30 September 2011

Gardening, and the occasional advantages of thinking small.

"GOD Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures."- Francis Bacon.

There used to be an old cartoon entitled "Around the World in 80 Days", wherein the main characters would often find themselves in trouble with only a few tools at hand.  One of the characters would despair of getting out of the situation, as they didn't have the obvious means to escape, but the other would tell him the show's mantra: "Make good use of what you've got/ And you won't need what you have not."  They would then use the means at hand to get out of their situation, and find their way to the place they needed to be.  I was thinking about this recently with my garden.

Puff and I live in a town house with a yard the size of a postage stamp, so our garden is very small indeed. 

I have been fiddling with the garden for several years now, experimenting with growing various things for our kitchen.  The size of the garden lent itself to growing spices, but spices turned out to be a bust, since elder turns out to be a super taster, and likes her food exceptionally bland.  Or chocolate.

This year I planted corn, tomatoes, some potatoes, and onions.  I don't know if the corn was any good, but the squirrels seem grateful, and I understand they plan on erecting a monument to me, their kind and benevolent benefactor, just as soon as they get enough nuts together.  The onions somehow died, though I was told they were among the easiest things to grow.  I tried growing the spuds in buckets this year, as I found digging up spuds to be a pain and thought upending a bucket should be easier.  They seem to be growing well for now. 

The tomatoes are, for once, doing quite well, though they are small.  They were the first thing I planted some years ago.  Back then, my idea was to grow some to make tomato sauce with my in laws in the fall.  My in-laws, who are Italian, make sauce every fall. They spend a whole day doing it.  They buy about twenty bushel baskets of tomatoes, cut, scald, crush, bottle and boil the whole lot.  They have a huge pot for the scalding, which they heat over a propane burner- I've heard them called 'lobster cookers' in other places- and a large, electrical crusher, and an old oil barrel where they boil everything once bottled over the lobster cooker.  At the end of the day they have a year's worth of tomato sauce- cheap food.  My intention at the time was to grow about a bushel of tomatoes and add them to the in-law's.

Unfortunately, while I did grow a bushel or so of tomatoes, they never ripened at the same time, or at the right time.  I would have tomatoes scattered throughout the season, but never enough at any one time to be worth the big production of my in-law's.  We ate what we could, but most of the tomatoes simply ended up going to waste.

The blindingly obvious answer came to me this year:  I was thinking big, when everything I have is small.  This year, puff and I bought a small crusher, operated by hand crank, (which is powered by younger, who likes to help) for about forty bucks.  We also bought a stock pot (which we needed anyway) and a couple dozen preserving jars.  Total outlay, plus the fertilizer and soil for the garden, was about seventy bucks.

With this small set up, we could make tomato sauce as the tomatoes ripen.  We didn't need a large propane burner or oil barrel, or the enormous tub, as the amounts we were using was small, and it could all be done on the kitchen stove.  So far, we have made about five or six litres of sauce, with about enough tomatoes for about another three still on the vines.  They will not be wasted this year.

Cost wise, it was not cost effective this year.  However, the major expenses were the stock pot and the crusher, which will last for years.  The jars can be re-used. I can get a few more cheap. Next year, the expenses will be fertilizer, peat pots and seeds.  I'll dig in a little more of the lawn for a few more plants.  I think I'll dump more fertilizer on it, until the neighbour's think they live next to a barn.  It should be more cost effective then.

I realize this is gardening, not farming, and money isn't the most important thing.  Still, it is working in it's own small way, but only when I started acting like it was small, and not hoping for it to suddenly start growing like it was large; when I began seeing what was there, rather than seeing what was not.

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