Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lessons My Garden is Teaching Me

Things in the garden are slowing down a bit and the kids are in school again, so I have time to be philosophical. I planted this garden this year to give me something to do over the summer months so that I wouldn't dwell on the fact that I didn't have a permanent job. There was a possibility that growing our own food might offset our grocery bills a little, but that wasn't a big motivation for me. It would just be a nice bonus. What I didn't expect were all the other things I'd learn from having my own garden.

I live in a stereotypical suburban neighborhood which is probably like hundreds of identical neighborhoods all over the country. We have winding roads with names that are "Peaceful" or "Moonlight" or are named after nature like "Red Maple". Cul-de-sacs with basketball goals and kids riding bikes sit at every turn. Cookie cutter houses sit on row-by-row of 1/4 acre lots, all separated by the obligatory privacy fence which cuts us off from our neighbors and fosters the delusion that we are more spread out than we really are. Our yards are planted with grass and an ornamental tree or two with Walmart shrubs and annuals planted next to the front door. We sterilize the lawn with chemicals to kill all of the "weeds" and insects. The key is that *we* control what lives and dies on our little rectangle of land.

And we all do it. Most of us never give a thought to it. It's just what you do.

But what if we don't? What if we decide not to use chemicals and to let the dandelions and clover grow? What if we decide to attract life to our land rather than keeping it away? We can put up bird houses, bird feeders, bird baths. We can plant other plants that aren't there to impress the neighbors.

In my suburban backyard, near the privacy fences my neighbors had erected, I planted a garden. Not a manicured flower garden. But a large, fenced-in vegetable garden. We also planted berries that (from what I am told) will eventually spread out of control.

We didn't sterilize our land this year...we invited life. Now with that invitation is the risk of (gasp) bugs and weeds. But my garden has taught me to look at that differently.

In my pre-garden days, I thought of bugs as pests. Period. And weeds made the lawn look uncared for. I no longer feel that way. Bugs are not one size fits all. There is a huge variety of life out there that we wipe out when we sterilize our lawns. But when we allow life to exist in its normal state, we realize the delicate balance that was created by Mother Nature, Creation, God (whatever you call it). If we stop trying to control everything and just let it be, everything can manage very well on its own, thank you very much. Yes, there are bad bugs out there that can eat your food crops. But there are also good bugs out there that will eat your bad bugs. And yes, clover and dandelions make your lawn spotty. But they also attract bees which pollinate your other plants. Even snakes can be scary, but they eat nasty yard pests like mice and voles. It is all in the balance. Human beings like to upset that balance. We need to work more at respecting and preserving it.

My garden has also taught me to resist perfection. See that picture at the top of my post? In my old way of thinking, I would look at that photo and see all that is wrong with it. My spaghetti squash up front looks pathetic, my walkways are getting covered with weeds, the pumpkin patch is yellowing and wilting, and I've even left some bricks out when I was finished using them. I was good at beating myself up for not making things perfect. But now when I look at this photo I see it differently. I see the open spot up front where my (now dead) zucchini once stood. I have 22 cups of shredded zucchini in my freezer. I see the sprawling sweet potato plant that keeps growing and (I'm assuming) producing sweet potatoes underground. I see the spaghetti squash that has survived despite the attack the plants have undergone. So far I have frozen the flesh of 6 spaghetti squash that I managed to salvage from the damaged plants. And I think that two of those that remain may be salvageable. My pumpkin patch has several healthy looking pumpkins that are turning orange. Wilting vines aren't stopping them. My huge tomato plants are still producing and I'm picking a huge amount each and every day. And right up front under that lattice are the lettuce seeds I've just planted and will be germinating soon for my fall crop.

This garden, my first real garden, has seen a lot of success. It isn't perfect, but then what is? It has been a blessing in more ways than anyone can see.

Local weather today:
High temp: 84 F
Low temp: 64 F
Partly cloudy

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