Gardeners tend to regard snow with disdain. The coldness keeps us from going out and feeling the dirt between our fingers. The snow blankets all of our past work and the plants are leafless and lifeless. At least that’s what it looks like. However, there’s a dry spot in my garden out back where I will plant hops this coming spring and I found myself shoveling wheelbarrows of snow onto the spot to bring the soil to life. It is arid during the season and I have always had problems getting things to grow there.
At the end of the day, gardeners are in the business of building up soil and while I was trudging around in my garden the other day in 8” of snow, shoveling the stuff onto my “dry spot”, I was reminded that nothing in nature is without ground; both figuratively and literally. The snow acts as insulation against the raw windy cold. Snow melts slowly into the ground breaking up clods and working manure into the soil. Snow provides moisture over time and gives the soil time to recover from the gardener’s incessant need to interfere with what nature does best.
This last point is the cornerstone of a subject that I have become more and more interested in: permaculture. It seems to go against the concept of gardening itself: just leave it alone. I have found that it helps to remember that we are not really managers as much as stewards. That answering the question “How?” does not answer the question “Why?” As a gardener, I want to produce food and resources for food. I want hops not because hops are somehow inherently good, but because I love beer and want to make beer that tastes good. Hops makes beer taste good!
However, permaculture does not dismiss our utilitarian desires. Rather, it reminds us that our utilitarian desires need to be limited by the resources that we actually have and the resources that we actually have can be more than enough…as long as we don’t get greedy. It takes patience not to be greedy.
Snow forces us to be permaculturists rather than gardeners in the true sense of the word: work intentionally and don’t do too much and don’t take too much. It’s funny that we have to be taught these things as they seem to be self-evident. Maybe the lesson to be learned is: gardening is easy if you have patience, but being patient makes gardening difficult. I, for one, find that to be true anyway.