There are so many things I love about gardening. Looking through seed catalogues with my kiddos in the depths of winter, picking and dreaming of what we will grow in the summer. The happy day when everyone in the family pitches in to get all the promising seeds into the newly tilled ground. Watching with joy as we see the seedlings emerge. Cheap, organic, zero carbon footprint food that fills our plates all summer and our freezer, cold room and jars for the winter. The flavour that can't be beat of fresh from the garden food. Seeing my kids pick and eat all sorts of things they wouldn't if they came from the grocery store. Having a little bit of self-sufficiency and passing on those skills to my kids. Discovering wild critters who have made homes in and among our plants. Yes gardening can be very, very good and often zen. Peaceful. Life-affirming. Joyful.
My family has now been gardening long enough now to have a history. For many years we had a plot at my communities wonderful community garden. Everything grew beautifully (except that one year the tomatoes got late blight). The dirt was some of the best in our area, few weeds, no need to water and tons of harvest. We got a large percentage of our yearly vegetables from our plot. Enough carrots, bean, tomatoes, squash and potatoes to last us almost until the next summer. Many more things to eat fresh all summer. And we eat a lot of veggies.
Two years ago we moved out to the county. There wasn't a big garden at our property, but I had dreams of one. There was an existing raspberry patch, which is so bountiful this year and a few neglected flower beds with overgrown perennials, which I am in the process of replanting with herbs and colourful flowers. A bed beside the garage that I ripped overgrown shrubs from now holds many tomato plants. The first summer (the one we moved during) we kept our community garden until we could put in a veggie plot at our new to us house.
When last summer arrived we scraped the turf off a section of land and had garden mix hauled in. Everything was planted and coming up beautifully, until we received record rain fall for the entire summer and the garden mix turned out to be almost all clay. My garden was one big weedy mud pit all summer, from which we harvested a half an ice cream bucket of potatoes and the same of carrots because most of the veggie plants drowned. The only saving grace was the separate tomato patch which kept us in canned tomatoes, sauce and salsa all year.
(My sister said with wisdom I believe, when I was telling her about my garden last week, that you often get more veggies from a small garden area than from a big one. It is easier to make sure your dirt is nutrient dense, weeds are picked and pests are dealt with. Resulting in bigger yields. Yes I agree with her. Learning the hard way.)
I felt frustrated and sad that a whole gardening season was for nothing. I had really hoped for my biggest harvest ever, and instead had my smallest. But we are not moving anytime soon, and I am determined to make this garden grow, so this spring we hauled in peat moss, compost and sand. My husband tilled it in and we planted in the improved soil. Some seeds came up, some didn't (too old I am thinking). And all year there has been my never-ending forest of weeds. If you can believe it my husband had roto-tilled between the rows and I had weeded just two weeks before the picture.
Thankfully we have had some successes. Our first asparagus crop. Bowls of fresh strawberries for the past week. Raspberries now, as many as we can eat and enough for jam and smoothies all winter. Spinach and lettuce (more than we can keep up with) starting in June. Tomatoes are looking great. And some veggies are starting to thrive amidst the weeds. I am now the Ann Voskamp of gardening, counting each gift tirelessly.
Gardening this year has also been really hard work. Weeding is my least zenish aspect of gardening and I have been doing a lot of it. Way more than I would ever care to do. But, I am stubborn enough that I won't give up, and I tackled the rest of the weeds today with my husband, kids running around in between the rows, helping intermittently. After many, many hours this week my garden is mostly weed free for now.
Weeding is good for one thing. It gives me time to think. Time to pray. Time to rejoice. (Babies! Ocean! My family! My friends!) Time to lament. (Mosquitoes! Broken relationships! Not figuring out God!) Time to reflect on why I am persevering with this whole gardening thing instead of just hitting up my local grocery store. Time to connect with my kids and husband. More time to pray. Gardening as spiritual discipline.
Truth is it feels a bit sacrificial, in my small, spoiled, North American way to bend low, cake my fingernails with mud, and grow something my family can eat. Do something that isn't fun for me. Until I get these weeds under control and the dirt rich and fertile, the time trade off is more than it would cost to buy at the store, or even the farmer's market, and I see value in that. I like doing something for much less than I would make at my job because it is more on par with how much others in the world make.
I like how the struggle to get things to grow, makes me think of others around the world who grow things because they have to in order for people they love not to die, not because it is a hobby, or they want organic. I like how this motivates me to pray for them and their kids while my hands are stinging from the nettle I just pulled. How the minor stinging and the mud and the sore back remind me how extremely easy my life is in comparison to so many others. How it reminds me of the physical sacrifice, the sacrifice of time, that others make for all those cheap, abundant things to be available at the store.
I like how my kids see me doing something hard, help do something physical. I hope they are learning, that I am learning, that life and relationships won't always be easy and hard work is necessary, hard work is good. That it can take hard work to find beauty. That it will take hard work to change the world. That it will take hard work to change ourselves. That there are ups and downs to almost everything in life and that is normal. As I pull each weed I pray for them, I pray for me, I pray for everyone, as I pull and toss. Don't give up hope. Pull, toss. Don't give up hope. Pull, toss. Don't give up hope. This growing can be hard. It can be good and holy and beautiful too.