Backyard crop failures

by Terry Oliver on November 1, 2010

Older people love to garden. It’s a stereotype reinforced by every picture of old men working in their veggie plots and elderly ladies pottering amongst their flower beds. Perhaps it’s a leisure activity suited best to retired people with plenty of free time to at last indulge their green thumbs or maybe it’s a long memory of parents’ Victory gardens during the last war when growing food was everyone’s over-riding concern. A crop failure during the war spelled hunger and deprivation to one’s family when shop shelves stood empty or ration coupons were used up.

We, too have been plagued with some gardening disasters this year. A huge crop of fava beans got some black rust type disease which wiped them out. One night I forgot to close the fenced veggie garden and the deer got in and demolished all the strawberry plants overnight. And finally my burgeoning crop of heritage tomatoes was struck by tomato blight and the entire crop rotted on the vines.

Hard to be philosophical at times like that. But it made me think how vulnerable we are to crop failure at any time. In our case, there were plenty of other local suppliers here in our community to buy produce from but as peak oil bites deeper and we don’t have the abundance so easily available as at present, crop failure will be the stuff of nightmares. It’s happening already in many areas of North America, not just in 3rd world countries.

Our reliance on our gardens will become less of a hobby and more of a life support system.

What it also made me realise is that gardening skills and experience take time to acquire and time is running out. We need to think Victory gardens, like they did in World War 2 and gather as much knowledge as we can to prevent future crop failures. There is much for us to learn and pass on to our kids and grandkids.

In my small community this past week, a low-cost ‘gardening for beginners’ course was so oversubscribed they had to double the number of classes. And guess who was filling most of the seats? That’s right, all us over sixty 3rd agers. As usual, we are today’s pioneers, breaking trail for our kids and grandkids into the challenging world of oil and energy shortages, local resilience and self-sufficiency.

And keeping fit enough to do all this becomes ever more important. So good luck with your yoga classes and riding those bike trails. I think it’s time to get back to my Tai Chi class again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry Oliver March 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

Marsha Goldberg
to me

show details 11/7/10

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I would like to thank you for this very candid article. More and more of us are responding to this very need to grow more food and to be prepared. The membership of Transition Salt Spring can attest to that. I have been promoting a keep it simple mandate for 15 years on our seed farm at Eagleridge Greenhouse Gardens. Now, I see the need for our community to support the large scale growing that is possible here.We do have the best climate, in our part of the world to produce tons of food, all we need now is to channel our best resource, our spirit to pursue this goal.I envision Friendship Gardens, based on the excellent model of The Copper Kettle Community Garden, all over our island.The best way to learn how to grow food is by doing it ! Volunteer with a local grower, alot of us are more than willing to share our knowledge, and I have helped lots of folks to get started.The Transition group, Lets Grow more Food is another place that is promoting this and looking for places to
expand growing spaces for regular folks who might not have the land to do so. Feel free to contact me directly if you want to get involved at

Terry Oliver March 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

Hi Marsha,
Working as a volunteer with experienced growers is a good way to avoid some of the mistakes I made with my own attempts.
Thanks for the tips.

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