Four years ago, I ventured into the mysterious (to me) world of vegetable gardening. I had no idea what I was doing, other than I was thirsty for a challenge and was, quite frankly, envious of those with green thumbs. Four seasons later, I still feel as though I have no idea what I'm doing, although my love for gardening continues to grow, evolve and flourish.
May signals the planting of the summer crop. It is after the deep leafy greens of the winter season have run their course, the soil has been tilled and compost prepared for a fresh harvest. The selection of vegetables for the summer season, the layout design, and the choreography of preparing and planting are seasonal rituals for me, which provide therapeutic benefits of tremendous value. Alongside the veterans of my garden, which include cherry tomatoes, serrano chilis, baby eggplant, swiss chard and dino kale, this season's lineup will consist of assorted bell peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, and mini pumpkins! It is an equal mix of planting what I know, what I don't know, what grows well for me, and what continues to be a challenge.
I do not believe you need to be an expert to thoroughly enjoy a craft or hobby. In fact, I believe that the majority of the satisfaction I get from gardening is the continuous, hands-on education I receive along the way. I am a perpetual student of Mother Nature. I am in awe of how hearty these tiny little seeds are that transform into seedlings, and then on to full, glorious maturity. I wonder at the delicate balance between soil, sun, nourishment, and other natural elements that encourage a plant to thrive over simply surviving. Or, in my case, sometimes not at all. There are so many valuable lessons in failure. I have learned to covet the majestic bee! And I marvel at how difficult organic gardening can be. Those who have experienced their first overnight aphid infestation or hornworm know what I'm talking about. Who ever thought I'd become obsessed with perfecting a natural and organic peppermint and neem oil pesticide. Despite the challenges, there is nothing more exciting than waking up one morning to the first signs of success.
One of my favorite surprise side effects from gardening is adopting a compost/fermentation system. In my neighborhood, the houses are situated in very close proximity to each other and we all get along, so I was hesitant to go full-boar on a compost pile and risking disruption of our good neighbor relations. Instead, I found a compact fermentation system online that I've been enjoying to this day. It is actually specifically designed for small spaces where odor control is essential. It's called the Bokashi Cycle system and it's nothing more than MacGuyver'd, air-tight buckets that break down food scraps into compost and compost tea. I love it and it has dramatically cut down on my food waste, which is a huge plus in my book.
In a nutshell, my food scraps are incorporated with a culture mix that consists of wheat bran, molasses and microorganisms. This causes the food scraps to break down and create a "tea", which can be extracted and used as a superfood to nourish the garden. Because my food scraps consist of fruits, vegetables, and grains, my compost develops a citrusy-sour aroma that is only evident when you briefly open the containers to add more product or draw tea from the spigot to feed your plants. Not offensive in the least.
Once the first container is full, I move on to filling the second, while the first container is brought out to the garden. There, I will incorporate it with existing, unused soil. I have a special soil container for this process, so that I can cover it and deter the local wildlife from this alluring buffet. From there, I let everything work it's magic, occasionally turning the soil and watching the scraps turn into the deepest, richest, most decadent black soil. Finally, it is time to gift it to my deserving garden beds.
This circle of growth, decomposition, recycling and renewal never gets old for me. I have developed limitless respect for how Mother Nature operates. With any luck, the next several months of balancing, nurturing, nourishing, encouraging, guiding, troubleshooting and persistence will result in a harvest extending well into the Fall.
Have I reached a level of self-sustainability? Not even close. I have, however, come to the conclusion that farmers are nothing short of agricultural wizards and deserve the utmost respect in our society. What a challenge! It is, however, a very welcome one that I look forward to every day. It is a highlight to my day to visit my garden first thing in the morning and again when I come home at night. The opportunity to collaborate with Mother Nature is a huge privilege. Gardening awakes and empowers all of the senses and hones valuable life skills such as creativity, ingenuity, patience, persistence, courage and cooperation. Skills that not only carry over into other aspects of life and enrich them, but become very necessary when suddenly faced with one of these little twerps....
The Hornworm and what was once a verdant, thriving cherry tomato vine. (RIP)
Try something new outdoors this spring! Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. It might surprise you how therapeutic working with earth is and how good it feels to do something completely out of your element.