Sunday
Aug032008

« How Does Your Garden Grow? »

ed holding the attitude adjuster, a weapon of grass destructionMe with my weapon of grass destructionWhen we got to our house in Bay Park, the yard was dingy and mostly grown over with grass and weeds. Most of it still is like that, except for our precious little garden which is now in its second season. Last year we were a bit more careful about what was planted. We picked a range of things to try out but it was all picked out to the last plant or seedling. As we went, we fed the compost bin and kept a pretty good balance and got some nice black loam from the city-supplied black igloo. Only a bit of it went back to the garden. It took a good long time to actually fill it up so I was hesitant to dig any of the decayed material out. It would cook better if it was left to fill and decay, and the summer heat would accelerate that process.

Then I got the gig as veggie monger, and have brought home a lot of veggies not only to eat but I've captured some waste product and fed it to the bin. All in all, there are a great many types of veggies and fruits which have joined the delightful decaying heap.

Usually, the idea is to keep the mix in balance between carbon and nitrogen sources, or the balance between the living and the dead, the newly picked stuff and the dried out stuff like sawdust, cardboard, and so forth. I think Kelli jumped the gun and spread some of it before it was hot enough for long enough to cook out the seeds. The stuff was certainly black, but I guess it would need to have been left to cook for a few months in order to kill the seeds. Anyhow, some of this stuff got turned into the garden soil in a few places—not uniformly because of the existing plants and their roots—and within a few days, we began seeing the um, fruits of our mistake.

That is, if you can call free plants "mistakes." What we got was a whole bunch of tomato plants that started cropping up just where the compost was prematurely mixed into the land. How many varieties of tomatoes have I brought home either to eat or to feed the bin? I have no idea, but there were some hardy seeds in there that took advantage of the extra rich soil! Now our garden has a number of tomato plants scattered about and though we've dug out many that would be far too densely clustered, there are way more tomato plants than the two we ever planted this year! We don't know which of the new ones will turn up what sort of fruit, though one is looking like it is turning up some green heirloom type. Our intended plants are Romas, and little tiny things at that. But I guess we need not worry about our tomato supply this summer. We may need to make new friends in order to give them away!

the beanstalk rose up to roof level and moreThe beanstalkIn a slightly more restrained way, there are some eager volunteer pepper plants which are cropping up in just as random a fashion. A short couple steps away there turned up a whole bunch of corn plants that had to be thinned. The earlier, intended corn was not any good so we composted that and apparently some of that wasn't cooked well either so it was more than happy to take root. Kelli has dubbed the region "chaos corner" as the new volunteers blur the lines of the old rank-and-file layout of the original planting. Tomatoes and peppers are now mingling among rosemary, basil, chard, jalapenos, green onions, strawberries, and the amazing bean plants that have scaled their poles up to the height of the crest in the roof, about 12 feet in the sky! (It takes a ladder to harvest that one.) Also volunteering is a big plant—a vine of some sort—that looks like it either has a round green squash or a watermelon on it. We don't even know what awaits us.

I went and got a truckload of the more usable topsoil compost from the landfill. Apparently that stuff is cooked for at least two months in massive heaps, and is let to break down. This is my third such truckload of black earth; the first was for the initial planting, the second one excited the garden some months later. For only $5 for a full Toyota load full (dumped in with a giant skiploader), you can't go wrong. This time we just spread the stuff out instead of trying to mix it in. The first couple applications of that much compost and other amendments was not easy using only manual labor and hand tools. This time I was hoping to apply it in a blanket fashion so that it might retain water during these hot months, and to also remain a looser soil. The existing soil, despite some amendments, had the tendency to get packed more.

kelli planting and tending the garden in the eveningKelli planting new veggies at Nashville St.I find gardening enhances my spiritual perspective both as spectator and participant. There is life and death; intention and chance; chaos and order, and other life lessons that reveal themselves to the attentive soul. I don't even do as much of this as I would like; work is quite a task that fills my days. I do fancy it an art. It is a joy to come home and see my little plot (about the size of a nicely sized bedroom—about 200 sq ft) defy logic on a daily basis. The bean pole itself was something to watch as it rocketed up the wire grid then the short bamboo then the long bamboo. While I don't end up harvesting or tending the plants as much as Kelli does, I do end up working the compost, and there is a lesson in there too. Even the compost retrains a mind to see that there is less waste out there that can't be put to good use. So it fosters an alertness and a resourcefulness that maybe can't be learned the same way in daily life around computers, plastic, and other stuff that defines our daily environment. The compost is full of worms and bugs of all sorts delighting in my detritus, and who, when spread around the garden, work more diligently than I to make it a great place that will hopefully provide quality nourishment, and the means to share and meet people, or deepen other relationships. Like I found last summer after I was fired from a job that did not appreciate me, the tomatoes spoke in opposition to that. The tomatoes from two plants were there to greet me the next day, full of life and color, and really, full of grace. Grace, I say, because there was only so much I did for them, the rest was mostly miraculous outworkings of the universe at large, all things beyond my control. The tomatoes didn't grow like they did because I earned it in any way. They just are. Tomatoes are only tomatoes. They lead lives with no complications and pretensions such as we know. And on that day a year ago, they instructed me that is was okay to just be. It is rather like what Jesus said about the birds of the sky having no worries. God will take care of things for us just like for the birds. If we let it be so.

But back in "reality" there are perfectly good economic and social reasons to hone one's green thumb. I think though that while people will understand that most readily, given the prices for the food that is provided commercially, the intangible quality of gardening will also infect people's souls too. I think it is a good thing as we realize that a lot of technological promises have been made that can't be kept. Gardening instructs us to live by our sensibilities, in consideration of nature and her rhythms and laws, in community, and with the satisfaction of knowing that even beyond the satisfaction of our own work, there is a dose of grace that touches the whole thing. If it were Forrest Gump speaking, he'd say, "you never know what you're gonna get." And contrary to the materialist view of the world with its various methods for analyzing and measuring trade-offs, that isn't all bad. (I don't know if I have technically broken even on my total investment, nor do I really care. The reward is substantial in ways that can't be measured.) The human drive to conquer nature is what is killing us, both as creatures and as human beings. The whole project of civilization involves being at war with nature, but maybe we should reflect on the ways in which we can be "civilized" and kill ourselves, or be civilized and still enjoy a world worth living in, where life can be witnessed and cherished, even in the null points of death. It might take restraint. Or maybe it will take the breakdown of The Machine. Gardening isn't anti-science or anti-technology. Rather it depends on observation and the use of various means to work toward a positive end—hopefully one that allows people dignity beyond basic survival. But what we have now is an over-reach of science-backed technology, and it is one that is killing us in so many ways we don't even realize it.

For now, I await the randomness of whatever the universe sees fit to provide in my little patch of dirt in the back yard. And, I consider myself lucky to have the dirt at all.

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