Homesteading Heresy: On Giving Up Vegetable Gardening

Eric Rochow of Garden Fork TV and I interviewed each other for our respective podcasts yesterday. Without giving too much away, we talked about the idea of mental de-cluttering: weeding out those activities in our lives that take a lot of time, tools and expense with less than stellar results. While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of failed interests, perhaps it’s healthier to see that with one door closing another one opens.

I spent an hour yesterday pulling apart our last remaining raised vegetable bed. This bed had a caged top to keep the skunks from digging up seedlings. I called it “vegetable Guantanamo.” It took a lot of work to build and looked hideously ugly. Removing it was the first step in making some much needed aesthetic improvements to the our front yard. We plan on replacing it with two dwarf citrus trees: a kumquat and lemon.

I mentioned in a previous post my ambivalence about vegetable gardening. Frankly, I haven’t devoted the amount of attention the task deserves. It feels like a chore to me. Meanwhile, as shown in the picture above, vegetables happen without my intervention, in this case a cherry tomato plant that seeded itself and grew without irrigation while the tomatoes I planted, tended and watered withered and died. So while I don’t plan on growing annual vegetables in the near future, I’m certainly not going to get in the way of nature. If she grants us feral vegetables we’ll get out of the way and let them flourish. Maybe we’ll even throw some random seeds around and give nature a nudge.

If you love growing annual vegetables, go for it. But if you don’t, consider what you really want to do and focus on that. Maybe it’s embroidery, or writing or just hanging out with friends. I’m having a good time in the wood shop. I’ve also been working through the drawing lessons in Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain for the second time in twenty years, tackling some difficult books on my reading bucket list and I even sat through the entirety of the Ring of the Nibelungen. I say embrace whatever activity keeps you away from the addictive grasp of the Silicon Valley Übermenschen. Go plant some vegetables if you enjoy it but, at least in the near future, you’ll find me in produce aisle of Super King.

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25 Comments

  1. After a summer of heavily working on our edible garden with some solarization, I am ready for a break. I too am picking up older hobbies I haven’t done in a while and am honestly contemplating not growing much this winter.

  2. This post is a timely one for me, as I too am going to have to shift my approach to gardening next year. My reasons: (1) The Eastern white-tailed deer situation in my Upstate NY neighborhood is beyond a joke, and (2) my husband’s Alzheimer’s is requiring ever more of my time and energy.

    On the one hand, this shift is not what I want (homegrown veggies rock!). On the other hand, I’m not into beating my head against a stone wall (metaphorically) forever. So I’m cutting back to herbs, deer-resistant ornamentals, onion/garlic family crops, and kale (Bambi doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that kale is trendy). We’ll see how this goes next year.

  3. It’s the hard reality of food today: Buying food is so cheap (because of exploitative practices), so growing your own just makes no financial sense.
    And most veggies are very time consuming. Even ones considered low maintenance require regular attention (leave a squash for a few days and come back to find a mildew leaf tent over toddler-sized fruit).
    That’s why I’m really strict with myself about what I’ll grow: Only produce that either:
    1) I love and cannot buy at market (magenta spreen lambsquarters, Mara du Bois strawberries, side-shooting broccoli)
    2) Or are not acceptable quality at market (raspberries, basil, cilantro, lettuce).
    I grew potatoes for a while and realized that, while they’re easy to grow, it still took time and they are in all ways indistinguishable from commercially grown ones (except mine had hori hori gashes from being dug).
    If a plant isn’t going to pay its rent, it goes. It’s a hard discipline to keep with all the seed catalogues (darn you, Territorial) and seductive garden stores (I’m looking at you, Pollinate).
    Good on you for reflecting on this. I see so many neglected veggie patches.

  4. I love gardening (of all kinds, including veggies, although I must say it helps to have automatic drip irrigation in CA!), but this year my job has taken some interesting twists and turns and I have been working extremely hard all summer and just don’t have time to cook, let alone put up any produce. I have given away big bags of vegetables to my very grateful millennial coworkers who can’t afford to buy a house with a garden bc SF Bay Area housing market, and I’m not feeling bad about it.

    Sometimes, personally, I enjoy the act of planting and cultivating more than the actual keeping up with the harvesting and using the produce. Don’t worry, I’ve eaten plenty of nice tomatoes, but I don’t need pounds of them, and I’m cutting myself some slack this year. Instead of letting them rot on the vine, I’m advertising this on NextDoor and at work and giving the produce to people who have more time to really enjoy it than I do.

  5. I have never had success at growing vegetables. I even failed zucchini. Instead, I support our local farmer’s market and the people who are very good at growing veg that tastes so much better than what is in the local store. My gardening time is spent on citrus trees and roses and loading a bb gun for gopher hunting.

