By Cassie Johnston
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We’ve had our first real cold snap this past week, and that pretty much drew the curtains on the 2015 growing season. Here’s a confession for you: me, Mrs. I-Love-Gardening (married to Mr. I-Love-Gardening), was happy, heck, even downright excited, for the frosty temps to kill our garden.
Normally, we’d have a Fall garden planted filled with cold hardy varieties to carry us into the new season, but not this year. We need a garden break. My gosh, do we need gardening break.
We love growing our food, and I’m sure when the seed catalogs come rolling in in January, we’ll be giddy with excitement, but right now, us and gardening need to separate for a bit. The time apart will allow us to analyze and accept some hard truths that I think we’ve been avoiding for a while. Mother Nature gave me an easy out, but the fact of the matter is, the garden this year was a failure long before the frost showed up. We had a few successes, but overall, this year’s garden was not the garden it should have been.
It is the norm for gardeners to blame the heat or the rain or bugs or diseases, and as much as I would love to make some aphid infestation the scape goat, the truth is the blame for this year’s garden failure can land squarely on our own shoulders. We didn’t have the heart, time, or other resources to do it right. So instead of doing what we should have done—a small amount well—we tried to do a large amount half-right. And, of course, we failed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about seasons of life lately, and how important it is to remember that everything isn’t always as it has been before and won’t always be the way it currently is. The current season of our life means that we don’t have the time or energy to devote to doing a 5,000 square foot garden as well as we want to (or should). It doesn’t mean we won’t ever in the future. And the hardest part to accept for me, is that that’s okay. It’s okay to adapt, adjust, and redefine success in a different way during different seasons of your life. What is a win now might not be a win tomorrow. And what was a failure yesterday might not be today.
Back in August, during one of my few hours per week that I get to myself, I was standing in the middle of the garden, picking bushel after bushel of Roma tomatoes. It was in the upper 90s with 34995% humidity—I really should have been inside in the A/C—but that was the only time I could figure out to get the tomatoes picked, so I kept on, sweating through my clothes.
Instead of feeling inspired and energized by being out in the garden, I felt like I had this obligation to the garden. I had to get the tomatoes picked. I had to get them canned. I had to not fail. I started thinking about all these overwhelming feelings, and burst into tears right in the middle of the Amish Paste tomatoes.
After crying for a few minutes, I started to pull myself together to get back to work. I lifted my head, and looked around at the beautiful place I live with this beautiful gift of being able to grow my own food, and I started giggling. Which then turned to full on howling laughter. How ridiculous was this? This is supposed to be fun! This isn’t supposed to be this hard! This isn’t civil war. Or genocide. Or cancer. Or heck, even a really bad hangnail. It’s just freaking tomatoes!
Right then and there, I decided I needed to let go of my previous definitions of success and failure. I have big visions. And it’s good to dream big. But I have to work on adjusting my visions for my current season of life. I am not the girl I was a three years ago, or even three months ago, and I need to set my goals, ambitions, and dreams based on where I am right now, not based on what I’ve done in the past.
That day in the tomato patch, I gave myself permission to fail. Not because I was going easy on myself or because I was being lazy or because I’m a quitter, but because I had unknowingly stacked the deck against myself. I had made it almost impossible not to fail (at least while keeping my sanity). We had taken on too much. It was all too much.
And trying to keep up with the farce that I could succeed wasn’t doing me any good. So that weekend, we pulled up the vast majority of our garden plants, put aside our plans to do a lot of preserving, and just basked in the acceptance of our failure.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m not sure I would have made it through the summer if we kept on the path we were with the garden (and canning). I haven’t spent a second regretting the decision to fail in the garden.
So if you’re curious how the 1000 jar project went (I got to 392 jars before I quit) or how much food we donated this year (just under 50 pounds of produce) or how much food we harvested (we stopped counting), and my answers don’t seem like successes to you, that’s fine. They aren’t—in the traditional sense. But I’m also not ashamed of them, because I am proud of the lesson I learned this growing season. That’s a success to me.
Do I wish I had the thousands of dollars and hundreds of man/womanhours back that we spent on the garden this year only to get limited results? Sure. But I think the lesson we’ve learned from the failure is worth way more than I could put into dollars and cents. Next year, we’ll come back smaller, stronger, more efficient, and with 100% fewer tomato tears (hopefully).
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My garden year was the same as yours after several successful home gardens and a disastrous year attempting to do a market garden, I thought I’d scale down to the home garden again, but when I found myself glaring at my MIL who was visiting and lounging in the sun and annoyed with my children who kept wanting me to do things for them while I was trying to work, I had the same revelation as you. Im fortunate enough to be able to afford amazing veggies from my farmer friends (we farm too and raise our own meat), so the garden shouldn’t be a huge stressful thing. I gave up and am thrilled with the results. (Still got a surprising amount of peas, tomatoes and tomatillos despite the neglect). It was freeing, and I was able to plant my little cold frames for the winter. I’m also planning on building raised beds to combat both the weeds that come from trying to convert pasture to garden and to combat my desire to plant it all!!
YES. YES. YES. “Freeing” is the perfect way to put it. I don’t think I realized how much pressure my homesteading dreams were putting on me. An unbearable amount of pressure. It’s great to have big goals, but if the pursuit of those goals is making you miserable, something needs to be reevaluated. And I had tomatillos coming out my ears this year! Those things love a little neglect, apparently.
