Growing On Up: 5 Lessons on Writing Learned in the Garden

I started a garden this year.

It was sort of a last minute thing, and I really didn’t prepare like I should have, but despite it all, it’s been fun to see my plants grow… a few taller than TMOTH and myself (and TMOTH is 6’4″/1.93 meters tall!!)

My garden at the beginning of  the year

My previous gardening experiences have left much to be desired. I grew up with a large garden in our backyard, where my mom would (sometimes) plant a ton of tomatoes, and occasionally other things like corn, peppers, and melons. But, since I married TMOTH, I’ve mostly had a black thumb. I can’t start seeds to save me, and many plants I’ve bought at the store die.

This year, I was actually successful (at least up to now!) Eight tomato plants, five sweet pepper plants, and one lonely chili pepper plant. Oh, and an ever-expanding patch of oregano.

Of course, my water bill has been going up thanks to the huge drought Kansas is in… *sigh*

TMOTH was adamant–he wasn’t going to tend to my garden for me. I have a tendency to not go outside at ALL when it gets hot. So, having a small garden seemed reasonable.

And, I’m kind of glad I started small.

So far as I write this, my city has had 20 days in excess of 100° Fahrenheit. We’ve had less than 4″ of rain since June 1, 2012. Normally, we’d have had about three times that by now. I’ve had to be out pretty much every day to water, occasionally twice, or my plants start wilting.

Homegrown, home-canned tomato sauce

Because of the extreme heat, I’ve forgone any trips of any lengths of time. My plants would be dead or close to it, I fear, if left for four days (and yes, I know I should get a water timer, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

Of course, all this has led to some fruitful results. I’ve picked a few peppers so far, but even more tomatoes. And, I’m flexing my canning muscles. So far, I’ve canned my own tomato sauce, and am hoping to soon have enough tomatoes again I can do my own salsa, too.

In the midst of it all, I’ve learned quite a few lessons, some that I can translate into writing lessons.

  1. Plan Ahead — My decision to do a garden was made hastily. If I’d started working on it earlier, I could have had much more space cleared, and hence, more plants/more produce. As a writing lesson, this is translated to outlining. I’m not a firm believer in outlining, but it’s growing on me. Especially given this experience.
  2. Give Me Space — You can probably see that my first picture, I had things planted kind of close. I was ill prepared for how well my plants would grow, since my previous attempts at growing tomatoes and the like had produced straggly-looking plants. Writing lesson: don’t jump right into editing. Let your writing sit for a while.
  3. A Mariana’s Peace Tomato from my garden — not a Roma!
  4. Do Your Research… or Not — I bought 8 tomato plants from a local grower. I’d been adamant–I wanted Roma Tomatoes, the kind best suited for canning sauce. The grower told me she’d give me some Roma’s, but she also had a different kind of Roma called a Mariana’s Peace. So, I bought four of each. Well, the Roma’s grew like I knew they should, but when the Mariana’s Peace started to get big, I knew I’d been sold a bill of goods. These weren’t Roma’s, but beefsteaks! After I’d harvested quite a few of the tomatoes, I researched them–something I should have done right off the bat. However, I was pleased to learn they’re an heirloom variety, have a lot of meat to them, great flavor, and seem to have mixed well with the Roma’s. Writing lesson: I’m not huge on research, never really have been. Being a pantser, I rely on intuitive or stored knowledge, occasionally a blog by Lee Lofland, Wikipedia searches, or my small writer’s reference library in my bedroom/office. Really have to stop doing that. I’ve had to rewrite more scenes because I later learn of major inaccuracies. Which is why I’m contemplating asking a couple of my legislator friends to allowing me to shadow them come January–despite the fact I’ve been a legislative intern twice–since I’ve got two new ideas for novels that would involve a legislative setting. I need to be a bit more disciplined about research.
  5. Deal With Your Circumstances — I had no idea I was going to deal with a drought like we’d had. Even though I follow Gary Lezak who came up with the LRC (Lezak’s Recurring Cycle) which is a weather theory I believe has a great deal of scientific merit, I didn’t see us having a drought as extreme as we’ve had. I figured it’d be hot–we had a mild winter, more rain than snow, and I think I was wearing shorts as early as February. So I was prepared for the heat. But, I’ve had to be out every day, usually in temps nearing 100°, and that’s not something I’m used to. I actually hate the heat. But because I saw my little tomatoes growing, and had visions of maybe supplementing our food sources in a significant manner, I was out there, watering, tending, trimming, and harvesting, even if I was tired, hot, sweaty, or sick. Writing Lesson: Your circumstances are your circumstances. Deal with them as best as you can. If your schedule is unpredictable, fit in 10 minutes of writing between appointments.
  6. My tomatoes quickly became overgrown.
  7. Learn From Your Mistakes —  I desperately needed to have about twice as much space for my tomatoes as I ended up having. I can access them only from the perimeter, otherwise, I have to crane my neck and sometimes reach in blind to find my ripe red fruit. Next year will be different. Come fall, probably in October, I plan to Round-Up a significant part of the yard (probably much to our landlord’s chagrin!) and add compost to all our areas that I’m clearing after a couple of weeks of killing off the weeds and crabgrass. I hope to have twice as many tomato plants next year, maybe even three times as many, spread over at least four times the amount of space. Writing Lesson: As I detailed in last week’s post, I made the hard choice to give up on my project “Homebody”. It was a tough decision, but one that needed to happen. While I’d hesitate to call “Homebody” a mistake, I definitely learned from it. Maybe I’ll detail some of the lessons learned in a future blog post.

Question for you: What lessons have you learned about writing from your outside activities?

Until next time,

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