Setting Realistic Goals for Your Garden

bamboo, Huntsville Botanical Garden, twine

I’m a big believer in goals.  If you don’t know where you want to go, you probably won’t get there.  While unstructured exploration can be educational, if you want to begin or increase the amount of food you grow, you need to set some goalposts: ones you can realistically reach but still challenge you.

Let’s get one unrealistic goal out of the way: you are almost certainly not going to grow ALL your own food.  It is often said that our grandmothers and great grandmothers did it, but that’s untrue.  White flour or corn meal and sugar purchased at the general store formed a major part of most rural diets, from biscuits to cornbread to jelly.  Some households managed to grow, hunt and forage enough calories, which they could then barter for other supplies, but these households generally had at least one knowledgeable adult working full time at that job, a large tract of land plus available common space, often 2 or 3 adults and a selection of children plus a community to help with the big projects.  The earliest western frontier households?  Many of them died, and few were truly isolated.  Bartering money earned at other tasks for food is not a failure.  Someone with a full time job and a moderate sized backyard is just not going to be able to imitate a mature homestead with multiple generations of improvements and knowledge.

The specific goals you set will depend on your current situation, but good goals are always measurable.  A novice gardener might choose “I will only eat zucchini I grow myself from May to August 2014,” and then work very hard at zucchini.  Given the way it grows for most people, you are at greater risk of becoming sick of it, but the mere act of reaching goals is encouraging.  A veteran gardener and canner might choose, “I will only eat the tomatoes I grow and preserve this year,” and then count up the number of tomato paste and related products that come home from the grocery store and try to figure out how many tomato plants they are going to need.

I would encourage anyone, except possibly the newest of beginners, to set multiple goals.  Write them down.  Put them somewhere you will see them at least once a day — perhaps on the fridge door or on your computer screen or smartphone.  This will keep you focused on what you are trying to achieve and the progress (or lack thereof) you have made.  Reaching goals is confidence boosting, but failing is also educational and should be viewed as such.  Figure out why you failed and how to work around that issue next season.

By challenging yourself to get specific results, you’ll improve your ability to plan and execute your food growing desires.