Month: May 2015

Sage Advice

buddha

It hailed today and luckily the tomatoes that I planted out were covered by the hoophouse I built around them. I learned my lesson last year, and in years before: never trust nature to do what you want it to do. I know that I will learn this lesson many times to come, but the lesson never comes easy.

The hops were troopers; I believe that they are the marines of the plant world: nothing phases them. The rhubarb was sheltered by the large bank of bushes, and most of the seeds planted out last week have not come up. I hop the newly peeking asparagus shoots are OK.

The bees finally had a time of it on their cleansing flights after so much grey rainy weather that we’ve been having; that is, before the hail set in. I had put out a swarm capture box as I was having an inkling that there was a swarm around that had been trying to get into one of the hives. They had had no luck, and so I put the box out, wondering if they’d be interested. I think they were, but it’s too early to tell.

Lots of hard work in the garden these days for all of us. It’s not nature that is a taskmaster as she simply doesn’t care. It is the hopes and dreams of canning tomatoes, making salsa and rhubarb jam, freezing kale, brewing beer, making apple sauce, putting up pickles and beets, juicing plums and crabapples, picking fresh carrots and digging up potatoes. It is pesto with your own basil and tea with your own honey. It is all of these things and more.

This time of year is both hopeful and hellish; everything seems so fragile and yet so much is riding on it. This time of year is the start of catching up. Farmers and gardeners alike play “catch-up” from now on out. The weeds will come, wasps will attack the bees and plants will die. It’s all out there in the mysterious future as are the hopes and dreams of those who try to understand the soil and the plants that come out of it.

As I said it hailed tonight and probably took out a lot of folk’s work. I can almost hear the profanity even if we did need the moisture. There is more where that came from. We all know it. Buddha supposedly said, of nirvana: figure it out yourself. I think that such advice is sage (good in sausage and olive oil for dipping bread). And so, I hope that we all figure it out. But for now, I’m off on an adventure of my own, and wish you all the best that your hard work will offer on yours.

Why?

aristotle quote

Two year old’s ask it all of the time, and we (as adults) often dismiss the question: why? You are asked: “What do you do?” but how many times are you asked: “Why do you do what you do?” To answer that question would take some thought, and would probably open us up to thoughts that we might not want to consider.

For those of us striving to live an environmentally sound life, the question can be uncomfortable. Why do I keep bees, have a large garden, collect water, compost grass and food scraps, save seeds, use no pesticides or herbicides, can and forage food, recycle wood for the projects around the place? Why do I want to do more?

Answers begin to bubble up if we think long enough about what we do. Often when we explain those answers to others, they come across as ideological and sometimes self-righteous, sometimes we just don’t know. We become accustomed to the “glazed” look after a minute, and we realize that the answer has become rambling, incoherent or that the question was only asked out of feigned politeness.

Answers range from philosophical to utilitarian, from selfish and self-righteous to ideological and ambiguous. “It’s just the right thing to do.” Of course, the answers rely upon the question. When people ask: “What do you do?” the simple answer is to tell them you get paid to do it. However, if someone asks: Why do you do it?”

“For the money!” becomes an empty answer; one that reminds us of who we are. Money doesn’t cut it at the end of the day.

And so we are left wondering why. There is only one reason to do anything and it is right under our nose whether that is the compost pile or the wild apple and plum trees that we might pass everyday while walking the dog (rescued from the pound).

Why do I keep bees, have a large garden, collect water, compost, save seeds, and use no poisons? Why do I recycle scrap wood for projects? Because not to do so would take away a quality of happiness that doing such things gives me.

Why do I do what I do? It gives me a higher quality of happiness, and as Aristotle wrote: happiness depends upon ourselves, and the highest quality of happiness depends upon why we do what we do.

Perfect Imperfection

perfection

I decided that putting the leek starts in the ground, most of them looked dead or dying, was a chance that I was willing to make. The onion starts look good. Last year, our onion crop wasn’t that good and I remember wondering why home gardeners don’t often get those vegetables that we all see in the supermarket: those red, oval tomatoes, all sized and shapely, taking their place on the well prepared produce stands or that green, full-leafed lettuce plants in February. Gardeners, at least of my ilk, live in a different world; they live in a world where food often looks like well, food and not products.

With the ongoing and growing movement with regard to food culture, many people are more and more aware of the processes that are necessary to get food to the market. The process is in fact amazing! The process, however, gives us a false sense of what food is. It is not a commodity, the consequence of a closed and well-oiled system. Rather, food is a product of the rather imperfect world in which we live. Food is a product of the soil, of water, and of time and effort and more often than not, chance.

I try to remember this as a put down the small starter potatoes, just poking out their first shoots. I remember my last crop of potatoes. They seemed small and pathetic, at least until I took a bit of them. A little salt water, heat and time and such a potato is truly a work of art. Like art, producing food relies upon a bit of imagination and a lot of elbow grease. The result, whether on canvas or in the ground, is often not what we started out thinking it would be. However, the results, somehow, are always satisfying.

My leeks are doing well as are the onion starts. My tomato seedlings have little blossoms on them as they stare up out of the hothouse. I don’t know what will come of these as the season progresses, but I know the results will not be perfect.

Nature’s process is not perfect, but nature is perfect in its imperfection. While nature is not an artist, nor does it “produce” food, it is a process that we must and always will, rely upon. Nature is a verb, perhaps, but a verb that changes meaning over time; it never sits still awaiting definition. Nature offers a bit of insight into something that we must accept: the idea of perfect imperfection. But if my memory serves me right, imperfection can taste perfectly good!

Profit and Progress

progress

For people who grow their own food, this time of year is a mix of stress and excitement. Seedlings are coming up, but in many parts of the country, it’s too early to put them out. The bees are beginning to get busy, but sometimes they swarm. The worries of a warm summer are coveted because of the unrelenting rain and cool spells that inevitably come. Animals birth, and some die. Farmers start ramping up the season, but have to wait for the always elusive “goldilocks” weather. This mix and match dichotomy is not limited to seasons.

Most of us live in societies where money is the method behind the madness, but want to trust our food while not paying unreal prices for it. For those brave souls who decide to give us what we want, they must try to do the right thing while figuring out the right thing to do in order to keep doing what they love. There must be a pay-off but the cost of that pay-off needs to be taken into consideration as well. Do you sell your soul out of necessity, or is it necessary to keep your principles in order to progress?

From farming come these philosophical conundrums. Gardening is not different. Running a business is, well… no different. Many of us begin the long road of life considering profit as progress. Some of us realize that profit in fact stands in the way of progress. But, these are not solutions; they are challenges that each of us seem to face no matter what we do. I have a dream, yes, but that dream and the reality that it creates are often not one in the same. Profit and progress come in many forms.

A few principles might help. First, be honest; not only with everyone around you, but perhaps most importantly with yourself. Second, know the hill that you will “die on”. There comes a time when profit is no longer a measure of progress, but a detriment to development. The change from one to the other is often slight and barely perceptible. Third, know why you do what you do. We often ask strangers “What do you do?” Perhaps we should start asking: “Why do you do what you do?” A more pertinent question if we are to profit from our progress.