My ugly garden: a tale of garden woe and insecurity

Every year, around this point in the waning days of summer, I become very insecure about the garden. 

I figure for the first two years it was because I knew that I legitimately knew next-to-nothing about what I was doing, but enough to identify large areas for improvement. I was looking forward to expanding into new land, adding new vertical support, just starting the compost piles, building the hügelkultur bed, adding bees. It was a learning process, and I didn't expect much of myself or the garden...anything that happened was a success. The start of year three was, perhaps, an exercise in arrogance, then. For some reason, this spring I was feeling extremely confident. Two whole years under my belt and I was totally sure that I knew enough to really knock it out of the park in year three. Trellising in place, varieties selected that had been consistent winners the two years prior, a loose understanding of which parts of the garden got how much sun and held how much moisture, more compost, cover cropping. This year was slated to be a roaring success. We had done so much legwork to prepare for the time when we didn't have to remove lawn and till new space, when the trellises for climbing plants were in place well before they were needed, when we had started more than enough of everything that we wanted in March for good strong starts to be ready by May, when we had the tools we needed to do the work we needed to do, when winter eased off early. Okay, I thought, now this garden can live up to my expectations without me getting in the way! Everything is in place, now show me what you can do, nature!

Like, way too confident, right?

All of this thinking, of course, makes the fact of this year's inevitable late-summer garden insecurities only more intense. Funny, how nature has a way of humbling you over and over again. It's not that we had any catastrophes, really. Of course the weather has been weird, but that's every year these days, right? You can't just blame the weather for everything. Things got put out on time for the most part, things got enough water, no major storms destroyed the garden, hell, we didn't even have any kids rampage through or hungry strangers pillage the  greens. But despite all of that, this year's late summer garden is a mess. Nutrient deficiencies are noted. The squash bugs do their work tirelessly, obviating the possibility of extra (or even enough) summer squash. The aphids, as always, thrive, dashing any hopes of Brussels sprouts this autumn. The weeds prevail. The bees are cross-combed and inaccessible. The ladybugs and lacewings released months ago seem to have left for other environs. At least the local sparrows and goldfinches are happy, with all of the weeds that have gone to seed. 

So why is the garden so ugly this year? Maybe I'm just learning more, and learning to see more nuanced areas of improvement than the last two years. Maybe, any output at all from the garden, after two years, isn't enough to inspire a celebration anymore (though, shouldn't it be?). Or maybe the garden really is ugly, and maybe that doesn't matter as much as it always feels like it does. 

At this point, I have a choice. I can write a meditation about how the garden is a reflection of the gardener. How, if I had been more mindful of myself this summer, the garden would be in better condition. How, if I had been tending my own garden, my own garden would have been getting tended, as it were. 

But then I started re-reading what I had written. I looked at the pile of eight(ish?) different heirloom tomato varieties sitting on the counter, some split, some bug eaten, some suffering from blossom-end rot, but all eminently, perfectly edible. I considered the half-dozen open tabs related to bird identification in my browser right next to the one where I'm typing this. I looked at the dried lavender on my desk. I considered all of the seeds that I've already saved from the marigolds and the poppies and the bachelors buttons and peppers and tomatoes and herbs. I felt the enveloping late August heat and humidity and thought of how long it had been since I last appreciated Queen Anne's Lace. I cut around the bad spots and ate another tomato.  

And then I decided that maybe expectations and insecurities and disappointment have a lot to do with one another, and even if a garden is a reflection of a gardener, maybe it's in ways that are a little more nuanced and a little more subtle than the yellowed leaves of a few squash plants and the number of weeds gone to seed. Maybe it's in the way the tomatoes and basil taste when they're still hot from the afternoon sun, and the way the bugs sing every night, the color of the new birds growing fat on grass and dill seed, the durable grace of the wildflowers, the volunteer winter squash outperforming their intentional peers, the dozens of varieties of seeds already waiting for next year's cultivation, the accumulated knowledge of another year's worth of gardening. 

My garden, like myself, is and always will be a work in progress. Some years there are things that go right. Surprisingly right, and you end the year tired of preserving zucchini and carrots and greens, freezer full. Some years a late-August storm flattens all of the corn and you mourn what was supposed to be. Some years the weeds grow high and still the carrots produce more than you need. Some days it feels like there aren't enough hands to do all of the work, and some days a whole army of hands shows up just to reassure you that you don't always have to do it all alone. Some years you find poison ivy in the garden and lose battle after battle trying to extricate the toxic weed from your life. Some years the slugs eat more of the cabbage than you do. Some years everything goes to seed, good and bad things both. And you know there will be more weeds to pull, because there are always more weeds to pull. But there will be more flowers and herbs, too. The work will never be over. There will be no garden, this year, next year, or twenty years hence where there isn't room for improvement, where, around late August, I see all of the current year's follies in stark relief. But there will also be no garden that doesn't teach me, yearly, something about patience, and expectations, and surprise, and the generosity of nature. 

