Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Garden of Neglect

For the past three years, I've been experimenting with backyard vegetable gardening. My first year, I had great success with salad greens, swiss chard, and carrots. I planted them in a raised container in our small yard. I only had enough carrots to make one pot of soup, but goodness, I was proud of it. My second year, we grew salad tomatoes in upside down hanging containers. It was so satisfying to grab a handful of fresh tomatoes for dinner.

This year, knowing we were going away for several weeks, I tried to plant things that didn't need a lot of attention: squash, watermelon, late tomatoes, and peppers. When I ordered my seedlings, I specified that I wanted plants that could survive my Garden of Neglect. The combination of great summer weather and friends who took care of my plants while we were away, secured us a respectable bounty.

I worried that my plants wouldn't survive while we were away. However, when we pulled in the driveway, it took me a moment to realize that the huge plant covering my entire front garden was actually a tomato plant. I'd thrown it in there because I didn't have enough room in the back. Now my clematis cowered in the shadow of robust and lush yellow heritage tomato vine.

Rambling squash vines covered a corner of the backyard. A pepper plant was laden with little red chillis. Four huge potato plants and several onions spouted from the compost. There was even a watermelon that grew despite a less-than-ideal location.

Before we'd even unpacked the car, I was out surveying the garden. I picked what was ripe: a few peppers and two tomatoes.

"Mommy's a farmer," my son announced to his father and our cat.

I laughed. I know it's not that easy. Food production is serious business indeed. I'm just playing with gardening. It takes real risk and real knowledge to grow food.

However, even though the yields are small, backyard gardens are important.

Experimenting with food production on a small scale makes one appreciate what it actually takes to do it for a living. I believe it makes people more inclined to buy locally grown produce because they acquire a taste for fresher, more nutritious food. Eating a still-warm tomato that ripened on the vine makes the woody, pink globes offered in January a travesty.

Today's backyard gardens play a similar role to Victory Gardens. The intention then was to preserve resources for the war effort. Now, we can garden to save the planet and our own health. The food requires no fossil fuel to be delivered and it's healthier because you can't find any fresher. If seeds are selected wisely and practices are kept organic, the average person has more control over his or her consumption of GMOs and pesticides.

Growing food in the backyard connects us to the earth. I've written before about how we have to be involved in our outdoor environment to actually care about it. Using our suburban yards more mindfully to grow food rather than grass connects us to the rhythms of nature.

Whether we nurture a few herbs in a pot or plant enough tomatoes to can sauce, using our yards to grow food nurtures body, soul, and planet.

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