Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Growing Things

In college, I had a boyfriend who liked bonsai trees. He succeeded in over-pruning one straight into its death, and another into a life of stunted and strange angles. He meant well.

One afternoon, while killing time in a hardware store, he bought me a cactus. "It'll be your thing," he said. I definitely sneered a little. But I decided to try anyway.

As I did most things those days, I decided to just sort of wing it in terms of caring for my newly acquired plant. I knew nothing about cacti. I still know next to nothing. I do know now that you can over water them. And that they'll die. Slow and agonizing deaths. Because that's what happened to mine, of course.

After that, it was like the plant world had it out for me. And for good reason. I had basically water-boarded that poor cactus to death. Any and everything I had ever endeavored to grow from that point forward had died instead. My green thumb was missing. In its place, a fellow stood cloaked in black.

I had to get rid of that guy.

When we first moved to the suburbs, my mind concocted grand pictures of myself coming back from this bleak period of plant-killing and becoming a master of the earth - one with nature. Any fleeting thoughts of a lingering curse could be forgotten. I would find friends among the green and grit of nature. Dig my hands into the ground. Magically not be afraid of touching worms or dead things.

Yet year after year, in spite of my good intentions, my small attempts at gardening failed. Young plants looked flushed with potential in their early days, but then sat stillborn in middle development, green fruit hanging still too small mere weeks later. I did manage to get some herbs growing, but any idiot can do that in practically any climate, so I knew there was no real success there.

In fact, the very first thing I've ever really sucessfully grown alone, is a baby. But, for once, this story has nothing to do with her.

This is a story about my love for the internet. Did you know that, internet? I love you. Truly. Because if it weren't for the massive amount of easily accessible, important information dancing magically at my fingertips, I would still be an uninformed hack who kills a couple of tomato plants every year.

I was a rotten gardener for one reason and one reason alone: I completely neglected to educate myself. Like, didn't even try or think to try. I just hoped things would go well. That it would just be common sense.

It's not just common sense, by the way. There is a lot to know. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. You need to know what the hell you are doing.

The internet inspired me to become a better gardener, by first helping me to become a better cook. I started using the web to seek out simple recipes for favorite recipes and making them, modifying them, learning from them. Before too long, I was starting to make up my own stuff - I felt confident. I had gained a new skill.

Suddenly new hope came rallying into my heart like Gandalf leading all those guys down the mountain at the battle of Helm's Deep. I was like, "YEAH!" (at the movie, and at that very moment). I remembered my love of the earth, and my hope to gain its trust again one day. The internet was the answer.

My spirit renewed, I set out to learn everything I needed to know about building a home garden and maintaining it. I was overwhelmed by all the generous enthusiasts out there who donate their time to write blogs and create videos, because there is a ton of really solid information out there provided by people who are just passionate about growing things. I totally wanted to be one of those people, too.

We got our garden going on April 27th with a selection of cold crops. And I'll admit, I was nervous. As soon as they'd been put to ground I suddenly felt sure that they would all die. They were so small. Maybe they even looked a bit limp? Lifeless!?

Not dying. Just have nothing good to do. 
I calmed down a bit over the next few days. I covered the soil with a layer of mulch (which I had neglected to buy initially) and watched as the plants firmed up, started reaching out. But I still set to fretting like I had a sick child when the temperature dipped dangerously low one night. As the days passed I even started spending time researching how to harvest some of these things when that time might come - what should I look for? How will I know they are ready? But I kept my hopes on a short leash. No need getting too attached. 

I pulled off lettuce leaves that were low to the ground. Kept my kale trimmed back 25% at a time. I clipped the broccoli at the stem, and new heads formed in the vacancies. I felt confident one day. And more so the next. I challenged my luck by adding warm weather crops, filling my experimental plat to its brimming point. Crossing my fingers, and then uncrossing them and reading more gardening blogs instead.

I spouted easy advice and fact to friends and family. Locked in data points coming to call when beckoned by my memory - they were my facts now, of me.

I wasn't only growing things in the dirt, I was growing things within as well. My confidence came from knowledge - my knowledge from my effort, and the resources all thanks to the wonder of people looking to add to the world. Many of them contributing over the magic of the web.

So often we think of only what we want to take from this life - even in its most noble pursuits, the mind can be clouded to think of what we're owed, what should be ours without any real claim. But, I will venture this advice: happiness is in the growing of things - the making of things - the addition of life. It could be a garden, or a song, or an invention of process or practice. But it is adding, not taking away that brings fulfillment. It is what is right. It is what is good.

Well, that and the internet.

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