It’s an ‘alive mess’

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As the weather cools I’ve been pulling up garden plants in preparation for winter. It’s harvest time and today I clipped 20 varieties of squash from a few different plants. I wish I could show photos of what our garden looked like before I dug my hands in it. There were piles of newspapers bundled together to form some sort of ‘border’ for a ‘garden’, weeds grew higher than my slim 6’2″ husband and every time I dug the earth to plant something I was uncovering garbage (wires, plastic bags, toys, tampons-good times- and the occasional sock). In the past four years I have taken back under a quarter acre of land and grown food, herbs, flowers and taught my kids to love playing with worms.

I’ve read and reread books on composting, growing fruits and veggies, and tried to figure out how to eat seasonally while living in the midwest. Over the past year my family has been interested in the slow food movement so we are trying to take some dominion and stick it to the man as we become urban homesteaders, the best we can.

I understand that there are a lot of people in the US who don’t have time or can’t make time to grow food. It’s time consuming…. sort of. But the payoff is huge and the reward of self sufficiency is intoxicating. It’s empowering to eat food that you’ve toiled over. Your seedlings become like little children whom you’ve nurtured and are now giving back to you out of thankfulness (I’m not a TOTAL hippy and I don’t believe that food talks or that zucchini has a conscience- I’m writing allegorically). Yet the end of the growing season comes and it’s time to let your buddies die. They give you their last breath and then the cold comes and takes their colour away (again, I’m not a pantheist). I’m always sad pulling up my pumpkin plants; piling them in a heap to be burned and putting my gardening gloves in a box until April. Our winters are long and deep and I don’t grow anything under the snow. Last year I grew spinach and lettuce in the window sill but that’s just not the same.

This is the end of a season and I absolutely love the harvest. I’m thankful for all of the work of spring and summer and the yield that it brought our family. If you have felt overwhelmed by the mere thought of starting a garden let me bring some encouragement; start small! All masterpieces started as an idea. Every artist started out small. Gardening is incredibly artistic and undeniably therapeutic. If you suffer from anxiety, garden! If you have anger, plant something and watch it grow! If you have allergies to food chemicals, grow your own! Start with basil and tomatoes next year. The year after that throw squash seeds in the ground and leave them alone. They will grow ferociously without any help from you and one plant is enough for you and your neighbors; they will run when they see you coming with a handful of zucchini to give away.

It’s easier than you think and it’s blissfully empowering to know YOU made this happen. If you have children you’ll love to see their black fingernails filled with earth grabbing a red (or yellow) tomato and putting it straight into their mouth. Store-bought organic is pricey and often comes from miles away (I have been known to buy tomatoes from CA but I don’t prefer it- I like to support my small, local farm) but something from your backyard is twelve steps away.

If you don’t know where to start but would like to grow your own next Spring here are some things I’ve learned:

– You don’t have to worry about compost for now (look into it later though- you’ll love it!) just put a plant in the dirt and remember to water it.

– If you’re overwhelmed starting plants from seed just buy plants from the Farmer’s market in the spring. They are very inexpensive.

– Start small and let your green thumb ‘blossom’ as the years go by (You can’t be a perfectionist as you garden. Learn as you go and don’t try to do it all in one year, trust me. It’s stressful to be a gardening perfectionist). Just plant basil and tomatoes the first year. Once you get the hang of it do some research on local growing and what grows best in your neck of the woods.

– Enjoy the process. If it won’t grow, pull it and start over. Get in the sunshine and breathe. Relax and enjoy the peace. See the colours, smell the smells and taste your food. It’s friggin’ awesome!

Take a look at these links. I subscribe to Organic Gardening and it’s fantastic!

http://www.organicgardening.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History-Meals/dp/1594200823

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