Reciprocity, the great network of growth: everything comes together when growing my own food
Finding myself with time after retiring, I decided to devote time and energy to gardening.
This could be a wonderful way to connect, I thought, with sky, earth, rain and life. Even though I recognized there was much I could learn about gardening, I failed to consider how much gardening had to teach me. Imagine my surprise when I look back at what I’ve learned from gardening. Gardening opened a new world for me.
I discovered that the spiritual lessons of gardening are wise and expansive. Just as the tomatoes, beets and chard have nourished my body, the spiritual fruits of gardening have been enriching. I can’t offer you a ripe tomato from the vine, but I can share the wisdom of the garden. Perhaps this will help you to realize the spiritual nourishment a garden has to offer.
These spiritual fruits gained from gardening brought together various times and circumstances in my life. I was learning to connect and adapt to what I already knew, while admitting so much of what I don’t know. Having been brought up in a home which carried on the tradition of a victory garden, I’m not exactly new to gardening. However, it has been many years since gardening was more than just a spectator activity for me. One element that was new for me was climate. The climate of my present Southern California home is different from the weather in rocky New England where I grew up. I had a lot to learn.
We are connected with everything
Relationships and Uncertainty
One of the greatest lessons I learned from gardening is relationships. Right in front of me, from the soil on my hands and the sun in the sky, I experienced how everything was connected. Many different elements contributed to the success of the garden. Everything was important.
Although everything is important, I soon learned that most things were beyond my control. I could do everything “right”, but that didn’t assure a good outcome. Uncertainty was part of the process.
Both relationships and uncertainty are not only part of gardening. They are a part of life. Seeing relationships and uncertainty in gardening helped me to open to them and accept them in my life. This has brought me deep gratitude. These lessons I would like to share with you.
Naturally, I had to learn about the local climate and its effects on the garden. The connection between climate and the success of a garden is obvious. Lessons like which plants can endure the excessive heat of summer and when to plant to take advantage of the mild winter. How much water and how much shade needed for each one is something I’m still observing.
This has been my home for many years, but this is the first time I observed my environment so rigorously. I checked the variant temperature, the length of the days, the amount of rainfall, the phases of the moon. Becoming aware of the seasons, I notice what opportunities each one offers. I noticed what the squirrels ate and when the birds came. I became a part of the world I lived in. So similar to the lessons that come out in the beautiful stories of Braiding Sweetgrass.
My observations showed me that there was a season for everything. Remembering this, I got started. Here are my gardening notes from December 2nd:
“Gray skies, trees with bare limbs as leaves slip away carpeting the ground. Gray skies are getting darker as the light is squeezed out. As the Earth turns toward night, gray sky darkens and blackens as night settles on shortening days. It’s time to plan the garden.”
What to plant?
What to plant? Out come the seed catalogues. Materials were ordered to make the raised beds. How can we keep out the rodents, birds and insects that prey on the plants? When is the best time to plant? I am thankful to the University Master Gardener Program, a gardener friend, and the gardeners on Youtube who share their knowledge. I became an active learner and I want to stay that way
The first tomato seeds were planted in peat pots at the end of January. This is when I began my lesson in patience. It takes a while for a seed to germinate, and I want instant results. Temperature is important. I kept a good eye out, and then it happened. A tiny sprout pushed its way above ground reaching for the light.
Soil: The Earth’s Embrace
It was time to prepare the raised beds for them. Soil was needed to fill the raised beds. Soil is another great teacher and an integral part of the process of growing a garden as well as a connection to the Universe. I journaled about my experience with soil.
“Mixture of stardust, rotting leaves, worm poop, teeming with microorganisms. The nurturer that holds the seed in its hands and lets the roots sprout and stretch. It cuddles with the warmth from the sun. Source of minerals, strengthening bones.
I fill the raised beds. First logs, big sticks, pruning, and leaves. Then I scavenge for dirt and bring it; some from gopher holes mounded on the surface. Some from under trees and old flower beds. Then the compost and potting soil for the icing layer. This is where the seeds will go.
I bury my hands in the soil and feel its nurturing power. It almost feels like latent energy, waiting for the transformation of the plants with sun and water. Waiting and receiving, giving until it needs to be replenished.
I remember my cousin joking, “You ate dirt as a baby and I’m the one with cancer.” Soil my protector at an early age. Now I feel my bones growing denser as I wheel the wheelbarrow and shovel the dirt. Getting stronger, making a good mix. There is no end to soil’s gifts.”
Light! Now I had to regulate both temperature and light. The greenhouse offered plenty of light, but the temperature was erratic. I could reach 108 degrees in the day and hover near freezing at night. Frost is instant death for a tomato seedling. One morning the temperature read 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and that was too close for me. The tomato seedlings came in with me for the night. But they missed the light, so out they went during the day. I really loved those little seedlings.
Air connects us: Essential for all living beings
Of the elements of the Earth, I took air for granted. I breathe without thinking. The plants breathe too, but it is invisible to my eye. All living things need air. This includes the microorganisms in the soil that nurture the sprouting seeds and growing plants. There needs to be air in the soil to keep them alive. I turn over the soil with a new reverence. I’m making space for air, the breath of life.
