes, plants die. soon, all of them will die with the end of the season. i will dig them up, and throw out the branches (there is seriously no room for a compost heap. i wish there was, but there is not). i will prepare the soil, and plant more things that will live for six months before they die (or i kill them). that’s how plants work.