January 5, 2020
Almost every e-mail I received in the last days of 2019 was a request for money to help make the world a better place. It made me wonder whether this type of request could be turned into encouragement for each of us to invest in our personal connection to the earth and so make the world a better place. We do need our advocates for change, but real change begins at home and spreads out from there. Environmental and social problems are rooted in alienation and disconnection. Once we feel no separation from the environment and our fellow creatures, the healing begins.
As we are Nature’s children, it is only natural that connecting with the earth through gardening is one of the most fulfilling activities if we just let go of expectations. We may read books, watch instructional videos, and consult with the experts, but we learn the most just by doing and being fully aware of our surroundings and the remarkable medium in which we’re working. Gardening is the ultimate in experiential learning.
We may say with confidence that we’ll keep things under control in the garden, but Nature will soon humble us as no one element ever has control. Once we’ve learned that, we wake up to the phenomenal interconnectedness of everything. Arrogance gives way to humility and the joy of being an integral part of Nature.
Growing our own food is not only empowering, but sets us up for continual learning through exchange of information with others, research and experience. If we don’t have gardening experience, initial investment can be as simple as finding a small space in our yard or local community garden, a spading fork and a few seeds. Seeding instructions are usually written on the seed envelopes. From there, Nature and experience will guide us. Failure results when we take the approach that gardening is a struggle against natural processes as if Nature is an entity we need to conquer.
The depth of the winter is a good time to go through seed catalogues and decide what we’ll try growing this year. If we intend to collect seeds or allow for self-seeding, it’s best to source seeds that are non-hybrids. The open pollinated varieties will produce offspring like the parent plant unless another variety of the same species is planted close by. Keep in mind that Nature produces hybrids all the time through cross-pollination.
People create hybrids by intentionally cross-pollinating two varieties in an attempt to bring out the best qualities of both parents in the seeds they produce. But when the seeds of a hybrid are planted, offspring will not be like the parent plant.
Genetically modified varieties are a completely different case in which the genetic material itself has been altered in the lab. That kind of tampering with DNA may have short term production benefits but it begs the question as to whether we’re opening Pandora’s box with negative consequences down the road that we can’t contain.
Here on the farm, we order seeds from companies that don’t carry genetically modified or treated seeds. Treated seeds introduce toxins into the garden. Systemic insecticides like the neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant after germination. This renders every part of the plant toxic to insects. The fact that the whole plant contains toxins should make us consider the wider ramifications for others who eat parts of the plant, those who eat the insects and the demise of beneficial insects on whom we depend for pollination of crops and honey.
An ecosystem can be viewed as a piece of tapestry with so many life forms woven into it. Once components are removed, this amazing tapestry of life begins to unravel. It takes a long time for a natural community to reach a state of balance. It takes very little to destroy it. The more humans avoid tampering with Nature and live within global ecosystems as participants, the more likely we will succeed as a species.
Biodiversity is important in ensuring the stability of natural communities. That principle holds true for the garden as well. Our food gardens are mostly comprised of species that are not native to the area and originate from a wide range of habitats, from semi tropical to alpine. One of the ways I approach this and the unpredictability of growing conditions is to plant a lot of different species and more than one variety of each, some of which are hybrids. There always seems to be one variety that excels over the others given the conditions of that year.
Seeds we order for early spring gardens are those that can be seeded out as soon as the ground can be worked in late March or April. These are species that can withstand frost and will provide fresh produce as early as the beginning of May. For early seeding, we order spinach, lettuce, radishes, kale, collards, oriental greens, beets, chard, carrots, peas, broad beans, parsnips, and onions.
Seeds to have available for planting after the danger of frost is over in the latter half of May include beans, cucumbers, and squash. We give some of these a head start by seeding them into plug trays at the beginning of May for planting into the garden later in the month.
Then there are the semi tropical species like tomatoes, peppers and okra that can’t handle any frost but have a long growing season. These seeds need to be started in early spring, but inside with adequate lighting.
A seed packet usually contains a lot of seeds. Most will keep for a year or more if stored in a cool dry place. Whether or not we fill the garden and take off a good harvest, it is the process of working with Nature that is so important in grounding us. Gardening has the potential to nourish us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
If every child could plant a few seeds this spring, watch the plants grow, observe the creatures in the garden and enjoy the harvest, they would be offered the foundation that could empower them in this age of uncertainty. It has the potential to connect them to ever present Mother Earth and provide hope at a time when many of them are burdened by feelings of hopelessness. This connection at an early age is vital to making the world a better place.