>> Sunday, June 29, 2008
I read Doug’s post about his observation on how the number of new home gardeners increases during economic downturns only to decrease when times get better. This topic is of special interest to me since I have grown veggies off and on for over twenty years now. There were times when I simply could not garden because of having to travel so much due to my job. When I could settle long enough and had enough room to actually start a garden I had to basically start from scratch each time. And I can tell you from this experience that saving money can never be expected due to the initial outlay of soil amendments, fertilizer, garden tools, plant trellis material, etc. At least not during the first year.
When economic times get tough, it is reasonable for someone to think that growing their own food would save them money. Especially when they see those anemic pale red blobs that pass for ‘fresh’ tomatoes in the produce aisle for $2.59 a pound and up and then see a tomato plant selling for the same price.
Most new home gardeners that I have talked with also reason that by growing their own they will be putting healthier food on their table. This is also a reasonable expectation. However, what they fail to account for is the time, effort and cost required to produce the healthy food they desire while resisting the urge to use chemicals when they are faced with the prospect of seeing their hard earned efforts get eaten by voracious insect pests or diseases.
Any seasoned gardener knows that a few pests are not going to make a huge difference in the output of a vegetable plant. And thanks to the widespread access to the internet and garden websites and garden blogs, a newbie is now less likely to run screaming to the nearest chemically-laden pesticide sprayer determined to eradicate every insect they see. For those of you who have actually done some home work before starting your first garden and therefore know better than to think that every insect is a menace, I salute you.
You need to know that you will not always get the perfectly shaped and beautifully colored produce of your expectations. And sometimes your crop may fail miserably, producing mediocre yields or bland tasting produce. Garden books cannot adequately cover every aspect of gardening to turn everyone into an expert, not over the course of one year or ten years. Only experience will teach you the subtleties of gardening that make the effort worthwhile.
Gardening is a frame of mind, a lifestyle if you will that involves much more than just sticking a plant in the ground and expecting it to give you the bountiful harvest of your dreams. You will become a steward of your chosen plot of earth, a caretaker with the potential to encourage new life that will provide food not just for you and your family but for all of the surrounding wildlife, including the pest insects. The responsibility is great. If you can take it to heart and learn that every animal, reptile, bird and insect, beneficial as well as pest, plays a part in the grand scheme that we call nature, then you will soon feel what it is to be a gardener, a provider of life.
Gardening is a learning experience that teaches so much more than how to grow food or flowers and it takes time to get reasonably good at it. It is those new gardeners who don’t learn these lessons who will most likely give it up after just one season, or sooner.
Being a gardener, raising food for personal consumption, is a link to our primal nature as hunter-gatherer. Over the millennia, we have repressed our connection to our evolution on earth. Gardening allows us to re-connect to our past. It slows us down and allows us to look at not what earth can provide for us but what we can do to support earth. Once we are fully in tune with this mindset and feel the connection we will then see our place in nature not simply as user but as caretaker.
I still get chills when I stop to examine the responsibility that I have taken on. Gardening is the most soul-cleansing activity I have ever undertaken.
Society has become disassociated from nature leading to many health problems, both physically and mentally. In re-connecting with nature we take on the many positive effects of our involvement, not the least of which comes from eating fresh food, but also from greater concentration, creativity and developing a bond that can lead to a greater appreciation for an environmental stewardship.
We have heard how owning a pet can decrease high blood pressure and improve recovery after heart attacks. I believe gardening offers these same health benefits.
I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
And to have my senses put in tune once more.
- John Burroughs
With today’s proliferation of electronics, TV, computers, cell phones, iPods, we have become more in tune to these devices and out of tune with nature. Through these devices we have access to mountains of data but in accessing it we are missing out on other data. Data collected through smelling fragrant flowers, hearing buzzing bees and singing birds and feeling the texture of soil through our fingers and the texture of plants as we prune and care for them.
High food prices could actually be viewed as a saving grace just by driving more people into their own backyards to grow their own food and slowing them down in order to re-connect with nature.
People start out with the best of intentions and, as Doug so rightly pointed out, some soon realize that home gardening is more work than they thought. But if you are willing to work at it and understand that the rewards are immeasurable, then please join in. There is plenty of room out here in nature and we can always use more stewards.
So, to all newcomers, I look forward to the opportunity to view your progress on your very own blog. Drop me a line so I know who you are and where you garden. Just knowing there are others out there who take seriously the responsibility of maintaining the diversity that makes nature so rewarding and at the same time providing wildlife a respite from the ravages of our society as they are constantly pushed out of their environment says so much about the caring nature of being a gardener: provider of life. Welcome.