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What I am made of

June 8, 2011

I’ve always loved gardening. But it is only in the last few years that I have realized why. Gardening, especially vegetable gardening, is much more than a “hobby.” The act of gardening is a connection.

<–[my spinach]

The sun is beaming in my office window here and, when I finish writing this post, I am going to head outside and plunge my hands into the earth. I have eggplants that I want to plant today. And I expect that the beans that I sowed last week will just be curling up from under the earth. I need to go out to protect them from the blue jays, who love to pull them up just as they emerge.

[my first little broccoli of the year]–>

Gardening – producing my own food, is a way of connecting myself to this planet: by the direct connection of my hands in the soil, and also by the food that I eat. (It’s barely June – but in the last week I have harvested asparagus, spinach, arugula, lettuce, bok choy, and more… the earth in my yard literally becomes me!)

Gardening is also a connection to the seasons, this perpetual cycle of change that repeats as a result of our planet whirling about the sun. I’ve been growing veggies since I was a kid – I learned both from my mother and by trial and error. There is a time for each plant, and I need to be connected to it.

<–[promise of tomatoes to come]

When I moved into a ground-floor apartment in Perth, Australia, nearly twenty years ago now, I started a new veggie garden at my front doorway. It was March – autumn in Australia. Not ideal timing to seed veggies. But, I thought, Canadian summer is about the same temperature as Australian winter. I’ll plant them anyway. They’ll just think they are in Canada!

Ha, no fooling those plants. The seeds sprouted, but as soon as they emerged to see daylight, they noticed that the day-length was decreasing. They might not have known that they were in Australia – but they sure knew it wasn’t spring! They stayed on hold through the Australian winter, right through to the spring, when they finally started to grow.

Even when I was not connected to the seasons (or tried not to be), I was forced back. The plants knew.

[two generations of lettuce]–>

Gardening comes so easy to me – instinctive – but I think that is because I have been doing it so long that it becomes second nature. I know which month to seed my tomatoes or my kale; I know which plants to seed indoors (for the warmth) and which will become palid and lanky inside and need the cold (the cabbage family, such as kale and broccoli and bok choy).

<–[my kale is ready!]

It is funny, sometimes, seeing people who are new to gardening but who have no sense of this connection – no sense of the specific needs of each type of plant. They seem to think that the act of placing a seed in the soil is enough. They may sow everything at once, or when they have time rather when it is the right season, or everything indoors or everything outdoors. But it is sad to see that, too, because those people probably get disheartened about gardening, when their plants don’t produce for them. Gardening, and growing your own food, is such a joy.

Gardening is me – literally. I am made of the food that I grow.

Sure, I invest a fair bit of time into my vegetable garden. But I value that time, my hands plunged into the rich earth and the sunlight streaming on my shoulders in order to create my food – rather than hunched over my computer earning money that will pay for my food. I reinforce my connection to our planet, to my ancestors, and to how produce is meant to be: crisp lettuce, tender broccoli, sweet crunchy peas, and tomatoes with a flavour that, sadly, so many people no longer know.

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