Bear column: How does your garden grow?
When it comes to performing most domestic chores, I’ve always had more enthusiasm than skill. I’m a true Taurus and quite literally like the proverbial bull in the china shop, as evidenced by all the chipped plates and mugs in our kitchen cabinets — the casualties of many unfortunate dishwashing incidents.
This spring’s novel coronavirus restrictions and the recent warm weather have many of us spending more time working outdoors in our gardens and yards. I love gardens, but my relationship with them has always been more about conquest than the delicate art of cultivation. I can slash and thrash like a medieval horde of marauders, but nurturing a living organism to fruition is a skill I’ve yet to master.
So I’m sure it was with much trepidation that my wife and roommates watched me hacking at the bushes in our backyard last week. I assailed them with pruning shears like the Kraken on Argos, imposing my will in what has since become known in these parts as, “The Battle of the Shrubbery.”
Plants are forgiving, though. So I’m confident that no matter how badly I treated them, they’ll eventually grow back to a reasonable facsimile of their previous proportions. As Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park said, “Life breaks free.”
Much excitement surrounded the installation of three new raised vegetable garden beds at our house this week. With them comes the hope of a bountiful harvest in the fall and the promise of calloused hands and aching backs throughout the summer.
Some of us are looking at these gardens and seeing all the work that needs to be done: the watering, hoeing and sowing. Others are looking at these gardens and seeing life springing forward: new buds and blossoms, leaves and shoots.
I look at these gardens and dream about the amazing salsa I’ll be able to make later this summer.
But my illusions of us saving money on produce by growing our own changed dramatically after I saw the price of soil.
I’m pretty sure that Earth has an unlimited amount of dirt, so the exorbitant cost of it seems to defy the law of supply and demand. But soil, I’m told, is not dirt, and what I’ve learned is that creating the right soil for growing requires some combination of horticulture, phenology and shamanism.
If I’d known we’d need a team of scientists and spiritual advisers to grow dill weed, I might have balked at the idea.
We could have saved money on starts if we’d germinated our own seeds, but it’s much too late in the season for that now, so we’re forced to pay the high cost for starts at local garden centers, like they’re some sort of black market contraband.
I always thought I would be good at gardening as both of my parents grew up on Midwestern farms, my grandmothers kept big vegetable gardens, and my mom always grew the most beautiful flowers. But all of that and 99 cents still won’t buy me anything at the dollar store.
It’s a good thing my wife Nina has two green thumbs. I’ve seen her resurrect houseplants that Mother Nature herself seemed to have given up on.
I have to admit that she is the brains of our operation while I’m just the grunt. So while I’m in the hot sun hammering, shoveling, sifting, and doing untold damage to my back, etc., she’s laying in the shade sipping tea while making detailed notes.
She has created a master plan for our garden that includes charts and graphs regarding what to plant, when and where, what type of fertilizer to use, and the placement of cool weather vegetables to warm-weather vegetables, (apparently they don’t get along).
It wouldn’t surprise me if she had researched the genealogy of our vegetables on botany.com, noting that our Brussels sprouts are descended from a long line of Brussels sprouts grown in the gardens of European nobility.
We’re looking at our little garden experiment as the precursor to a more independent way of life. We like being self-sufficient and have talked for many years about the possibility of growing most of our own food.
The pandemic has made it abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that our world is changing, and if we humans are to survive we’re going to have to change along with it, probably sooner than later.
Growing our own food locally seems like a more sustainable practice than importing it over long distances. It would also allow us to control the quality of our food, rather than depending on the corporate farming model.
Now if I can just come up with an award-winning recipe for salsa.
Jeff Bear is a reporter and copy editor for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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