When circumstances permit, we like to garden and grow our own vegetables. This has not often been possible, but when it is, we try to give it our best shot. Actually, my spouse Denise is the gardening genius. I just do what I can to help out and generally try to stay out of her way.
So now that we actually have a house of our own, and a yard without a landlord telling us what we can or can’t plant, we’ve gone a little, shall we say, nuts. We are both interested in raising our level of self-sufficiency, especially after all the economic downturns that have been kicking our backsides for far too long, and because another one is going to happen sooner or later. And it’s good to have fresh vegetables so easy to hand. Besides, working in ground has something primal, fundamentally satisfying about it.
Last year I attempted to take an old car port frame and fashion a greenhouse out of it, which the winter winds casually dismantled. No matter; the two large raised beds inside survived just fine, and This Spring I built several more. As of this writing we have about 134 square feet of raised beds, and I hope to finish building another 48 square feet before the end of July, bringing the total to about 172. That does not include stuff planted in containers, or in more conventional beds alongside the north fence. Best of all, every square foot I cover with raised bed and intervening pathways is one less square foot of lawn I have to mow. I don’t like mowing the lawn. In fact, I kind of dislike the whole lawn thing generally.
So far, have various colors and flavors of tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers (bell and spicy), the venerable strawberry patch that came with the place and has exploded gloriously, eggplant, dill, lemon thyme, lemon balm, catnip (naturally), and about a dozen or so other things that I can’t think of right now.
It is perhaps no coincidence that today’s mail brought a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since a dear friend of mine (who has an uncanny knack for suggesting exactly what I need to read at any given moment. Must be an English teacher thing.) suggested it: Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Crawford is the owner of a motorcycle repair and restoration shop with a Ph.D. in political science, and who gave up a lucrative career in a DC think tank to get back in touch (pun totally intended) with the phenomenon of working with one’s hands and the deep satisfaction that comes with manual skilled labor. He is also an excellent writer. I’m only a few dozen pages in, but what I’ve seen so far looks very promising. He seeks to rehabilitate, to re-enoble skilled labor, and I think he will succeed. More on this later, stay tuned.
Meanwhile, a few friends have asked us questions along the lines of, “how are you going to eat all that food?”, to which I sometimes quip, “You’re going to help us.” And so it is; we purposely are planning to raise more than we can eat in order to have some to share. I do think that things are going to get worse economically; if we can help out some people this way, we are honored to do so. My recent meditations/rants/jeremiads on poverty and unemployment were written with the threat of renewed recession in mind.
The garden, as a concept, is the essence of giving; one exchanges labor for the reward of food, flavors, and flora emerging from the earth, without judgement, without asking who deserves it or not. it’s a good basis for living. The world’s spiritual literature is filled with such observations regardless of sect or tradition. It is a way to create pools of repose and calm in the larger, swifter currents of events that sometimes threaten to overwhelm us all. It is the ultimate act of local politics, the ultimate muddy finger in the eye of a political philosophy that assumes that every social problem can be solved if you simply apply the right punishment.
During World War II, citizens on the home front were encouraged to grow extra food in “Victory Gardens.” The experiment succeeded wildly; by the end of the war, fully half of all the produce grown in the United States came from victory gardens. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. I also strongly suspect that those gardens offered a great deal of psychic and spiritual strength to those with loved ones “over there.” So, if you can, plant something. If it isn’t practical, support your local farmers and farmers’ markets. We can grow our way out of much of what’s coming.