Thursday, June 13, 2019

Bonus Plants

My garden this year is different, as it is every year.

Strawberries and potatoes, green beans and a pepper and tomatoes, all of which I've planted before.  This year, kale and carrots were added to the mix, filling up the two new raised beds that sit outside my kitchen window.  That, I expected.

Most of the soil that fills those two raised beds came from the compost pile I started in the fall two years ago.  That dirt was once the leaves on the trees in my back yard, and the grass that grows in the front.  It also contains the remains of a hundred home-made meals.  Eggshells and hunks of red pepper, the tops of zucchini and the bottoms of broccoli.  Every bit of plant matter left over from our fridge, those purchased vegetables and fruits that we kind of, um, forgot were in there. That, and shredded bills, munched on by worms and bacteria, all of it now a rich organic mass of new earth, wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow full of earth.

It's good stuff, and the carrots and kale have come along nicely.

But there's more.  From the soil in which the carrots began to sprout, other plants arose.  Some were weeds, the inevitable grasses that try to shoulder their way into a crop.  But others weren't.  A little sproutling, obviously the beginnings of a tomato plant.  Another batch of sprouts, which from their leaves and vigor were clearly squash.  Perhaps zucchini.  Perhaps spaghetti squash. I'm not quite able to tell the difference.   Most likely spaghetti squash, as that's what I attempted to grow two years ago.  

They sprang up, and I had to ask myself...what do to with them?

On the one hand, that was My Carrot Patch.  My plan was for Carrots.  Carrots were integrated into the vision and the mission for that particular location in the garden.  When I visualized that raised bed, my metric for success was a mass of delicately-leafed carrot tops.  Not Tomatoes.  Not Squash.  Those were not part of the plan.  

I could, I suppose, have uprooted all of them.  I did take out some of the squash, which rose everywhere all at once.  But the bonus tomato I staked and watered.  The remaining squash I guided to a trellis day by day, its riotous cthulhu-squidward tendrils redirected gently away from the carrots.

Because growth...good growth, life-giving growth...isn't often the thing we expect or plan for.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Season of Growth

It's summer now, and the garden is in full swing.  Every season, my garden is different.

Some years, there are strawberries, so many that I run out of jam jars to fill with them.  Other years, the squirrels and chipmunks and voles have gotten to 'em first. 

Some years, the green beans spring like a riot from the earth, and I'm sharing bags of beans with family and neighbors and random passers-by.  And other years, the same beans seem a little tired, loafing out of the identically enriched soil, yielding a couple of fresh picked dinner side dishes but little more.

It's part of the delight of a garden that it is every year new and unanticipated.  That newness comes because it is...assuming we're not "gardening" on an industrial organic thing, a living thing, one that we can encourage and nurture but that isn't utterly under our control.

And it also comes because we, as we water and weed and plant and weed some more, can always try new things in our soil.  Every plant is different, with different life cycles and needs. For me, this season, there were carrots, which I'd never tried before, but which have worked wonderfully in the loose, rich soil from my compost pile.  I'd not realized, before I researched carrots on the Virginia Tech agriculture school page, that carrots were biennials, and that the sweet, starchy root is simply the fuel for the flowers that grow in year two.

There was kale, which I have loved since I was a child.  OK, sure, I was a weird kid, but I loved it, just like I loved spinach and collard greens.  Must have been my southern heritage.  The kale I planted last Fall gave us sweet, nutty greens through the winter, and is now a menacing riot of edible, tasty seed-pods, which I'm planning on using for the planting this Fall.  The kale I planted in the spring did great...and attracted scores of lovely white butterflies.  Oh, what lovely white butterflies, I thought.

But while summer's pretty fluttering butterflies don't eat kale, their eggs hatch into caterpillars.  And caterpillars love kale nearly as much as I do.  Which I will remember for my greens, the next time summer arrives.

In this gardening time, we are reminded that every new season of life brings with it opportunity for untasted flavors and learning.  And with every new thing, there come challenges, things that nibble and bore and wilt.  That's no reason not to rejoice in the new things that God is always working...just a reason to keep aware, and to adapt, and to delight in both the challenge and the discovery.