Each year as frost gives way to budding grass, and the stark shells of the trees get fleshed out with foliage; we begin to plan the garden. It's a favorite late-winter past-time, a ritual my husband and I have re-played for years.
In our early life together, we had big dreams. Back then, we didn't merely wish to grow a couple of vegetables, a few herbs and shrubs. We wanted to live off-the-grid, to be self-sufficient. At 19 and 24, as we ourselves were just starting to grow, we read everything we could find about passive solar heating, grey-water septic systems, composting toilets. We read how to build pole-and-beam straw bale houses, earth bermed houses, and tire-rammed earthships aligned to face the south so the long, angled windows running across the front would let the most light in during the winter months to grow indoor vegetables and the least light in during the summer-time to keep the place cool. In between planning and dreaming, life moved on. We worked our day-jobs, and one baby, then two and then two and two more came along. Somewhere on that journey, the dream slipped away, lost to the reality of raising six children.
But, the love for gardening never budged. Each year, as February drew to a close, we would haul out the seed catalogs and plan out our garden. Many years, that was as far as we got and the dream of the dirt patch of veggies remained a dream as every Saturday was given over the Soccer games and grocery shopping, clothes shopping, and trips to the mall. We let go because we had to; stretched as thin as we were, even one more thing would have been one more thing too many.
Even though we didn’t have a physical garden, the love for it remained, dormant like a seed over winter, waiting for the right conditions to spring forth.
Once in a while, extreme stress is the greatest catalyst for change. Raising six kids is not easy. It is constant hard work. Rewarding, yes, but close to all-consuming. Anyone who has worked at that kind of pace knows, eventually, the foundation begins to crack. You can only give up everything you love to do for so long. As the stress builds up, it wears you down and like a small animal trapped in a hole, you begin to look for ways out of the rut. In our attempt to survive the pressures of our lives, we remembered gardening. We recalled plotting out the land, ordering seeds, and those long hours spent in the early spring sun. It had been years since we’d had a proper garden, but last year, we decided to plant again.
Last winter, we plotted, last spring we planted. We were still over-worked, over-tired, over-stressed, but when we stepped out into the yard, things were growing and we were eating them. Fresh basil and tomatoes off the vine, two kinds of squash, more pole beans than we knew what to do with. We had cucumbers, kale and collards, a few brave carrots and beats, and a spattering of spring mix as our earliest crop of the season.
It was inspiring to see things grow, to feel the cool of the earth and the warm sun shining. It was encouraging to see we actually had time, if we made the effort, that we could take at least a little of that long ago dream and weave it into the lives we led now. Our garden was a success!
This February we began, even more inspired.
As of this day, May 14, 2010 we have planted: spring mix, carrots, kale, collards, spinach, tomatoes, bell and jalapeno peppers, three kinds of squash, corn, potatoes, watermelon, peas, beats, turnips, radishes, onions, sunflowers, cauliflower, basil, oregano, cilantro, chamomile, rosemary, strawberries, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. We’ve been eating fresh greens and radishes for a couple of weeks now and everything else is coming on well.
I don’t think either of us are seriously considering a life off the grid at the moment—at least not before the kids leave home. These days, our garden is haven, a sanctuary of peace and contentment. It is a chance to remember our dreams. Moving through life, so many things fall to the side, pushed away by responsibility. Doing this one thing, simply for the love of doing it, makes our lives better. There’s simplicity in gardening: when weeding, we weed, when tilling, we till. There is nothing else beyond these simple tasks, nothing to worry over or plan for, there's just the dirt, the green things growing and the bright sun overhead.