  6. I’m not giving up on my raised bed, but I’m in the process of narrowing down the list of veggies and herbs that make sense and do well in it (arugula, kale, herbs, cucumbers, and a few others). My “accidental garden” (read: the finished compost I dump in the back of my yard whose seeds sprout every year) might have done better and it required absolutely no care. I just harvested pounds of butternut squash from it and was actually able to get more tomatoes from there than the plants in the raised bed. Next year, in my ongoing battle with chipmunks, I plan on setting Havahart traps to relocate the offensive excavators!

  7. I definitely celebrate the volunteer plants in my garden – every year we get at least one pumpkin (one time it was ripe in July) and given that pumpkin/squash shoots (the new tip of growth with the first several leaves/fruit) are a wonderful vegetable, we manage overfruiting by literally nipping it in the bud (haha). Chard volunteers, as does fennel – and if you throw some sprouting broccoli seed around, you’ll get a 2-year harvest (leaves the first spring, broccoli-florets the second) (these should all work for you in SoCal, I think).

    I’m still enthusiastic about finally having garden space so still figuring out what caliber veggie gardener I am, but I’m keeping the area small. I do think I’m more of a chaos gardener than anything and the volunteers will always have a special place in my heart, if not be granted access to all the space.

    I will be planting fruit trees, though. We’ll see how I do with the rats and squirrels.

  8. Te decision was made for me when vandals stole 9 huge pots large enough to plants trees and the plants I had in them, too! I have to start all over again. I still do want to grow vegetables. Oh, they stole my tools and bags of soil.

  9. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I live in very hot,
    very dry (and getting dryer) South Australia and
    this year I’ll be cutting down what I struggle to
    grow (on a smaller than average block). Goodbye
    extensive tomato plantings – there are plenty of
    local greengrocers where I can get good tomatoes.
    Hello more of what grows well – chillies, eggplant,
    basil, kangkong, possibly more citrus. Permaculture
    has a lot to answer for – for a lot of people it’s
    pretty hard work to garden productively on a
    suburban block!

    • I’ve been thinking more about permaculture and climate change too. We also went through an apocalyptic period of drought and fires.

    • If you’re doing Permaculture properly you should be able to keep the garden going with little effort. Permaculture is a design system that means you can design the garden and other parts of living to do a lot with less effort using less resourcea. Yes it may take a bit to set thinga up-short term pain for long term gain. But it does make sense to grow what does well in your area.

  10. I am in Canada so for 4-5 months a year gardening consists of clearing the snow and watching the birds and squirrels at the feeders.
    By the time spring come I am chomping at the bit to get outside so perhaps that’s why I continue with my garden and I hate to think of the day when I will have to give it up.

    I am careful to grow the veggies that do well in my area and in my yard and I also have an abundance of flowers and herbs.

    I also appreciate all the volunteers that show up…they are the ones that always do well.
    I have lots of hobbies and activities that I do but “I am a Gardener” defines me.

    • I’ve often wondered what it’s like to garden in a place with winter. Here it’s a year long task–often more to do in the winter than in the summer.

  11. I too have often wondered why my meticulously watered and fertilized tomatoes, planted in carefully weeded and compost-enriched topsoil, shrivel up and produce a pathetic crop, whereas feral tomato plants, growing neglected and uncared for in sun-baked gravel grow lushly and produce a prodigious crop.

    I think I have the solution. The domesticated tomato plants are sentient beings and, realizing that they are being raised for the slaughter, have become depressed and given up all hope. The feral plants, being of a happy-go-lucky nature, are quite prepared to live for the day and enjoy themselves without worrying too much about what tomorrow may bring.

    At least, that’s my theory!

  12. In regards to drawing, you might enjoy Drawing You Life by Michael Nobbs. In fact you might enjoy getting acquainted with his website, Go Gently at gogently.co if you aren’t already.

  13. Over the years I have cut back on the vegetables I grow because of high water rates and being in the desert. Often it just makes more sense to support the local farmers market. One thing I have done is plant fruit trees. (This year I also put out squirrel traps.) I have finally had continual harvests of fruit…plums, apricots, peaches, figs, and apples. My tomatoes have done well, surprisingly, as have the various herbs and greens that volunteered to grow. Strangely some of the seeds I planted last year decided to come up THIS year. But with the hot summers here if you do not water every day, your crops goes into shock and it is hard to get them healthy again. All my trees are on drip…the only way to go here. Last year I just decided that I was putting too much money, time, and work into raising vegetables and the quality at the Farmers’ Market was better.

    • We’ve also had better luck with fruit trees. We had lots of pomegranates, figs and olives this year.

  14. I’m sad you don’t have your garden anymore, because I did enjoy your posts about it! But fruit trees and volunteer edible plants certainly count as growing food. While I was living in CA I did always wonder if importing vegetables from elsewhere (out of or within the state) was actually a good thing, because it saved water in the drought-ravaged area where we lived. It’s one of those conundrums — use the carbon miles to transport the food, or use the precious water so we could have our own tomatoes, squash, lettuce and carrots?

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