Thursday, June 27, 2013

Remembering to Enjoy the Fruits of the Labors

It has, after all, been busy.  I won't go into the details but it has been hard enough just keeping up with the basics -- mowing, trimming, weeding and the like.  Blessedly, periodic rain showers have thus far taken irrigation off the task list, and so far the bugs have kept their distance.  Still, attentions have been squeezed.  Some key opportunities have been overlooked -- like enjoying the fruits of my labor.  There is lettuce that needs cutting and consuming.  Spinach is almost ready to enjoy, and the radishes -- planted quite late as something of an after-thought -- are swelling pink above ground.   I spotted a juvenile cucumber yesterday, and any day one or another of the squash varieties will push itself from blossom to bulge.  I will need to keep more careful watch.  Harvest, after all, is the point of it all.

That said, we plucked our first "Egg Yolk" tomato from the vine on the deck last evening -- bright yellow and  bite-sized -- and slurped down its heavenly first-of-the-season sweetness before I could even take a picture of it.  More are mustering their colors.

It's time to commence some seriously savored eating!

So I need to start paying better attention, and better organizing time.  The garlic planted last fall was the first to show its foliage, and I have been mindful of the graceful scapes spiraling from their centers for several days now.  But it has stood their bereft and ignored -- an inexplicably low priority.

Until this morning.

Dripping from the exertion of some post driving in the humid heat and late for an appointment in town, I was hurriedly closing up the shed when the scapes, in the back of the garden, waved their hands like eager school children imploring the teacher to "pick me; pick me."  And so I did.  Retrieving the knife I had set aside for precisely this purpose, I slashed my way down one row, then another.  There are more to cut -- there was time for but two of the seven rows -- but it's begun.

And tonight there will be garlic pesto to show for it.

You'll want to keep your distance --unless, of course, you are hungry.

Friday, June 14, 2013

It's Only Excessive If You Keep it All

I suppose I should take it as a compliment.  After all, the stretching stems and healthy leaves look beautiful -- and tasty -- to me.  The rogue rabbit or two breaching the defenses have long since weighed in with their opinion.  But last evening, while enjoying dinner in the sunroom overlooking the garden, Lori spotted a deer -- first on one side of the fence, then beside the garden shed, and before long inside the fence.  I have known from the outset that my flimsy little fence represented precious little defense -- more of a comfort to me than a deterrent to anything that really wanted in.  And deer had explored the garden space all winter.  This, however, was the first encroachment of which I have been aware during growing season.

I am perhaps over-zealous.  Down the road from us just a little way is a farmhouse with a nice size garden situated between the house and the vast acres of crop rows.  Wide open; not a stick of anything erected to keep anything away.  It is the portrait of horticultural hospitality -- as if to broadcast, "come and get it; supper's almost ready."  From the looks of the house and the field and the garden itself, they have been at it considerably longer than I have, and quite likely know something I do not about the vicissitudes of garden sharing.  Maybe it is the drift of pesticide from the fields nearby at which the rodents and rabbits and deer turn up their noses.  Maybe it is a corollary to the ancient parenting wisdom that "kids" only want what they can't have, and are completely disinterested in that which is freely available.  Or perhaps they have a rifle perched in the window.  I'll be watching through the season to see what I can observe.

We, on the other hand, sprang into action -- Lori first, flying out the door to the deck to clap her hands and speak a loud and discouraging word.  Ex-principals are good at that sort of thing.  The deer paused its culinary survey, returned Lori a sullen stare, and finally obliged -- leaping from a standing start and effortlessly clearing the fence, then sauntering without concern into the woods.

No doubt to return sometime after dark.

Perhaps, as with the poison ivy that has begun to trouble us, it is a not-so-subtle reminder that we are not in charge here.  We share this place with nature -- which, of course, was something of the point of moving here.  We co-exist -- sometimes happily, sometimes bucolically, sometimes symbiotically, and as just now, sometimes competitively.  The challenge, I suspect, is less about prevailing -- "winning" in any conventional sense -- and more about adapting; finding here, even in the garden, some expression of common space.

As I have confessed from the beginning:  I don't "know" anything about what I am doing out here -- other than this humbling recognition of how much I need to know.  I was prepared for the books and the mentors and the internet and seed packets to teach me.  It hadn't occurred to me that the wildlife would take their turn at the podium as well.

Perhaps that's the real reason I have planted excessively:  because I will need to share.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Prayer at the Roots of the Row

There is something almost prayerful about weeding.  The posture bears more than a passing resemblance -- down on knees, head slightly bowed.  And like the most enduring of those spiritual disciplines weeding is methodical, repetitious, and centering.  The world, for all its complicated grandeur, shrinks to the size of this one blade of grass that must be extricated in the name of purity.  In fact, purity is the prevailing value and the guiding rubric.  Only the intended is permitted to stay -- although I have come to a better appreciation of the biblical parable's resistance to separating the weeds from the wheat too hastily because of likely mis-identification.  Last year I was ruthless in this regard, tugging out any frilly green wisp that didn't immediately announce its identity as an almost certain interloper.  Which is another way of admitting that I unwittingly uprooted lots of nascent carrots and beets and beans.  This season I have tried to re-calibrate a bit, practicing a measure more of patience, and extending the grace period of ambiguity.  I remind myself that Nature doesn't weed clear rows.  This is required to grow alongside That, companion planting before it was popular.

Of course not everything survives the competition.  As Tennyson rightly noted, nature is "red in tooth and claw" -- an observation as true in the soil as in the forest or the city.  A Darwinian ruthlessness plays itself out among roots and microbes competing for space, for moisture, for nutrients, for light and life.  But there are synergies, and occasionally simple detente.

In prayer, then, and in gardening there is a benevolently careful discernment of what belongs and what interferes; what needs protective nurture and encouragement and what requires excisive action.
de·rac·i·nate  (d-rs-nt)
tr.v. de·rac·i·nat·edde·rac·i·nat·ingde·rac·i·nates
1. To pull out by the roots; uproot.
2. To displace from one's native or accustomed environment.

That, it seems to me, is the work of life -- figuring out what oughtt to stay and what must be deracinated and rid.

And so begins my days in this season of indiscriminate growth -- knee-bound, attentively imposing a little prayerful discrimination on my garden rows...

...and myself.

So far the lettuce appears the richer for it.