Beekeeping 101

...watching workers arriving back at the hive, so covered head to foot in pollen that they are weighted beyond their ability to move gracefully, is more entertaining than anything the internet or television has to offer, more life-affirming than an all-night dance party, and more adorable than your cat. 

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Harvest, preserve, retreat indoors

I'll be honest, at this point, I feel like this post is almost exclusively to relieve the guilt that I have about not blogging for the last hmrhsmchsomething months by offloading a bunch of pictures onto the internet to fill the space and save my words-ed out brain from having to write too much, so I can get back to the sanding and drilling and polishing and cutting and pressing and sewing and cooking and webmastering and Airbnbing.

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Detroit: A New Frontier

A few months ago, in early April, as we and the rest of Detroit were sill shaking ourselves awake from the brutal, endlessly cold and snowy winter, we hosted an Australian couple, newly married and on their honeymoon traveling across North America. Laura had been working in video production for years already, but had recently started accumulating material that she had shot and produced fully on her own and wanted to work on a project in Detroit. We said "of course, we'd be happy to help however we can!"

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Summertime... I guess we're doing seasonal updates now, because it turns out that expanding the farm by a factor of three or so requires not only a lot of initial start-up work, but WAY MORE WEEDING than I somehow prepared myself or prepared to enlist the aid of guests and friends for. And it's summer, you know, so we have to go out for bike rides mostly every day, too, which leaves less time for blogging, and I can't possibly be expected to sit inside and write when there are amazing 9:30pm sunsets to watch accompanied by the growing chorus and display of the crickets and fireflies outside. I'm hardly immune to the all encompassing enthrall of the Midsummer's warm embrace, after all, particularly after having had to shed so many layers of woolen knits from this winter what seems like just a few weeks ago.

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Spring! Do Everything!

So far, April has had a good few of the kind of deceptive early spring days that get everyone outside, convince you that it's summer already, and remind you that a several-hour-long engagement outside might require some sunscreen or a hat or something if you're fair skinned, lest you find yourself searching later for the aloe. The smell of BBQ is everywhere in our neighborhood, with a dozen little charcoal grills on the sidewalks and the crooning of Motown greats drifting from back yards every night.

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...since we've recently been in the process of fulfilling our first few orders for this particular product, we've taken the opportunity to photo-document the process and record a short video demonstrating the final product. Enjoy!

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Excuses, excuses, and updates

I get lost in hands-on work frequently. Not just creative hands-on stuff, but the day to day effort of keeping a big house clean, managing the Airbnb side of things, placing yet another online order for tools and materials, repairing things, calling my neighbor Frank to see how many eggs he can coerce his chickens into laying for us by a certain date, shoveling. Good lord, the shoveling.

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Hello, internet!

So it begins. With the cold creeping in and other work taking a momentary break, we're finally getting our online ducks in a row, settling in to the habit of writing again, and introducing ourselves to the world outside of our homestead here in Detroit.

I'll leave the back story to the About page (I swear I'll get around to writing that soon, too!) and jump into the present, though. If you haven't read the first year of the story, go check it out for a little bit of context on our move to and establishment here in the Motor City.

But here's where we'll be updating the world on our current projects, posting photos of works in progress, ideas for upcoming designs, and general ramblings about life, Detroit, get the picture.

So what are we up to right now? It's been a hectic and interesting first year here at The Detroit Homestead/the Frontier Industry LLC HQ. Since getting settled, renovating the two main floors of the building for Airbnb, living, and workshop space, the basement for our bicycle shop, and establishing the beginnings of a garden that we hope will continue to expand and supply The Homestead and our neighbors with local, organic produce for a long, long time, we've finally gotten to a point where we have a little extra time to focus on additional creative projects.

For my part, this extra time and flexibility has allowed me to focus on clothing design and production, for Matt's part, woodworking, small electronics, and continued design on several long-term bicycle-building projects that he's been talking about for a year or two. Both of us are super excited to finally be able to stretch our creative wings a little and see what happens and we're excited that you're here to see and support our work!

So, a deep and sincere thank you...we look forward to this new chapter in our journey into self sufficiency, craftsmanship, and homesteading!




Frontier Industry, LLC