Growing food is a crapshoot

Biggie B. and our new low tunnel.

This will be the third year that G. and I have had a garden. We started after both of us read Michael Pollan‘s “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” When G. finished the book, he showed up at my apartment and said, “What should we plant in our garden?”

The first year, it was 25-by-50 feet. This year, it will be 37-by-50 feet with two additional patches, one for sweet potatoes and one for melons, pumpkins and squash.

G. also built me a low tunnel. If you are like my mom, you’re now asking, “What is a low tunnel?”

Here’s the deal: There are greenhouses, which are fairly permanent structures and often made of glass. Then, there are hoop houses, which act like greenhouses, but the sides are made of plastic. When it gets warm, the sides can be rolled up to allow more air to pass through so the plants don’t bake. If you live in an area with farms, you’ve probably seen them. One of my friends calls them “those half-dome things.”

And then there are low tunnels, which are kind of like tiny hoop houses.

The low tunnel with its plastic cover.

G. took a class about a month ago on growing with low tunnels, and then he came home and got to work. Sometimes, it’s really nice to be dating an engineer. I have the nicest low tunnel ever. Before G. and I met, he had a business doing canvas work for boats, so the plastic on my low tunnel is sewn to fit snuggly like the cover on a couch.

The metal hoops are removable, so you can plant it just like a raised bed. Then the plastic rolls over the top and snaps down. The sides have zippers so you can just unzip them a little bit if you need just a small amount of air to flow through.

I planted lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach in the tunnel last week. Then this morning, we woke up and it was snowing! The seeds haven’t germinated yet as far as we can tell, so I think they’ll be alright once it warms up again, but the storm was quite a surprise. I’m also worried about our garlic and the root vegetables we planted last week. What a mess.

At work, we joke about how every time you interview a farmer, he or she is worried about the weather. It’s too wet, or it’s too dry. They need sun or a storm or something, always something.

It’s true though. We planted, and I was hoping for a little rain for the beets, carrots and onions. Instead, we got snow. Now, I’m hoping it will warm up and dry out fast. It’s humbling, this gardening. The plants can be doing well and then a little bit of cold or a lack of rain and, suddenly, they are not. It’s a constant reminder of how little control we have over the elements and how precarious our existence is. I think that’s partly why I love it. I never feel as alive as when I am watching my plants grow.


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