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  • Writer's pictureThe Collected Seed

Fitting a garden into my busy life

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

In last week's article, I Need More Space, I lamented how difficult gardening can be when you live in suburbia, the land of dwindling lot size. There's another thing I have to think critically about when planning my gardens, especially my vegetable garden... my life.

Unfortunately, I wasn't born independently wealthy - darn it Mom and Dad - so like rest of the normal* people, I'm not living a life of leisure. In fact, that's why I live in suburbia, so I can commute to my 8-5 job.

I don't have unlimited time in the garden, some days I can barely get into the garden, but that's hard to remember when the seed catalogs start rolling in and the nursery shelves begin to fill!

In I Need More Space, I introduced you to the term BENS and that the E stands for edible. When you think about all the herbs and vegetables there are to grow, E could include a lot!

But it's important to think about life and how gardening fits into that when choosing plants.


Ahh, Mr. Wonderful... Gardening decisions are hard!


Decisions: Time & Return on Investment

There are two major considerations that I make when narrowing down the list of things I'll grow: Time and Return on Investment.

Time typically boils down to how likely a plant is to fall victim to pests or disease and the amount of time I'll spend monitoring for those pests or trying to fight them once they arrive.

I've already admitted that some days I struggle to find time in the garden. Even during the longest days of the year, I'm leaving for work an hour after the sun comes up. After dinner, I might have two hours of sunshine to do all the household things, including gardening. All that's assuming that I'm not working extra hours and that family activities aren't keeping me away from the backyard.

If a plant needs to be inspected closely for signs of insect damage or eggs on a daily basis, that's really tough to work into my schedule. It also monopolizes my attention on one plant instead of staying tuned-in to the whole garden.

I'm thinking particularly of squash in this case, which is why I haven't grown zucchini or pumpkins in several years. Between Squash Vine Borers and Squash Bugs (two different pests) a gardener could spend all their time fighting and still lose the plant.

I've never grown eggplant because of their likelihood to draw flea beetles. I know eggplants can withstand flea beetle damage but I could envision chasing them from my eggplants to one plant after another trying to get them under control. That wild goose chase didn't sound like a productive use of my gardening time.

I can get a lot done on the weekends, but a week for pests to run rampant... that can often spell doom.

Return on Investment helps me narrow my list further after considering time constraints.

I grow the things I love to eat and that "spark joy" while growing and harvesting. I opt to purchase the rest at the farmers' market. I can't grow everything and thinking about what I'll get out of a plant - either in terms of food or fun - before I put it in the soil helps me get the most from my garden.

I can find tons of cucumbers and corn at the farmers' market for a very reasonable price so I don't grow them. I would rather invest my resources in tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, and other favorites.

I know people who grew up in the Midwest and have memories of spending summers with their grandparents tasseling corn. The joy they get from growing corn and reliving that experience is an immeasurable return on investment so I would encourage them to grow it. I don't get that joy, so my return is less.

That's why there's no one right grow list! The grow list is what's right for the gardener.


The takeaway - be realistic with yourself and set realistic expectations. There are enough challenges in gardening, don't let overzealousness be one of them.

*Any of my friends reading this might dispute whether I can really say I'm quote-unquote, normal. Don't listen to them. They're friends with me which really tells you everything you need to know. ;)

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