The Wrongness of It

Last summer was a horrible summer for growing ones own food. We had pouring rains for weeks just when the seedlings were taking root in the ground, flooding most, then we had dry weather which finished off the majority of the rest.

tomato flowers

I don’t rely too much on watering my gardens because I was taught that plants fend for themselves very well.  If we water frequently plants will have short roots and need to rely on being watered. Missing a few days can kill a plant with short roots. I didn’t worry too much when our dry weather started because watering isn’t a practice I ever got into.  But when the corn started to dry up I got concerned.

Having lived surrounded by farms for the last 30  years I had never seen any one water corn. It just grew. Why was my corn shriveling up after getting off to such a good start. I had ears forming, they should have been fine.

It was only after it was too late that I realized the constant heavy rains early in the season had prevented my plants from growing deep roots to survive on when the rains stopped.

Being my first summer here things got off to a slow start any way. My garden beds weren’t ready when they should have been so there were seeds that never made it into the ground, which is a good thing because I still have those reducing the amount of seeds I’ll need to purchase this year. But I’m already paying for the lack of preparation and bad weather.

My freezer is almost empty and it’s only February. I’ve had to get creative in stretching what I had but now I must supplement with store-bought produce to see me through until the gardens are producing and providing my meals.

When I received my order of seeds last year my daughter-in-law couldn’t believe how many seeds I had bought the total cost me $60. To many this may seem like an awful lot to spend on seeds yet that amount of money isn’t to me.  I also save seeds from one year to the next which reduces the outlay each year considerably. I can see a year when $15, or less, will be all I need to spend.

When the garden beds are full I’ll have enough food to put up to see me through the rest of the year with a bit of supplementing at the bulk food store for legumes and a variety of nuts.  In a typical year $50 in bulk foods is all I need to supplement the garden.

There will be another two years before my fruit trees are mature so in that time I’ll need to add fruits to my shopping list. I’ve set aside $200 to spend this summer at the farmer’s market on fruits.

Last summer I invested $80 in fruit trees. I planted two apple trees (they need to be cross pollinated hence two trees), a peach tree, an apricot tree and an almond tree. But compare an initial investment of $80, a one time cost, to $200 each year if I hadn’t planted the trees. When people tell me growing ones own food is expensive I think of my fruit trees and how they will pay for themselves in just the first year they are productive.

My total expenses for the next year will be roughly $300, cost of fruit, bulk foods, and seeds, to round out the ones I have saved, will see me through 12 months of groceries. This breaks down to $25 per month for a year’s groceries.

Compare that with the $150 the average person spent at the grocery store. In this poll some say they spend as much as $300 per week.  Now that’s probably for a family, where I only have guests to feed a few times a week.  A mere 8% of people reported spending $50 per week. Using $50 per week that would still add up to $2,600 per year versus my $300.

This winter I am stuck having to find foods at the grocery store. I feel the cold and sterile environment each time I enter the store. Fluorescent lighting, no windows except a couple at the front of the building, narrow aisles that make maneuvering difficult if two people try to pass each other with carts. Forget needing to ask for help the store has so few employees you need to either go back to the front of the store to ask a cashier or hope to see another customer who might have the answer. I can’t wait to escape.

And the cost, I’m spending approximately $100 per month on groceries! Yes, that’s lower than the national average but it still irks me to see what poor planning has resulted in.

But it isn’t just about the cost of having to buy all my food that bothers me.

I grew up in a small city so grocery stores were where we bought most of our food. In the summer months we had a small garden with red raspberries, several varieties of tomatoes, and rhubarb being the star attractions. We would drive to the outskirts of town to visit family farms with produce stands and pick fresh fruits and vegetables. Oh, how I enjoyed the taste of those fresh fruits and vegetables.

It wasn’t until I began to seriously garden a few years ago and decided to purchase what I couldn’t grow from the farmers’ market that I began to question how I had shopped for so many years in a store and not noticed the wrongness of it.

When you are in a grocery store you are a solitary person, as if you were in your own world. The people you pass are strangers you rarely speak a word to, if at all. The food is bagged, shrink wrapped or processed and in colorful boxes and cans. Even the recirculated air smells wrong. Being in a grocery store is so far removed from the natural world our senses are overwhelmed with the noise, colors and artificial lighting.

Whereas shopping a farmers’ market, you are outdoors in the fresh air. You feel the wind. You attempt to plan your shopping for when the rain has stopped or before it begins. Other shoppers talk to you and you get to ask the vendors how the food was grown or raised.

