Gardening has been one of the joys of my life since Sandi and I moved to North Carolina in 1978 from Michigan. Every year is different and yet every year is somewhat the same. The one constant I have learned is the fact that every year we bring a little more knowledge and understanding to the process of growing food in dirt. All gardening efforts begin in dirt and hopefully end up in soil that has been built up and nourished through the years with compost, cover crops and other organic matter.
Why it was just a couple of years ago that I learned that the proper way to grow crops is to feed the soil which will in turn fertilize and/or feed our crops. Yet the “green revolution” of the late 1940’s through the 60’s took the opposite approach to feeding the world. This revolution included the widespread distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers in order to achieve higher yields per acre. All the while reducing the “soil” back to its “dirt” state and after years of this practice of feeding the plants and not the soil, yields began to decrease and insects once again began their quest for total plant destruction.
However I digress. There are lots of rabbits to chase another day but my point in writing today is this: just as there is in our personal lives, there is a yearly rhythm in gardening.
This fall I made the connection that what I end up with in terms of how my garden looks when harvested and cover crops planted is a lot of what it looks like in the spring when I begin again the planting chores. Bare ground when I am finished in the fall and bare ground again when I have cut the cover crop and tilled in the spring. The end is like the beginning although several months apart.
Last year I planted crimson clover for cover in time enough for it to root and grow before truly cold weather began. Yet it didn’t seem to do as well as the year before when I just barely got it planted before the first real frost. What I ended up with in the spring was a bunch of patchy bits of clover here and there and not everywhere. What I recently discovered was the fact that because we didn’t have a lot of snow cover to protect my green manure, it died off and didn’t do as well. Like I said, each year we learn just a little more about the nature of growing crops. We will never know it all and a lot of the fun is truly in the journey, not the destination.
This past year’s garden will go down in history as one of my worst efforts. In the mountains of North Carolina, we barely had a summer at all, with the raininess of spring keeping everything cold, moist and soggy well into what is normally considered summertime. Pepper plants which normally grow to about four feet languished at about a foot and a half for a month or two. My early potatoes did fine but the later plantings were mostly rained out. The corn did well overall, but the beans were eaten by rabbits, and the butternut squash, normally about 18 inches long barely made it to 9 or 10. And once the deer population knew there were tomatoes ripening, they couldn’t get enough even through the netting I covered them with—netting that has worked lo these many years.
Yet even a bad garden has its rewards and seemingly fits well into the rhythm of life scenario that we are exploring in this little post.
To this end, and despite the lack of sunshine this past summer, I have learned a few things. One of which is this: occasionally we need to get off the grid and go for a long walk in the woods in order to recharge our batteries and gain perspective. The noise of the city, while temporarily invigorating, is not what I would consider the true rhythm of life. This rhythm can only be found in a place where you can finally hear the wind batting the leaves about—where the sounds of crickets, birds and other scurrying animals can be heard load and clear above the 60 cycle hum of modern life.
It is in these very places we can re-group and begin planning our next year’s garden—where faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen. Where we first grow it in our minds before we plant it in the ground.
And that my friends is a great winter’s ride if there ever was one.