Recently, I was listening to a lovely man discuss the plans for his upcoming back yard garden. It sounded really impressive! Compost turning barrels, raised beds with custom soil ingredients, test kits, electric fences, seed sprouting stuff, specially imported worms & beneficial buggies, red mulches and black mulches and row covers OH MY! I felt rather overwhelmed at this ginormous (LOVE that word!) garden event. I asked him what he thought the cost would be. “Oh well”, he said, “You know the anecdote about the $64 tomato!”
Turns out he really gardens as a hobby. Something to get into on a Saturday afternoon. He recognized that with the complexities of his garden system his food it not really economical. And wonderful for him! Any time spent with Gaia is healing time. Just stick your fingers in some dirt for a few hours, you’ll see…
But this got me thinking. We are all painfully aware of the high cost of organic fruits and veggies. Quite frankly, I do my best but cannot myself buy 100% organic due to the exhorbitant costs. But what about we gardeners and gardener wanna be’s that would like to save some money and eat vibrantly healthy food? Does a homegrown tomato REALLY have to cost $64? The answer is no. No indeed. I know this from years of partnership with the dirt I have ownership papers on. Well, the bank and I. Yes, I mean my yard.
My Dad taught me how to garden. My Dad was a quiet, gentle man, with an occasional tendency toward surliness. Dad and I would work in the garden together after school. I confess my siblings and I were not very gracious about eating the harvest. My Mom didn’t know to look for cabbage worms in the broccoli heads and served them both to us one night. That was the end of our desire for garden foods. Such is the attitude of the abundantly well fed, yes? In those days, we used 7-dust (HORROR!) for pest control. It worked about as well as my organic bug control methods do today. Only we just didn’t know then. We trusted that it was good and OK and even better that what Nature (that unreliable wench) could do for us.
We humans complicate things. It is in our nature. Part of our modus operandi. Why do we do this? I have my theories. I can sum them all up in one word, really. Ego. That urge to matter, to be greater than the rest, to rise above the crowd, to have control in a frighteningly uncontrollable world. It’s OK, that’s how we roll. Our ego serves a really good purpose. But there is a huge relief and release in being freed from the ego, even if just for moments.
Which brings me to my topic. The sacred and magical power of the seed. Every year, as I kneel down upon the dirt, head bowed as I plant, I am truly humbled by the seed. Some of them are so small I can barely see them. And in that seed is a miracle of abundance. A summer full of food. If I wish, jars more in the pantry & freezer. And all I really need to do… is stick it in the ground. Really. Earth will do the rest. She does it all over the place- just look around. Sitting, dirty and tired on the Earth, after a day of planting I feel whole, somehow. For me, gardening is a partnership with Gaia. Holding those tiny seeds and knowing from years of practice that they will feed me, my neighbors, my animals, and maybe even you. You, who also started from a tiny seed. The practice of gardening puts things into perspective for me. Especially if I keep it simple and don’t overexcite my ego-mind with shiny garden-toys that promise to do better than Nature has been doing for millenia…
I have a garden partnership every year on my borrowed dirt. Seven 4×8 raised beds, which make more food than I can eat or sell or give away. I also plant herbs in various spots around the farmita. With these herbs I make medicine and nutritious products like herb infused vinegars, cordials and honeys. A garden does not have to be huge to feed your family. I promise. You can plant a garden for very little cash. Let me share some of my frugal and simple ways to plant.
Use raised beds. They keep things easy. Don’t over-think this. Lumber screwed together into a rectangle. Cinder blocks are great too because you can plant pretty wild flowers in the holes. Wild flowers attract beneficial insects. That’s right- no need to buy them. They grow right in your yard. Line the bottom of the raised beds with pads of newspaper about 1/2″ thick. This blocks weeds from below but allows roots of your plants to sink into deeper earth. If you don’t have any dirt you can put in the beds, start with peat moss, poop and compost. Start in early Spring or late Fall so that this mix has time to mature. Lets say… a minimum 5 to 6 inches of total soil. This is OK to start with- don’t worry you’ll make more every year. Mostly peat, a thin layer of poop, and some compost. I must tell you, you can NEVER have too much compost. Oh yeah- the poop. Horse, cow, chicken or goat that has sat around for a while. Really, you don’t need much- a 1 inch layer will do. Too much poop is not good- it can burn your seedlings and the Earth may not have enough time to deactivate the bacteria in a deep layer of poo. You know someone who knows someone who has LOTS of poop they would like to get rid of. Layer these ingredients, no need to get all sweaty and frantic mixing, and cover with a thick mulch of straw.
I use straw for mulch. Not hay- that will sprout. Had that happen SHEESH what a mess. Straw used to be really cheap. Now you have to search around to get it for $3 to $5 a bale. No worries though- a bale goes a long way and the straw can be reused. Old straw is great because it decomposes and enriches your soil. Pile 4 to 6 inches of straw all over your bed(s) and just make holes or rows to plant in. Great weed control and moisture control. Simple. Not shiny, simple.
Compost. You might have to buy compost this year if you don’t have any. It comes in bags. But seriously, make your own. Please try not to panic about compost. Here, too, Nature does most of the work if you let her. Look around your yard and find some material to make a container with. This should not be air tight. I use heavy guage fence material, make a circle with it, and use those plastic hand-cuff things that hold so well to close the circle. I have also used 4 wood pallets stood on end and tied together. They make a great size and you can often get pallets for free. Any material that allows air flow is fine. Then put stuff in it. I put leaves, grass, and kitchen scraps that my chickens won’t eat into my compost pile. I also put surplus poo in there. I never put garden and lawn weeds in my compost pile intentionally. I NEVER worry about the ratio of brown to green or any of that stuff! Nature knows how to rot stuff! Every year, I open the fence, and scoop out the rich dark soil from the bottom. I fluff up the rest and it’s ready to rot for the season. I use whatever Nature has blessed me with at the bottom. It is always enough.
Bugs. Nature insists she will feed ALL her children, not just you. Surrender to that from the start and you’ll do better with the bugs. I have tried all the organic sprays and powders and will tell you that my home made controls work just as well- or better. Here they are. Dish soap in a hose end sprayer. Buy the dollar store soap. It kills aphids, worms, all the soft bodied bugs. Coat the plants with it- don’t forget the underside of the leaves. Wood ashes in a ring around tender seedlings keeps slugs & ants away. Hand picking. Yup that’s right. Put on gloves if you like, fill a jar with hot soapy water, and pick ’em off. If you must have something stronger, try Gardens Alive for their product PYOLA. I do keep a bottle around but use it sparingly.
Weeds. Hand pull them, it is a form of meditation. Eat them, many of them are more nutritious than what you are growing in the garden. If you feel the need for Round Up- DON’T. It is deadly. Just smell it, your body will tell you. I use a propane weed burner. You can find one on Amazon- Weed Dragon. Instant results that last as long as weed killers and take the same amount of time to apply.
Finally, know this, friends. You are really not in charge. No matter how many gadgets, chemicals and sprays you use. Gardening will teach you this, will destroy your ego. Nature is wise beyond our understanding. One year there will be drought. Next year too much rain. Some seasons the bugs will make you simply mad. Then there is that little fawn who, like you, was watching for just the perfect ripeness to eat the soy beans. Surrender to the process and let Nature teach you her ways. She will gently, patiently teach you the sacredness of the seed.