I cried over a relationship ending, not because I didn’t want it to end, but because I wasn’t happy in the relationship and was worried about what people would think when it ended. of course a talk with my bestie and a few months (now years) perspective always helps. It would’ve gotten so much worse if I had kept trying, and things while not what I imagined, are wonderful now.
After failing to even get a bath to myself yesterday and multiple bursts of years since my second baby was born six months ago this post totally hits home. Thank you so much for being open and honest. Time for me to think about success and failure in a different way.
When my husband left at the beginning of this year I was devastated. We hadn’t been happy in years (after reflecting), but I would never have considered splitting – that’s giving up and admitting defeat in my book! BUT this has been the best year for rediscovering my true self and what I value and hold dear. I even went on my own to what had been booked as our 10th anniversary dream trip to Ireland; and I am proud of myself for doing so. Defeat I am learning is just having to accept the things I cannot control BUT making the new situations work for me, whatever it takes.
Way to go for going on the trip anyway!
I love this post, and I love stories about “failures” (a word I use carefully because it has such negative connotations in our culture). I feel like you learn so much more from the things that don’t work out as planned than you do from those that do. One of the reasons I’ve kept reading your blog year after year is because you’re not afraid to talk about the times when you don’t accomplish what you hoped to accomplish. There’s real value in that, but those aren’t the stories people tend to share.
So interesting. I do not garden, at all, but as so many things do in life, this topic transcends the subject. I can extrapolate so much of this and apply it to my own life and my own way of dealing with things, and my own way of viewing success and failure and happiness and sadness. You have given me some thoughtful things to consider as I muddle along through this life, defining and redefining myself and the world and my place and meaning in it.
Great post and thank you for sharing! My son turns 6 months old today and I’ve spent the time redefining success and failure. I am a goal driven, organized, Type A and whew, boy! Does a baby ever change that. How I currently define success would be that everyone in our home is well fed and has on clean underwear. Well rested would be a close third because we are all much more pleasant on good sleep. My floors and baseboards are gross and we really need to clean out the garage. I’m not failing, my life just currently has different priorities.
This is the second time in a week that one of your posts has really resonated with me. I don’t know if you are a spiritual or religious person but some of the things that you have said in your posts have definitely been answers to prayers for me. Thank you for taking the time to post and for putting a vulnerable post like this one out there – I really needed to hear it today.
Cheers to learning life lessons! Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful post Cassie! Congratulations on your successful failure :)
Um, I tried to garden at 7,500 feet in Colorado and got like 3 peas and a handful of green beans. “Defeat” is not the word I’d use for your very successful garden, even if it wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped.
I’m sorry your garden didn’t produce up to your expectations, but your experience does not define my experience. Failure and success are deeply relative and personal. It’s a defeat because it felt like a defeat to me and my family, not because I got less peas or green beans than you did.
Whoa, Cassie. I don’t think she was trying to harsh on your defeat experience. I think she was trying to say that you still look great from her point of view, and resonate with your feelings a little. I mean, I don’t garden at all, so all your efforts look flabbergastingly awesome to me, but I deeply get that this is a season where you outreached your grasp. BTDT. Another time, eh?
You’re very right, I totally overreacted. I’m sorry to everyone!
Yeah, what Jenny said. You totally took that the wrong way and I did indeed mean it as Jenny interpreted. I never comment on blogs and thought I’d say something brief and helpful. Sheesh. Won’t bother reading OR commenting from here on out,
My apologies, Bobbi. I definitely overreacted and chose to see the worse in your words instead of what I should have done and given you the benefit of the doubt. It’s not an excuse, but I was having a particularly rough day that day, and I took my bad mood out on you. Again, I am so sorry.
man quitting is a part of life. It’s great to have goals and its really great to know when you are asking too much or yourself. Theres always next year.
Cassie I admire your honesty in all of your posts …as you know that world of perfect that screams at us from Facebook and blogs can be hard to see at times…
I’ve been gardening for years but this year we were able to set up a new larger garden for me..as per your suggestion, I regularly donated to our local food pantry as well as many days a week leave “free ” boxes of veggies at the end of our driveway…still, I ended up with probably 10 tomato plants laden with fruit that I didn’t get to in time…and I felt so guilty about it…
I had to let it go….and it’s ok….thanks for the reminder…
it took me a very long time to learn how to give myself permission to stop doing things that were increasing my anxiety and stress and not see them as failures. once i finally changed that mentality, i started to feel so much better about my choices and myself. i am happy for you that you have discovered “giving yourself permission to do or not do xyz…” also, everything in life is a learning experience. even things we see as “failure”. xo
Oh man, our gardens are NEVER a complete success. This year was the worst of all – we have two plots and one was entirely made up of green beans. First a rain washed away half of the seeds and we had to replant. Then we had family from out of town visiting, and we never weeded. Needless to say that was all a lost cause. A lot of our cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and eggplant was wasted too.
Ah well, that’s life! More important things were happening. :)
I appreciate you sharing this, Cassie. I have found it really hard in the past year, dealing with health issues, to be kind to myself, cut myself some slack, and really understand that the person I am today is not the person I was before, nor is it the person I will be next year, and that’s ok. I may never go back to “normal” and I have to learn to appreciate each day and try to live my priorities the best I can.
Your aha moment was tomatoes, mine was Quicken. In March 2014, I was looking at our finances, which I had developed into a complicated system, and asked why I spend so much effort on something that gives me zero returns. Since then, when I find myself doing something that doesn’t benefit me in some way, I purge. I now have the time and energy to invest in things that help me and my family bloom.
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