Why is it that success in one thing often leads to some further problem that has to be solved? My latest run-in with this conundrum has to do with finally learning how to produce fruits and vegetables reasonably successfully in our garden.
For years I "gardened" as a biologist. If biodiversity was good, as I was taught in biology classes, then it made sense to me that leaving weeds in the garden would create more biodiversity among the vegetables and thus minimize pest problems. The problem insects would have a harder time finding the food crops and it would be harder for disease to move directly from one plant to the next.
Needless to say, it didn't quite work out that way. (Yes, you true gardeners can quit laughing and rolling your eyes now!) The insects and diseases had no problem finding my poor garden plants, which were probably sending out major distress signals from being overcrowded and outcompeted. Crops, such as they were, tended to be small...if the plants even lived long enough to produce anything.
Slowly (sometimes I'm REALLY dense), I learned that removing competition from weeds was not just a good thing, but an absolutely necessary thing. Eventually I even learned that mulching kept weeds down with a minimum of effort on my part. In fact, mulching even kept the roots cooler and moister so I didn't have to water as much. Watering regularly, if rain wasn't coming consistently, was a good thing too.
I'm finally learning how to harness biological principles to garden successfully. Besides weeding, mulching, and watering regularly, I still garden organically. When black blister beetles attacked my tomatoes last year, I picked them off by hand each morning and dropped them in soapy water to kill them. I removed all of the squash bug egg clusters I could find, as well as giving the adult squash bugs and their nymphs the same treatment as the blister beetles. We use raised beds, lots of composted horse manure and shredded leaves by the wheelbarrowful. It's not a perfect system, but it works for us.
In fact, it's working well enough that we're now producing reasonable amounts of the fruits and vegetables we were aiming for. And that's where the new problem has arisen: I find that I'm not very good at using my produce when it's ready to be used. "Spinach tonight? Oh, I'm too tired to make dinner. Let's just eat leftovers." By the time I'm in the mood to make the fresh spinach salad, the leaves are big and old and bitter.
I'm better at utilizing our fruit crops. After all, left in a bowl on the counter, the blueberries make a great snack every time I walk through the kitchen. Strawberries worked that way, too. The peas just haven't got the same snack appeal, though.
I'm getting better, but it's a slow process of changing how I plan and fix dinner, as well as how I garden. Who knew that growing a few edibles would lead to such self examination and changes in my lifestyle? Before I know it, it's going to be time to try chickens again!