the reluctant gardener

i will tell you willfully that i am not a gardner. sometimes i worry it sounds like i'm boasting. because i'll inevitably tell the listener how good i am with animals. as though to offer an excuse for poor gardening. but of course it is no excuse.  it is just the fact of my farming past that i have gravitated almost entirely to the animal husbandry Side of Things. i feel so very comfortable with nearly every animal. i take naps with pigs. i'll spend a solid 30 minutes scratching the cows on their necks. i raise sick chickens in my house. i needn't defend my attraction to animals with you lot. you've all seen and read it with a repetition that makes me wonder why any of you come back at all. and i am so glad you do.

but the problem with this is, that nick is just as much in the animal camp as i. we were raised by the same farmer on this matter. my dear cousin elizabeth. and she instilled in us such love and understanding for her many animals that the gardens were always the afterthought of our focus. but here we are in vermont. several farms later. and neither nick nor i have shown much interest in the gardens to date. and now we are faced with the year ahead and with not making much --or any-- money. we have fertile land. we have a literal sea of old cow manure. we have seeds. and we are in the middle of a swath of warm and dry weather. so we must take interest and notice. we must learn to feed ourselves with vegetables to substitute the appalling amount of animal protein we consume. i have become accustomed to tomatoes in july. and lettuce as early as may. and kale well into december. i also was accustomed to somebody taking the garden reigns on our previous farms and quite literally telling me where and when and what to plant.

and here we are on our own. i have tried to psych myself up by reading and reading and studying garden plans. but every day of the 16 days that we have been here i have walked past the garden trying not to make eye contact with her. ignoring the dried buckwheat cover asking to be tilled under. giving her an awkward half wave and scurrying by down to the barn like the coward i have become.

i was planning on boldly continuing this dance. but the heavens have determined this garden will live. our dear friend billy came up on saturday and drifted our strides to the garden. showing us how to prune back the raspberries. the next morning our friend sam called to offer himself and his tractor to rototill the garden. i wearily accepted --knowing full well what the garden will expect of me, once the tractor had passed. sam came and went adding cow manure and leaving a dark, flat streak of tilled earth for me to plant. nick and billy looked at me with expectant eyes that afternoon. what shall we plant? i immediately changed the conversation to ask what sort of beer they'd prefer.

and then, the heavens intervened once more. sending nick's childhood friend alex to the farm. alex works on an organic csa outside of boston. and came bearing house gifts only a neglectful gardener would appreciate. 600 onion sets. and a dozen cabbage and chard starts. i asked alex if he'd like to see the property, go explore the top of the mountain. see the sheep pen. go to the ridge line. nick looked at me in horror. was i truly trying to sabotage the garden? i wasn't. i am just scared of it. i'm scared it will be a 20' x 100' plot of failure. i don't want the responsibility of the garden. the animals are enough.

but nick and alex persisted. and so we visited the garden in her freshly tilled glory. we stepped out the beds. i got my bare toes in her warm soil. we planned. we put the onions, chard, and cabbage in the ground. we watered them in. to make it final. we even got a second wind and planted a couple rows of sugar snap peas. i tried to soak in as much know-how from alex as i was able. where and when and what to plant. he leaves today. and i have in panic tried to nail down his return.

i am so grateful for the push by our friends towards a garden this weekend.  and i am so filled with anxiety for what lies ahead in her rows.  she is like a new big exotic animal. one i have only read about. one whose language i can't yet understand. i dreamt most of the night of cabbage loving woodchucks. and japanese beetles. we need this garden. we will raise her and protect her and love her just like all of our other animals. even if it means learning a whole new farming language. so a gardening i must go.

weekend photos:
1. the demanding garden
2. rudy and a drying cheesecloth. neither of them particularly stressed about the impending doom of garden
3. the woods south of the cow pasture are literally filled with old glass soda bottles and rusty cars. i rescued a handful of the prettiest bottles.
4. this crew lives in the paddock and stables directly below us. they are our closest neighbors. and one of the donkeys bit me last thursday because i wasn't giving her enough attention. they are demanding neighbors.
5. spring is about to hit this mountain. hard.
6. a stack of birch outside the cabin in the sheep pen.


  1. These photos are so beautiful! I've been wanting to work on my gardening skills as well! Sorry to hear about the donkey bite though- that's gotta hurt! They've got huge teeth!! Ouch!

    xo Kayla

  2. I completely understand. We were over working at our soon to be new home and land Saturday and my husband and daughter keep asking me where and when I will prep a garden and I just kind of turn my head and make some mumbling sounds. I have seeds, magazines of seeds, a company to bring me some soil since we don't have our own manure makers yet, but it scares me.

  3. Beautiful stack of birch. Can't wait to see how your reluctant garden grows, seems like you'll eat well this summer.

  4. Love the red chair in the second picture!!! I have chairs like this at home and I just love painting them any bright color I find :-)

    I don't really like gardening myself. I try to though... My husband is a great source of inspiration and the reason why I at least try to join him.

  5. Adore these pictures, especially the green bottles. Love the composition of the red chair picture, too.

    I can't tell you have envious I am of that gorgeous plot of soil...since we live in the RV I am relegated to planting herbs and a tomato plant in a five-gallon buckets. Last week we were in a frosty town and they all lived inside all week. Fortunately today (and probably all week) they are getting some sunshine. If only I could come up and help you guys...digging in dirt is for me something that I MUST do. The older I get the more of a visceral need it is.

  6. We MUST visit soon. I can't wait to help, seriously.

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  8. Such awesome photos. And there is something always SO daunting about a blank canvas, whether it be the first plantings in fresh soil, the first cut on a yard of fabric, or the first steps out to an unknown destination. Sounds like you have a good start, tho! I'm excited to see how your garden grows :)

  9. Gardening is certainly an act of faith! You have such a way with words, Kate. I go through those same emotions you so wonderfully describe with each new gardening season.

    I bet you will fall head-over-heels in love with that demanding garden beast ;)

  10. you're a brilliant writer miss kate. gosh. i read and reread this post & each time my anxiety (for you?!) grew a little more. but you'll do well sweet girl. i just know it. : )

  11. Hello Kate. Just came across your site yesterday after it was tweeted by @srkitchengarden and spent most of last night reading it! Just wanted to say how beautiful your blog is. Love your writing, photos and your story. Really admire how you are both following your hearts and doing what makes you happy.

    Good luck with the gardening - there's nothing to be afraid of, just dive in and give it all a go. You can read all the books but nothing teaches you like getting your hands dirty and actually doing. I am the opposite - love plants, a bit more unsure with animals! Look forward to following your journey and seeing how you get on on your gorgeous farm.

    Best of luck, Sui

  12. Beautiful place and pictures! In love with your blog!


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