There is a connection you have to your food and those who grew it. You know, for instance, that next week your favorite vendor would be bringing his melons which weren’t quite ripe to bring this week. You plan your meals around what is available and not by what was for sale in the advert.

I wonder if we introduced more people to the pleasures of picking sun-kissed produce from a garden and allowed them to spend time  enjoying the fresh air by setting out benches if they too would learn to feel the wrongness of shopping at a grocery store.

Could we make a grocery store be the stop of last resort only by introducing others to the alternative?




  1. you are so organised….Well, one would have to be to plan their food that far ahead, keep track of money spent on food, etc.. It always impresses me.

    I have come to accept that I am not organised. Also, unless I move somewhere with better garden potential, will not be living off my garden. Probably about fifteen or more yrs ago, hubby dug up fair bit of back yard, had dirt brought in, and we planted. For several yrs we planted. One year we got quite a few tomatoes. Most yrs barely enough for a few sandwhiches. No idea why the change. Finally, he built garden boxes, to set over garden, and even better (we were told) garden dirt. Results were not any better. Yes, I / we keep plugging away, planting a few things, but have given up on living off our garden.

    What I do have, is very good chive growth. Good Rosemary Growth. Good Garlic Growth (not the garlic bulbs, but I get could growth and at the ends of the stems are bulbils, very tasty. So, for foreseeable future, I concentrate on this. and am grateful something grows.

    We have tall evergreens in back and I guess we do not get enough light. As well, we don’t get enough sun. Ah well, it is what it is.

    Now, I do have some very nice Haskap Berry Shrubs. They seem to produce a decent amount. I say seem, because the darn birds are champion at beating us to the berries, and we get few ourselves. Considering some kind of net for this spring. But if a bird got caught and hurt, I would be heartbroken..sigh.

    Last fall, I got some Goji Berry shrubs starts, for next to nothing, so planted them. If they grow, and I can beat the birds to them…Good stuff.

    As well, a couple of years ago, I planted a male and female Sea Buckthorn (supposed to be superfruit). They have grown nicely, about four feet tall. Last year I got a few berries off them. So, again, if I can beat the birds to it, this should be a good spring.


    • You might be shocked to learn I’m not all that organized, just determined to have healthy food. I don’t know if this would help you but I tried out several methods suggested on various websites to deter deer, bunnies and bird using inexpensive materials. I found our deer were just too domesticated but the birds and bunnies avoided my gardens while I used them. The ideas I tried included: carefully and securely tying plastic grocery bags around the plants they liked. The wind catches them and moves them around causing noise that scares them away. Also I hung old CDs and DVDs around my garden. The movement and their reflecting of light also did a good job. I also added metal paint can lids and that worked better than the CDs. Maybe this would deter your birds from your fruit trees.

      After you suggested the haskap bushes I purchased two. I had a few berries start to form before the guy I hired to mow the grass mowed the female down. Luckily it started to grow back so I’m hopeful it survived winter and will be producing berries for me soon.

      As for tomatoes, I read where one method of producing more is to remove all the leaves and shoots that aren’t producing fruit so the sun can reach them better. It’s supposed to help those of us who have shorter growing seasons or want to save space and grow more in a smaller area. I tired it last year and found more did seem to ripen, I’ll be trying it again this year.

      My biggest problem is with powdery mildew because of the dampness of our season. I’m going to try removing excess leaves and trellising them better this year and see if that helps.


      • I will give your critter deterants a try…I am suspecting the birds will pay them no mind..sigh. It truly is a toss up for me. Birds have given us such lovely /free entertainment and joy, last summer we gave up and blessed them with our berries..Sigh…

        oh, and I have an apple tree. Growing about ten yrs now. Again, pretty sure I would have a good harvest, but the critters (squirrels/magpies etc) get there before me. I am going to for sure try your suggestions in the Apple tree.

        re your powdery mildew..Thankfully (touch wood) that is one problem I have not had…. I think thinning will help

        do you mean mildew on just the tomatoes, or everything? (I keep thinking I’ve heard of an old wives tale to cope with it, but cant quite recall it now)


        • I wish you luck with our birds. I know the feeling of wanting to share with them because we enjoy having them around but they don’t understand sharing. 🙂 I’m surprised you have such problems with critters getting to your apple tree. It may not be a matter of critters though. Apple trees are not normally self pollinating needing another apple tree to cross pollinate to get a crop. Oh and it must be a different variety of apple to work.

