Friday, January 31, 2014

Gardens - Great Teachers of Patience and Hope

Anybody who knows me knows that I'm an avid gardener. I love spending time outside planting, making compost, building raised beds, and most importantly, harvesting. I started gardening about seven or eight years ago. A great friend and colleague, Stan, taught junior high science in the
classroom next to mine. For his spring class, he had the students plant a garden outside of his room. I was amazed to see everything growing in Arizona. Being a Chicago native, I figured that I had to give up gardening to live in the desert, but these students were growing corn, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and I don't remember what else. I thought, "If a bunch of junior high students can grow things in Arizona, I should be able to!" I have been experimenting ever since.

The first peach blossom
I enjoy gardening because it incorporates all of the senses. The touch of the soil and the leaves and the harvest. The smell of blossoms and fresh compost and the earth. The sight of the first bud on my peach tree.  The sound of the birds and the breezes. The taste. Oh, the heavenly taste of things that have grown in your own backyard. I grew watermelons one year, and the taste of the fresh watermelon, with its crispness and juiciness, was enough to make me mad at grocery stores for calling what they sell "watermelons." (Funny parenthetical story about watermelons - I've only successfully grown them one time, the first time I planted them. I attempted to grow them the next year, and instead of watermelons I got acorn squash. I don't know if it was a mix up with the seeds or uncomposted seeds sprouting up, but acorn squash definitely does not scream "summer" the way watermelons do. I will attempt watermelons again this year and let you know how it goes). But back to gardening...

Strawberries - some already turning red
I just spent the past month building raised beds (I will soon write a tutorial post on creating inexpensive raised beds). Raised beds are great, especially in Arizona, because you can add a thick bed of nutrient rich soil on top of the crummy soil that you may have in your yard. In the beds I have planted strawberries, two grapevines, carrots, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and sweet peas. I will add some tomatoes and watermelons in a month or so. Hopefully I will end up with watermelons, but if not, I may have a contest on this site giving away free acorn squash.

The girls "helping" unload garden soil
When we moved into our house last spring, I had missed the planting deadline, so I spent the summer with nothing to harvest or tend or water. I started to get restless, and like a student who has been sitting at a desk for far too long, I began looking out the window thinking about what I would do once the temperatures allowed me to start planting again. For those of you currently freezing your backsides off in sub zero temperatures, you are probably experiencing this right now. The patience of waiting until the first day below 100° (or above 50° in the north) is what makes that first shovel in the soil that much sweeter. The patience of waiting for that strawberry to turn just a shade darker red, or that peach to be slightly softer, makes that first juicy bite that much better (of course waiting that extra day only to find that a bird has stolen my fruit may turn me into the Hulk, so I try to find a healthy balance between patience and wisdom). 

Grapevine nestled between two raised beds
And then there is hope. Every time I plant a seed in the ground, I find that the hope builds as to how many plants will spring up and be healthy. The hope of watching peach blossoms and wondering how many peaches will be harvested months from now. The hope of watering the tiny plants and keeping the area free from grass and weeds, while they grow taller and stronger day after day. I love nothing more than witnessing my kids searching for snap peas, waiting (hopefully) until they are large enough to pick, and the look on their faces as they pop the fresh produce in their mouths. 

The complete raised bed project
You may notice that nowhere in this post did I say that I am a good gardener. I have had a lot of failures. When people ask for advice about gardening, the best advice that I can give is that it is all a great experiment. I don't know if my grapevines will produce enough grapes to be worth the physical investment. Heck, I don't even know if the seeds that I plant will produce what I'm actually hoping for. But the hope and patience that I learn through the experiment is enough to keep me going outside day after day. Unless it's too hot, and then I must crack open another cold beer, sit in the air condition, and hope that I don't have a heat stroke.

Happy gardening!

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