I used to live in my vegetable garden. I’d quite happily spend all weekend in there, get totally engrossed, completely lose track of time, and occasionally even get something to eat from it.
Then we moved back to Tasmania, had a child and my passion for gardening disappeared into the cracks between dirty nappies, the Wiggles, play group, rushing between work and daycare and, later on, school and work.
I tried, but my old garden was full of oxalis, stinging nettles and stickyweed. With a small child, I didn’t have as much time to devote to it, and when I did get a chance to get out there, all I ever did was battle the weeds. It wasn’t enjoyable any more.
In the end I gave up my dream of a productive vegetable garden. Much as I had loved gardening, the spark had gone. I couldn’t spend the time in the garden I wanted to and was used to, and when I did go in there I didn’t enjoy it, or I felt bad for taking time away from Juniordwarf. So I didn’t go in there at all.
I felt enormously guilty. I was a self-proclaimed ‘gardener’ who didn’t have a garden. I wanted to grow food, but it all seemed so hard.
Then we moved into a house we both loved, but one with a yard that was mega-challenging in terms of its slope. I describe it as a cliff. It’s not far off that.
And we got chooks. Instant fertiliser! Instant destruction!
I dug out a few flat spots and installed some 1×1 metre raised beds, which is where the straw and chook poo goes to rot down and nourish the soil. My original idea was to have 5 of these beds that I could rotate over a 12 month period, with 3 being used to grow vegetables at any one time, one being the leave-alone-to-break-down bed and one being the add-the-fresh-stuff-to bed.
So far I’ve put 3 of the 5 together. I haven’t planted anything in any of them. I just keep adding straw and poo. The chooks get into them and scratch them up and most of the straw ends up on the ground.
Most of the time it all seems to hard to figure out what to plant, when to plant it, how to get the beds filled up enough to grow something in, how to keep the chooks out, how to maintain it once I’ve planted it. Everything I can come up with has become an excuse for why I’m not gardening.
And I’ve sat here for weeks, months, looking at these damn garden beds, telling myself off for not taking the next steps towards using them and feeling incredibly guilty that I’m not growing a single food for myself. I’ve been feeling totally in conflict with my own belief that growing your own is a good and important thing.
But in this last couple of weeks I’ve had a slight shift in perspective, which has got me going again.
In Lisa Grace Byrne’s book ‘Replenish’ (which is a book I would highly recommend if you are a strung-out, overwhelmed mother or just plain old strung-out and overwhelmed), she talks about the principle of starting where you are.
Lisa tells the story of a very overweight woman who decided she wanted to take dance classes. At first all the woman could do was go to the class and sway to the music. But she didn’t let this stop her. She kept going to the class each week and she did what she could. Very slowly she started to be able to do a bit more, and then a bit more. Eventually she started fully participating in the class and she went several times a week. But she didn’t start out like that. She started by doing what she could do, which was turn up and sway.
Last week’s Tassievore Eat Local challenge was to grow something. I already had a couple of herb pots on the go but they’ve survived by good luck rather than good management.
I wanted to do the Tassievore challenge, but as soon as I started making a list of all the things I’d have to do to get my first garden bed ready to plant something, I started to make excuses about why I couldn’t do it. There were too many obstacles and I didn’t have the time. It looked like this was going to be another good idea that I didn’t go through with.
Then the other night one of my lovely Twitter folk said they’d started sowing peas. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a tweet about sowing peas. I love peas. I’ve always wanted to grow peas, but I never have. I tried once and they all died. I still want to. I think about doing it a lot.
But at that moment something in my brain clicked. Why can’t I sow some peas? Why can’t I just throw a few seeds in and see what happens? No fancy soil preparation (no preparation at all, fancy or otherwise), no checking the calendar to see if it’s the right time (if a farmer is doing it then that’s good enough for me), no moon phase timing, no fencing out the chooks. Nothing. Forget the garden bed. Just do it.
So I went out and did it. I chucked some seeds into a pot on my deck and watered them. It took about 5 minutes.
The seeds are past their best-by date and the potting mix is a bit dry, so I don’t hold out much hope, but I’ve tried. I’ve shown up. I’ve thrown some seeds out there. I’ve started where I am. The list of jobs I’d set myself to do before I started gardening again was so overwhelming that it was stopping me doing anything at all. I don’t think that’s a good place to be.
Now I’ve done something. I’m the lady in the dance class. She didn’t expect to be dancing beautifully the first week of class, and I shouldn’t expect to have a perfectly planned and set up garden bed today.
You don’t walk 25,000 steps a day by going out and walking for 3 hours today. Starting big is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. You start out with a flourish and then exhaust yourself after a few days or weeks and you give up. (Or at least that’s what I do.)
If you want to walk 25,000 steps a day, you start by telling yourself that when you get home you’ll put your bag down and go for a walk around the block instead of collapsing on the couch and going on Twitter.
You set the bar so low you can’t fail. Then you do it. And you do it tomorrow and the next day. Once you’ve started small and succeed consistently, it gets easier to get bigger.
I was going about my gardening the wrong way. I was aiming for 25,000 steps a day when I should have been aiming to just get out the door.
‘All or nothing’ creates inaction. If I can’t do it all (and I can’t do it perfectly and be completely prepared with all the information I could ever possibly need) then I’m not going to do anything. This doesn’t get me to where I want to be, because I’ll never get started. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?
I’ve known this for a long time, but haven’t ever really accepted it as true. The message from Lisa Byrne and the lady in the dance class of ‘start where you are, do what you can do right at this moment and keep showing up’ has been forging a stronger course through my subconscious than I realised.
I’ve heard this same message many many times since I was a child:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.” – attributed to Goethe
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
“Just do it.” – Nike slogan
For once it sunk in and all it took was that one simple tweet about sowing peas to get me up and out the door.
If I’d sat and thought about what I needed to do to get to the point of being able to sow some seeds, I wouldn’t have done it. There would have been too much to do to get ready. I did what I could do right then and there, and either nothing will happen or I’ll get peas.
That’s OK because I’ll also get some coriander and some baby spinach (or I won’t) because I put some of those seeds in last week too. That’s 3 lots of seeds more than if I’d decided to wait until I was ready.
It felt really good to take some action.