          Powdery mildew I don’t get on my tomatoes but on my melons and squashes. It’s a real pain once you do get it on a plant as it contaminates the soil as well making it impossible to grow a squash or melon plant in that area the next year without a lot of work to clean up the soil.


          • meant to mention…

            oh YES it is critters causing grief in the apple tree.

            for several yrs now, I will see it covered in “small” apples …hundreds at least..

            then the apples either
            slowly disappear
            are found on the ground with bites take out / pecks taken out (that kinda shocked me as I was certain critters of everykind would love apples)
            one year they got beaten off the tree with a big hail storm

            there are enough apple trees/ crabapple trees which also work to pllinate I was told, in near enough distance that pollination is not a problem

            it is the critters..squirrels/magpies/crows/maybe even a bobcat would eat them (we have the odd bobcat)


          • It’s good you have other apple trees in close proximity so you don’t have to worry about the pollination issue. I have no idea where the next closest apple tree to me might be, I’ve yet to see one as I wander through the town. I wonder what animals would eat the apples for you…If you have fallen ones you don’t want but aren’t bitten through you could call someone who presses cider and ask if they would take your fallen apples for you. Otherwise the only thing I can think of would be to compost them. I hope you find a solution to deter the wildlife from attacking so much of your apple tree so you can enjoy them too.


  2. We couldn’t grow our garden without water and we have to pay for water here. There is too much to lose to not water and considering what we save in food costs, many times what it costs us. we do need to do it more efficiently though and I am always asking my overworked husband to put in grey water systems.
    I loathe supermarket shopping and do as little as possible. The thing is, once you start growing your own food you become concerned at where the rest of it comes from – and then everything else you use/consume. Certainly life becomes more conscious. I hope your garden is more productive for you next season Lois, alot of work to get alot of disappointments.


    • Yes, I have to pay for water here too and it’s quite expensive. I do want to install rain barrels as my backup as we get a lot of rain early in the season. Plus, It would be nice to allow the children to play in the water without counting the cost of turning on the spigot. I would love to put in a gray water system but will need to work out what to do in the winter months. I considered a tank in the basement for the winter months but then I’d have to invest in a pump to get it into the garden in the spring. No easy answers.

      You are so right. Each step I take to green my life makes me worry about the things I haven’t done yet and what the costs are associated with each. As for last summers garden. I lost rhubarb, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, ground cherries and corn. But I had a lot of seeds I don’t start a head of time so those seeds were saved, unopened, for this year. We did have a good strawberry crop for the first year so there was that. 🙂


      • Well…trying to do for yourself complicates life, the simple life is actually not easy 🙂 But there are rewards, we don’t have to buy all from our trustee fake food corporations 🙂 Takes a long time to get everything we want or need to make it work – a journey. Disappointing to lose crops though ay, that always sucks.


        • So true yet I am much more content providing for myself, or at least trying, than I was running around trying to juggle work and home life. Yes, doing laundry by hand is getting tiresome and I have decided to purchase a washing machine but overall I do enjoy what we call the simple life. Last year was a learning experience in the garden. I knew I would need to learn a few new tricks as the ground here is different from any I’ve gardened in before. The silver maple has roots that run through the entire property so raised beds are a necessity and it also shades a lot of the yard so strategic placement was more important than ever before. But by far the biggest challenge was getting used to gardening on a hilly property when we had so much rain it flooded towns. I’m sure this year will be better. 🙂


          • Yes! That’s the thing, it is more work but it’s contented work, it feels better. 🙂 I don’t know how many times roger has moved or had to redo something because it turned out to be in the wrong space for shade, trees etc. At least you plan lol. Trial and error, that’s how we do it. Great if you have the money to buy the ideal patch of land or lifestyle block but I do think growing in a suburban property has it’s challenges. Our biggest challenge nowadays is the weeding! Everything grows so fast and we can’t mulch everywhere, I could provide medicine for half our town with the weeds we have right now – every time I go out to the back yard I looked down so I don’t have to see them 🙂 I couldn’t imagine doing our washing by hand. I had to when my kids were little, nappies for two by hand – never again!


          • Yep, I plan. 🙂 I knew if I didn’t cut down the silver maple tree I was going to have to work around it. You would have laughed if you saw me that first few months here. I would go outside several times a day to photograph the property to see what areas got the most sunlight. Then I uploaded them to the computer where I could view them in a larger image and sat here sketching out where to put all the plants. When spring came, my garden materials were still up north at the apartment so I had to wing it. In the end all my planning went out the window, only a few beds are where they were going to be. 🙂

            Weeds, I have a lot hate relationship with them. I hate when they take over but I love the time I spend pulling them. I know I’m crazy, but once the plants are in the ground there’s little left to do that brings me into contact with the gardens other than weeding. I’m just a kid at heart, so any time I can play in the dirt I’m happy and pulling weeds well it provides me with that play time.

