I have raised my own garden for over 25 years, and every single year I ask myself, why?
I can now get organic vegetables year-round at the grocery. I can always find plenty of fresh tomatoes for sale at roadside stands during ‘mater season, and though I do prefer home-grown green beans to the canned variety, the local farmer’s market always has plenty for sale. So why do I fret over just the right time to work the ground, plant the seeds, hoe and weed on a daily basis, fight off bugs and combat diseases only to have harvest season arrive just about the time I want to go on a vacation?
There is some primitive connection with the earth I think that drives me to plant a garden. Maybe it’s that certain beauty I see in freshly tilled topsoil, dark and rich looking out there in the back yard. It could be the magic of dropping hard little seeds into the ground and waiting patiently for the first tender shoots and leaves to appear.
I know there is a sense of accomplishment to having well-trained tomato vines climbing perfectly up a pole, and I do enjoy the surprise of seeing the first silks appear among the corn leaves as if they sprang up overnight.
But all that time I spend bent over in the garden pulling those relentless weeds, hoeing between the plants and running the tiller around every week or so sure starts to feel like work after the thrill of watching life break through toward the sun.
Oh I know I could chemically treat the ground and kill the weeds. I could spray the vegetables with any number of concoctions to prevent disease, but all of those potions caution me to wear a HASMAT suit during application, and since I don’t want to eat stuff with that kind of bottled poison on it, I pull weeds by hand.
Long ago I stopped pretending that the stuff I buy at the grocery is necessarily as healthy as what I raise in my garden. A few years ago my wife introduced me to the obsessive compulsive disorder of reading product labels. Armed with that additional information about what I was putting in my mouth and reading about how much of our food is genetically modified, I concluded that what I had been eating was so drenched in chemicals that it’s a wonder I hadn’t started to glow in the dark.
Nowadays we look very closely for labeling that tells us if the food is organic. We also look for the labels that tell us if the food was genetically modified, preferring to buy stuff that wasn’t made in a test tube before being planted in a commercial farming operation and then fertilized with raw sewage.
But there is a price for such finicky shopping. Those products cost more, there are fewer choices and, depending upon where you end up shopping, in some places the “good stuff” can’t be found at all.
So we still raise a garden every year, and hopefully raise enough good veggies to fill our tummies during the summer months with enough left over to can or freeze so that we can eat what we raised a good long way into the winter.
And since we prefer many of the older varieties of vegetables (nothing beats white half-runner beans) all that work is a little more tolerable when on some cold Sunday in January I smell a big pot of those beans cooking all day on the stove with a big chunk of bacon in there for seasoning.
I wish we were more ambitious and had the kind of help we did when the kids were young and we could put up enough to last all the way between harvests, but now we seem to make that trip to the cellar for the last jar of beans right around Easter.
But that’s also the starting point for planning the next year’s garden, choosing the tomato varieties, looking through seed catalogs and wishing the unpredictable weather would settle so that the soil can be worked and the seed bed prepared.
This week, as the end of spring gives way to the start of summer; our garden is in full-growth mode. The corn is up, the beans crawling with bees, the peppers getting full and my tomato plants are hanging with fruit.
I think I’ll wait until the heat of the day is over and just before sunset walk around amidst my own creation and tend to the little plants that count on me so that they can thrive. And as a reward for tending to them they will soon produce their bounty again.
I’ve heard it said that a garden is fertilized by the footsteps of its owner. If that’s true then it’s perfectly understandable why everything is, well you know, growing like a weed.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.