A friend visited recently and wanted to see all my gardens. As we walked from bed to bed, she kept remarking, “I don’t know how you have time to do all this!” As I tried to explain to her, I don’t. There is rarely a day when I can throw together consecutive hours to work in my garden. I do it in minutes stolen here and there. Some weekends I am blessed with an afternoon, but those are very rare with three kids heavily involved in life and sports.
Here’s my secret. And no, this isn’t where I confess that I have a staff like Martha’s that swoops in with mulch and compost and designer plants. I wish. That’s right up there with Esmeralda the maid I wish I had. Last night after two children and one husband had literally run from the dinner table to make it to a baseball game, I was left staring at the ruins of dinner. My remaining child looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and then got up to leave too.
I sighed and said, “This is when I wish Esmeralda would come in and clean up.”
My son paused, having heard this before, and asked, “Mom, was there every really an Esmeralda?”
I told him, “Not really, but if there was, she would clear these dishes and then come back and wipe the table and pick up the black beans that your brother spilled on his chair, and after that she would do the dishes and even change the laundry that’s been sitting in the washer all day.”
He watched me carefully, perhaps wondering if I was in to the dope that has been reportedly flowing freely through the middle school, and said, “That’s too bad,” before leaving me with the mess.
My secret with all the gardens is to steal minutes. When I have yelled and yelled that it is time to leave for practice and no obedient children have come running, but several less-obedient children finally realize they don’t know where the other cleat is and there are no clean water bottles, I grab my favorite weeding tool and work on the strawberry patch while they locate the errant cleat and wash the water bottles.
When I get back from the school and realize I have 20 whole minutes before I need to start dinner, I grab my seed packets and markers and plant whatever needs planting.
In the morning after I feed the horses, when I’m not sure I want to wade back in to the fray of before school preparations, I’ll pick up a few thyme plants that are waiting to be transplanted from their pots to the garden and tuck them in.
When I’m on the phone with my dear friend in Idaho who I could talk to for hours, I balance the phone on my shoulder and use my stirrup hoe to clean up the areas between the rows.
The reason I can garden like this is- I leave my stuff out. I know that dad’s everywhere will cringe at this directive, but it works. I leave my stirrup hoe leaning against the pea fence in the vegetable garden. That way it’s where I need it whenever I have a free minute to weed. I do realize that garden tools last longer if you don’t leave them out in the weather. I’m sure that’s true. My garden hoe is over 10 years old and still works like a charm, so I’m willing to challenge the “put-the-tools-back-where-they-belong” commandment.
I also leave out my garden bin. It sits on the porch near the door where I can grab what I need at a moment’s notice. No, it doesn’t look so great with plant markers and empty yogurt container seed pots spilling out of it, but I’m not about that. Again, I’m willing to challenge the “the-porch-should-be-spotless-and-beautiful-at-all-times-just-in-case-someone-important-comes-to-visit” commandment. All the important people in my life garden or love what comes out of gardens and they’ll understand.
In my garden bin I keep:
• Seeds to be planted
• Plant markers
• Permanent markers to write on plant markers
• Small shovel
• Weeding tool
• Plants ready to go outside (if they are large I just put them where they will reside in the garden in their pots so they are ready to go when I am)
• The Seed catalog (so I can refer to it, if I have a question about planting or harvesting)
• Gloves (2 pair because one always seems to be wet)
Near every garden you will also notice a weed bucket left out. A weed bucket in our world is a manure bucket with holes drilled around the bottom rim (or cracks created when they are handled less than carefully when the weather was freezing). The holes and cracks are necessary because these beauties sit out in all kinds of weather and a bucket filled with weeds and water is not only ungodly heavy, it stinks to high heaven. I know the buckets are not so attractive, but once the veggies get going, you don’t really notice them.
This last thing is my real secret – the list. I keep a list on my kitchen counter of the current needs of my gardens. That way I don’t experience that deer-in-the-headlights feeling that can overpower me when I suddenly realize I have 10 minutes all to myself. If I don’t know what needs done, I scan the list and pick something. Right now the list says:
“Pick swiss chard and blanche, plant pumpkins somewhere, find sticks for bean teepee, weed the peas and corn, put the rest of the mulch somewhere, snip the bottom branches off the tomatoes, check the garlic & shallots.”
It’ll only take a few minutes to plant the pumpkins (after I figure out where I have room), and weeding the peas and corn can be done in spurts, so those are great 10 minute chores. The tomatoes are an “every time I walk by” chore. You have to be vigilant about the bottom leaves touching the ground this time of year (the blight is always lurking!). It’ll take longer to locate the right size branches to build the bean teepee, so that might require 20 minutes, and checking to see if the garlic and shallots are ready will take 2 minutes. I’ll need 25 minutes or more to pick the swiss chard and clean it and blanche it for freezing. I might need even more time to start the pick-up and clean out the remaining mulch from its bed (the bulk of this time being the starting the pick-up part). All these things will get done in between the rest of my life this week.
This is how I garden – a minute here and a minute there. If I waited for the hours, it would never happen. There are tradeoffs of course, the inside of my house doesn’t look so good, but that doesn’t matter so much since this time of year we’re all outside anyway.