The Power and Promise of Spring
The days began to grow longer as they always do, and spring came when it was its time. By then the earth all around was stirring. Good winter rains moistened the soil. The sun warmed the soil, and the light gave the energy. The earth was waking up. The raised beds were ready, filled with soil enriched with compost. It was time to plant the beans.
My journal entry:
“Connected to the Earth. I chant the Om to the Earth while the soil receives the seed.
I imagine I am a seed enclosed in dark potential. How does the seed know it is time to sprout? Does it feel the embrace of the soil? It is time for patience again.
I get water from the rain barrel and sprinkle the earth. The soil covering and embracing the seed. The water generously falling from the sky on everything. It was saved for this sunny day.
Does the water awaken the seed? Wake up. Be yourself. Fulfill your potential. Sprout, grow and bear fruit.
I honor the seed. I am thankful for the soil, for the rainwater, for the sunny day. It’s spring, a new beginning. I want to sleep with the dirt under my fingernails.”
The first week in April, the tomato seedlings are ready to be transplanted. The babies are ready for the great outdoors. They looked so brave, like a child on her first day of kindergarten. The little seedlings suffered the transition, but they loved the light and enough soil to spread their roots. Off they go.
Now patience had to be coupled to acceptance. The weather was unpredictable with great variance in temperatures: from day to night and from day to day. The temperature during the day could reach the 90’s (F) and then plummet into the high 50’s (F) at night. There could be a stretch of hot days and then the daytime temperatures would drop. There was nothing I could do about it.
Connection through Patience and Acceptance
The lettuce flourished, as long as it wasn’t too hot. We ate a lot of fresh lettuce. Even though I don’t consider lettuce a comfort food, I would say “lettuce for the soul.” It was plentiful, nourishing, and good tasting. Right from the garden!
The Gift of the Tomato Harvest
I wouldn’t say the tomato harvest was bountiful or even plentiful. Yet, the plants were generous and steady. For several weeks we enjoyed vine ripened tomatoes every day. Triple digit weather made it harder for the plants to put out flowers and set the fruit. But the plants didn’t give up. They adapted to the weather as best they could. I contributed with even, steady watering and prudent pruning and fertilizing. I made a point of paying attention and fertilizing with good thoughts.
There came a time in the height of summer that it seemed that nothing could grow. The lettuce bolted at the first high temperatures after it had given it’s all. The beans stopped producing when the weather was consistently in the 90’s (F). The tomatoes shouldered on. However, despite the plants’ effort to put out flowers and bear the green tomatoes, there came a time it didn’t justify the use of the scarce resource of water. Hurricane Hilary, with its steady rainfall, helped extend the harvest by a few weeks. Taking out the plants needed to be a practical decision. I was very thankful to the tomatoes and all that went into their growth and production: sun, nutritious soil, water, air, and time. The connection between the sun and the food we grow became more clear than ever.
It was time to prepare the beds for another crop to grow as the temperature cooled and the days got shorter. The time would come when there just wouldn’t be enough sunlight in a day for anything to grow.
Harvest: Both physical and spiritual. Experiencing Connection
What I realized was I am a part of it. The connection is all around us: the soil, sun, water, air, and seeds were part of the process of producing vegetables to nourish our bodies. Yet, I was a part of it too, an essential part like every part of the process. The seed was given the opportunity to come to fruition. It is the same with life for each one of us. There are essential elements to allow us to fulfill our potential. All working together. All of us connected.
Then there are those who eat the food produced by the united effort of soil, water, sun, air, the cultivator, and harvester. They are as much a part of the process as any of the parts. What is the purpose of gardening? Granted it is more than nourishing the body.
Then it occurred to me that gardening, agriculture to be more specific, is not new. It was not only an ancient practice but was a turning point in the unfolding of humanity. Growing food was the spark that led to the development of great human civilizations. It was a fundamental connection between peoples. My experiences in the garden connected me to an age-old human endeavor to grow and fulfill possibilities. I am humbled by the thought. The seed was given the opportunity to come to fruition. It is the same with life for each one of us. There are essential elements that allow us to fulfill our potential. All working together. Once again, connection.
Connection: we are a part of everything
As I reflect on the lessons of the garden and the interdependence of all the elements—sun, soil, air, and water—with my human effort and love, I am transported beyond my garden to Mother Earth. My hope is that we can expand the ancient practice of growing food for ourselves to the nurturing of our planet. The patience, acceptance, hard work, and faith that gardening requires can be expanded to caring for the Earth. The future farmers will cultivate a healthy Earth, and we will all receive its benefits.
In the end I realize how much this work with gardening reminds me of mysticism, and something I read from Cafh Foundation some years ago:
“The lives of the mystics teach us that mysticism is a possibility for everyone, that it begins when one sees the particular circumstances of one’s life within the greater framework of all of life. To work on one’s way of thinking and feeling enables one’s inner voice to speak from the heart, and one relates to the Divine directly….
This is the secret of transforming common, ordinary life into a full, meaningful life. And this is something any one of us can realize right now, wherever we are.”