I garden because my mother taught me to, and because it is one way I know to live well upon the earth, nurturing the place we call home by keeping it fruitful.
I garden because of all the things I do with my hands, tending seeds and nurturing soil is the thing that feeds me body and soul, while honoring all that is holy in this world.
My garden has a life of its own. At this time of year, it feels as if it is springing forth as if of its own accord. Yes, it is my efforts planting seeds and preparing beds and dreaming that will manifest it, but these things flow through me rather than because of me. I am a servant to the seeds.
And so I can begin humbly.
Humility is good when you garden in a little barrio in Santa Fe, capital city of the dusty, dry, windy state of New Mexico. It reminds you to put your labor into cultivating a few patches of rich earth, so that, as my friend Erin says, they really sing. Humility teaches us that to get that song in the right key all we need (all!) is patience, persistence, and passion. Humility reminds you that though there is indeed a bright area under the clothesline that would, if tilled and watered, quadruple the size of your arable land, it might be wise to wait. And wait.
Humility is its own kind of seed, and it’s fruit is called grace. At this point, I can say that is the main crop in my garden.
Over the years I’ve slowly shifted away from ambitious plans to “grow all our own tomatoes and greenbeans and kale so I can be a survivalist and sock it to the man,” and towards something more holistic: I’m going to make this garden as healthy and fertile as I can, because that is healing to me and the planet.
Last summer was probably one of the greatest fruit years in New Mexico I will ever see. It came in the midst of devastating drought, at a time when most of us were despairing of ever again seeing a decent harvest from our fruit trees. Watching it unfold–the blossoms and green fruit, the waves of ripening cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and apples all summer long, the harvesting and preserving that brought my community together in a spectacular way–I felt myself to be in the midst of a favorite dream, the kind where we really are able to be self sufficient based on the gifts of this high, dry land.
So I know that it comes, but I know not to take it for granted. For now, I’m grateful to have these years of apprenticing myself to this particular patch of land and the gifted gardeners whose experience guides me. Because I’ve got a long way to go.
This year, my garden reflects my growing understanding of Biodynamic practices. I’m planting seeds according to what sign the moon is in. My mom and I spent an hour this spring mixing up the famous horn manure potion and using a juniper branch to “spray” it on the soil. After a period of no-till gardening, I’m double digging my beds again. My main fertilizers are compost and fermented herb teas (while we have an impressive bin of biodynamically prepared compost in mid-decomposition, we were, as usual, about six months too late for it to be ready this year).
Right now I’ve got beds with cover crops on them, beds with sheet mulch, beds that overwintered greens, and beds that exist only in my imagination. Maybe I’m hoping that one of these will prove to be the golden key to abundant harvests, or maybe I’m just not sure what I’m doing. When I figure it out, then it wil be time to build those new beds under the clothesline.
This is the first year that I’ve been serious about starting seeds inside. I was convinced by a friend who demonstrated how much easier it is to germinate and establish tiny seedlings in flats rather than in huge beds that are impossible to keep moist and protected from spring winds. I don’t have a greenhouse, which seemed like a deal breaker, but then I realized I could just bring the flats in and out each day. While I’m hoping my puny tomatoes and chiles beef up by the last frost date, it is the thickets of greens that are most fun to nurture this way.
I’m getting better at refining my succession planting, and intercropping. My goal has shifted away from having enough garden space to grow everything in one explosive season (in New Mexico, explosive seasons usually refer to forest fires, and a big summer garden means big summer water bills), but rather to have small, well tended areas for year round gardening.
And so I’m always wondering: How much do we need? How can I work with this land to provide it? Will rain ever come and fill our cisterns? Should I just get a CSA? Work at the farmer’s market in exchange for food? Move to the Northwest? Stay tuned, friends. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you’d like to share any of the secrets you’ve gleaned from your own garden and efforts as a gardener, please, please, do.
If interested in Biodynamic gardening, I recommend this book, which takes something that can be virtually incomprehensible and makes it beautiful, simple, and irresistible. If you want to give the cosmic rhythms a chance, get yourself a copy of the Stella Natura calendar. And lastly, if you live in the Southwest, I recommend taking a summer long hiatus from any blog outside the four corners region where an unwitting glimpse of the harvest basket or pantry will make you want to throw in the trowel and cry. Instead, subscribe to Seeds and Stones and 6512 and Growing. You will still get annoyed at what these chicas pull off, but at least it’s to scale. Since it’s still early in the year, I’d say it’s safe to read the other posts in this installment of Get Real. Prepare to be impressed.