            I can’t even imagine washing diapers, nappies, by hand. How gross that would be and how hard a job it must have been to get them properly cleaned.


  3. I agree with you, Lois–I can’t stand grocery shopping. It’s so generic and boring. I wrote a very early blog post about shopping at local farms versus supermarkets, and how it was no contest for me. I feel so fortunate to live in a place with an abundance of wonderful farms and orchards all within 5-10 minutes’ drive (and in New Jersey, which gets an unfair rap).

    I will be interested to hear how your fruit trees end up doing. I bought three dwarf fruit trees a few years ago, and I think I got two pieces of fruit total out of them before they died. But I think your year-round weather is probably much better than ours!


    • Joy, I find not only the experience of grocery shopping to be a negative experience I don’t find myself attracted to any of the food. I can wander the aisles and find nothing I want and leave empty handed. Our produce section is so bad I’ve had to start giving my daughter-in-law money to pick things up for me when she goes to the stores near her.

      I miss the farms and farmers’ markets, there are few here and those that do exist are a distance from me. I’m so sorry to hear about your fruit trees, I do hope mine aren’t a loss like yours were. I don’t know if we have better weather here, you should be south of me so you should have better weather. I wonder though if being closer to the coast and the salt water had an adverse effect on your trees? I don’t know how close you are to the ocean or if it could have any effect.


  4. I was slightly surprised to see you planted peach, apricot and almond trees in the climate you have described around you! Are they common in your area? Here in Switzerland (and I live in fruit-growing country), there are a very few apricot trees, more in the French-speaking south, where the valley is more protected, but still, relatively few. Up here in the north, there is the odd one in a garden that gets plenty of winter protection (or espaliered against a sunny wall) but I don’t think peaches or almonds grow north of the Alps (I may be wrong, but don’t recall hearing of any!) so am curious as to the requirements of these trees… Also, aren’t almond trees great users of water (California)? I have no idea about fruit trees, just let the old plum trees in my garden get on with it (no crop and the neighbour’s trees didn’t crop after an overly hard prune last year, either). Here they grow mainly cherries, apples and plums (as well as soft fruit) as well as the odd quince. I know the US has graded growing regions according to climate; which are you?


    • You bring up a very good point and I’ll have to write a post to go into detail on planting and caring for fruit and nut trees in the different zones. I was happy to learn that with my move I went from zone 5 to zone 6 opening up the options for fruit trees. In zone 5 we could grow peach and apricots if we had wind breaks, such as homes built close together. Zone 6 is relatively safe to grow peaches and other soft fruits in.

      As for the almond tree, yes they do need a lot of water and I took that into consideration in where I planted the tree. My property is hilly so the tree is planted on a level spot just under the steepest section of my property. This area gets an average of 49 inches of snow and 43.25 inches of rainfall annually, much more than the area of California where most almonds are grown. I eat almonds for my omega 3/6 needs and hate knowing my almonds come from California where they shouldn’t be grown because they don’t get enough rain for them.

      I will dig a swoon to catch water at the base of the down slope of the natural hill and a couple of feet before the base of the tree to catch more water. I also have planned a deep irrigation system in which I will plant 2 liter soda bottles (collected from friends) that I will drill holes all over and fill. The holes will allow water to slowly water the area next to the roots and encourage good root development in the weeks we are lacking in rainfall.

      My plan is to get enough variety of edible plants established and then invite tours in to show others just what can be grown here. For that reason I have all kinds of edibles not well-known planned for my property. It’s my hope that things such as almond trees will become a staple in the private yard and replace decorative trees with edible trees to help decentralize the food system we currently know.

      With this in mind, I plan to have arbors of grapes and cold hardy kiwis, and a variety of berries such as mulberries and sea thorn that have fallen out of favor. And while I’ll have my annual vegetables available I want to have mostly perennials which will educate more people that a one time outlay of money will reap rewards for many years to combat the constant criticism that it’s too expensive to grow ones own food.


        • Making wine is something I naturally assume most areas can do as growing up in an area that got harsh winters and had the cold air coming down over a lake we have vineyards and some fantastic wines. It always makes me stop and reconsider my biases when I hear of an area that can’t grow grapes.


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