If I ever gave anyone one tip of advice it would be this: At some point in your life, grow your own food.
I came to this conclusion the other night while I was cooking dinner. I was standing at the stove rendering fat out of some bacon and simmering some onions when I decided my chili needed something else. After a few minutes I realized what it needed… peppers!
I then marched out of my cold, dark basement (which is perfect storage for canned goods) into the bright sunlight across my patio to what I affectionately call “the Jungle.” I picked some fresh peppers in a variety of colors.
I thought, “Why stop there?” I then picked some fresh heirloom tomatoes to throw into the mix. While I was chopping up the fresh picked veggies I began to realize how lucky my family and I really are. We get to eat vegetables and fruit on our own terms, and we all now appreciate all that goes into growing the food that feeds our nation.
After dinner I really started to think about my garden…
I live right outside Manhattan in a small New Jersey suburb. Our area is known best for wives who flip tables, bumper-to-bumper traffic, luxury SUVs, and that the malls (five within five miles of my house!) are closed on Sunday. So I can understand why people are shocked when I tell them that, on my small property, I grow cherries, apples, peaches, plums, pears, figs, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, corn, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and (BIG BREATH) fresh herbs. Plus I still have enough room for my three little monsters and one beast — I mean kids and a Mini Aussie — to run around.
It’s hard to imagine that three years ago there was nothing in my backyard but a pile of dirt that a dump truck had just dropped off. Now it’s an extension of my living room with a garden filled with native plants and fruit trees.
My garden has seen a lot of change, and has taught me a lot…
It’s taught me about hard work. Before my garden I never really knew how hard it was just to maintain a garden. It actually is quite the workout.
It’s taught me patience. It is really hard having to wait months for your work to pay off if at all. Now I understand why patience is a virtue.
It’s taught me to keep trying. After my first year gardening I was very discouraged. I barely yielded anything. At that time I didn’t know much about growing my own fruits and veggies. So the results were mixed. Two hurricanes, and two gardens later I know a lot more than I did three years ago. And now ball jars are my best friend. If I just gave up I wouldn’t have the garden I do today.
Finally, I learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Most people know the Jersey Shore was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but most people don’t know that North Jersey was hit bad too. The trees that gave my home great shade in the summer came crashing down. I lost many of my fruit trees and all my hard work, time, and money. A large oak tree, that I loved when I first moved in, landed across my backyard and took out everything in its path. Luckily no one was hurt, and at the end of the day the only damage that was done was to my bank account.
A few days after Hurricane Sandy I remember standing in a snowy backyard thinking, “How am I going to come back from this.” Exactly a year earlier Hurricane Irene dumped a few inches of water in my basement and took out a lot of my garden with ice. That just involved cleaning up dead plants and waiting for a cleaning service to pump my basement. But now there were trees, mangled patio furniture, and splintered wood and plastic fencing all over the place. I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day.
As the winter slowly moved on, the pieces of the tree that crashed into my life were removed. Underneath it there was nothing left, just stumps of fruit trees. This past spring I spent a lot of time thinking about what my next step was. At one point I actually had decided to skip gardening for the season. Then slowly plants that I thought were long dead were coming back. Seeing mother nature’s resilience gave me the drive to make my garden bigger and better than before. This past season I have had my best yields showing me theres a light at the end of the tunnel.
At the end of the day my garden has taught me to become a better human. Yes, it takes up a lot of time, and yes, sometimes it can be costly. The rewards outweigh everything. It also encourages my children to go outside and play. My garden has brought my family together, made us better people and feeds us yummy, healthy treats. It’s well worth anyone’s time.
Long story short: Gardening teaches you and feeds you. You should do it.