Container Culture: Don't You Dare Give Up

Sometimes just seeing a few strawberries grow is worth it. Photo Credit: Danny Cohen
Sometimes just seeing a few strawberries grow is worth it. Photo Credit: Danny Cohen

Here's what I hate about a lot of lifestyle blogs: they're too perfect. A lot of them focus on the "style" aspect and negate the "life" part. And I suppose there's a necessity there to make things look perfect -- why else would people want to indulge in your photo-rich posts about growing the perfect Chinese long bean or making an immaculately layered strawberry margarita popsicle in between caring for an adorable infant and taking semi-private Pilates classes? Of course the authors have their share of problems, but theirs are problems like, "Junior smeared his seven-layer chocolate birthday torte all over his bamboo plastic high chair!" Problems I would love to have. Glamorous problems. I want a Junior. I want a torte. I want a plastic bamboo anything.

Of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum there is the lifestyle oversharer, whose blog exists as a thinly-veiled disguise to talk about his/her (usually her) messy divorce etc., which generally, as the reader, causes some kind of ominous guilt I have yet to analyze or understand.

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So I get that when I tell you I'm having trouble with my garden, I'm walking a thin line. Having trouble with a garden is a good problem to have. I have time to tend to a garden for which I can have problems with. I also don't want to overshare. This is not therapy time. But right now I'm dreading walking outside to check out my garden. It's been rife with issues lately: there's powdery mildew on my crookneck squash, I can't figure out if my bush beans are too leggy to produce anything decent ... and I can't seem to grow beets.

The heat wave a few weeks back killed the little beet seedlings I had growing, so I replaced them. But last week, I mistook soil mites for spider mites and took to the beet bed with a bottle of organic pesticide even though I KNEW you're not supposed to use even organic pesticide on young seedlings. What even is that? As I was spraying I was thinking to myself, "Why am I doing this? I'm killing these beets." In therapy this is called self-sabotage BUT THIS IS NOT THERAPY. Now, I'm sitting on my hands waiting for the new seedlings to sprout, hoping they will mature before they can succumb to nature/my idiotic life choices.

Gardening, because it's dealing with living things, is what I consider a "winky-face science." Sure, fine men and women can pursue post-graduate degrees in fields like botany and horticulture, but behind closed doors, troubleshooting why the arugula keeps bolting can lead the same educated people to literally wring the neck of the plant in frustration till it uproots and dies. It's science, but it's also "science." Winky-face science.

Danny Cohen is a fine comedian and fellow container gardener. He recently told me a story about an experience that made me feel less alone. "The last two seasons I dealt with slugs," he explained. "This season the slugs are gone and it's the caterpillars that have shown up. They really devastated one tomato plant that I had to rip it out and start over. I tried to pick them off, but there were so many that I was able to shake off three dozen caterpillars at once. It was an invasion!"

When I asked him if there's anything else other than pests that discourages him, he said, "I think the biggest thing to discourage me is a lack of yield. Sometimes the fruit and vegetables don't come, or sometimes a critter or human will take them before I get a chance to enjoy them, and then you wonder the point of it all." He adds, "But, it's the little victories that make it worth it. Even if you water something every day and only get three tomatoes that entire season, it's still so great to have that tomato that you cared for and watched grow." Danny's gardening blog is all pictures, and it is very inspiring. I keep looking at it and remembering something a former journalism mentor of mine told me. "After a meditation, a zen master told his student, 'Life is impossible.' 'If it is impossible, how do we do it?' asked the student. Replied the master, 'We do it anyway.'"

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