Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Own Private Eden

            Okay, so I’ve already gone through the flowers and herbs.  Now it’s on to the vegetables, the crown jewel of home gardening.  I love growing flowers, but there is just something even more glorious about growing food.  I can totally see why God put Adam and Eve in a garden and gave them the job of tending it.  It was a wonderful job to give them.  He could’ve given them the job of cleaning up horse dung all day or building animal houses out of sticks.  But He gave them the job of gardening.  How gracious!  And I think whenever we plant a garden – vegetable, herb, flower, or fruit – we get to experience a little bit of Eden.  We experience God’s goodness to us.  We feel closer to Him.  And we find ourselves worshipping our generous, creative God!  What a great way to spend a few hours on a warm summer day!

            Of course, gardening is not all fun and fancy-free.  It’s a lot of work and sweat and headache sometime.  Because we are not the only ones that love the plants.  There are beetles and caterpillars and squirrels and deer and mildew, and the list just goes on and on.  But the rewards are well worth the effort, especially if you learn to love the journey.  When you love gardening itself – digging in the dirt, nestling little seedlings into their new homes, watching the sun come up from the quiet of your backyard while you water the plants before it gets too hot, enjoying the birds and butterflies that come to visit – then you will be able to accept the hard work and the setbacks.  And you will be forever finding ways to improve your garden next year. 
            Setbacks used to bother me tremendously.  If something didn’t work out the way I planned it, I would want to throw in the towel and give up on the whole thing.  It was all or nothing.  I tend to feel this way especially when I am struggling with feelings of failure and discouragement already.  So if I found myself taking a step backward or facing another problem, I would just want to give up so that I didn’t have to deal with the inevitable failures.  But I am learning to accept the give and take, the two steps forward and one step back. 
            To me, it’s like a giant puzzle.  And every year, I get to exercise my brain a little more while I figure out what new thing to try.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but there is a learning curve, just like in life.  And part of living is just plugging along, facing obstacles and setbacks and disappointments, and moving forward anyway.  And slowly but surely, you will look back and find that there was progress and that you did learn valuable things, even if you couldn’t see it at the time.  So goes life!  And so goes gardening!
            Since this month is about my garden, I’m going to briefly share with you about my vegetables, about the lessons I’ve learned, and about the things I still struggle with.  I’ve tried various vegetables over time, but these are the ones that I decided I have to have every year: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, kale, chard, onions, garlic, melons, green beans, carrots, zucchini, patty pan squash, cucumbers, cabbage, peas, and asparagus.  And rhubarb, which we tend to think of as fruit-ish.
            What we have done is create a large rotational schedule where we rotate crops through different raised beds every year.  For 4 years it grows a vegetable, and in the 5th year it rests and it’s where we put the new compost pile.  (My original plan was to practice the biblical guideline of letting the land rest every 7 years, but I only had enough beds for a five-year rotation.)
            It’s still a work in progress and I learn something new and different every year.  But for now, this is the way we are doing it.  The only exceptions are the rhubarb, asparagus (which I haven’t been able to harvest yet), and tomatoes, which are all in their own permanent beds.  (I’m experimenting with the tomatoes based on some stuff I read saying that you can leave tomatoes in the same spot every year.  It says they will build up a resistance to diseases and grow better if left in the same spot.  We’ll see.  If it looks like it isn’t working, I will simply fit them into the rotation.)
            It doesn’t matter to me if we grow carrots or not because I can buy them so cheaply in the store, and they don’t grow very well in my rocky soil anyway.  But my 7-year-old loves growing them.  He runs out to check them all the time and he picks them way before they are ready because he is so excited.  So if it makes him that happy, then I will give him a little patch to grow them every year. 
            The potatoes don’t grow too well either, but they are so much fun to grow that I keep trying.  It’s like you know that you are growing potatoes, but there is still a little thrill every time you find one.  It’s like, “Oh, look, a potato.”  Like Easter egg hunting for adults.  Everyone should grow a potato plant just for the fun of rooting around in the soil to find one and the excitement of actually finding one.  But since ours don’t do too well in the ground, I think I’m going to try “grow bags” this year.
            I decided to plant the onions in their own block this year instead of planted in between other vegetables.  Because I inevitable knock down the stems as I brush past them, and knocking down their stems stops their growth.  So I need to keep them from other veggies I work around.  And after trying seeds, sets (mini-onions you buy in bags), and transplants (those bundles of grass-like blades), I will only plant transplants.  The seeds don’t have enough time to grow and the sets barely get any bigger than they were when I planted them.
            And I have had very little success so far with the cabbage, zucchini (go figure!), cucumbers, and the melons.  But I hope that the tree branches that we had cut down will give us more sun next year.  (I did grow one wonderful cantaloupe once in a pot right outside the living room window.  The heavenly smell would waft in the window all day.  Unfortunately, this was before I learned to like cantaloupe.  I was hoping that growing it myself would make me like it.  It didn’t, and I ended up giving it away.  And now that I’ve grown to like them, I can’t seem to grow one to save my life.  Oh, well.  Live and learn.)
            Okay, now that I’ve quickly talked about the things that haven’t really worked for me yet, I’ll look at what has in the next few posts.