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Dreaming of Spring...part i

The seed catalogs are already hitting the mailbox, and this is yet another of my favorite things to do in the dead of winter. A hot cup of tea, a fire, and a stack of seed catalogs to peruse while my house fills with the scent of baked goodness.

Seed catalogues are a bit intimidating when you’re new to gardening. They’re full of a dizzying array of fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs – all surrounded by glorious photos of the perfectly ripe product. There are terms like organic, non-GMO and heirloom that can confound the novice gardener. Trying to decipher the terminology, let alone guess at how many seeds one might need has made many a potential gardener walk away in frustration.

I found myself in that position years ago, when I was new to married life, motherhood and gardening. When we found ourselves forced into survival mode after we both lost our jobs when the technology bubble burst. With a toddler just starting to eat ‘real’ food as well as ourselves to feed on very little money, we HAD to figure out how to produce our own food and fast.

I can still remember sitting down in our unfinished house and starting to read through the seed catalogs. What to plant? How much food did we need? How were we going to afford to set a fence AND buy seeds? I cried. I was so frustrated, scared and backed into a corner, I threw down the catalog and swore that we were going to starve.

Yes, I was being a bit alarmist. After all, we had a grocery store about 30 miles away, our beater pickup was still running, and we did have a small amount of savings. We were both looking for jobs, but the market was in a massive downturn and we were both in highly specialized fields which meant finding nearby work was nearly impossible. We had decided to start our own company in a different field, but it would take time before we had clients and income coming in. Without that garden to fill in the gaps we were going to be sunk come summer.

I swallowed my pride and asked my grandfather about those tear-jerkers I had been reading of late – you know, the seed catalogs. He smiled, took one from my hands and explained all about how they work, which varieties grew where we lived, and about how much we’d want to plant. Then he explained that about 50% of what you plant in any year probably would not grow to maturity. Weather, critters and attention to detail in their care made all the difference between a good year and a bad one.

I just stared. Now, I knew in a distant third-person sort of way that farming was hard. I knew that things didn’t grow just because you wanted them to grow. I knew about the Dust Bowl, the farm failures in the 1980s, the drought that was affecting California. I knew all those things, and yet I didn’t KNOW. I didn’t know how horrific it could be to stand in your carefully tended field the night after the deer decided to throw a party in your bean patch. I didn’t know that even if you were careful, meticulous in your watering and feeding and mounding of roots, the sun could fry your zucchini almost overnight. It all sounded so scary and daunting.

But, we had to do it. We had no other choice. With our lives involving a toddler still in diapers and formula, trying to finish building our little house, and starting a business to make ends meet, we needed to squeeze every penny until it bled. We could grow our own food, or we could buy it at the grocery store and do without installing running water for another winter. It was our choice.

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