Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Four W's of Gardening, Part 4

Do you remember when you were a kid and how long it took for Christmas to get here? Or your birthday? I do too. Now that I’m a bit more mature (read “older”) I don’t say that any more. Now I say things like, “Dang, is it May already? What happened to April? Did we skip April this year?”

That kind of perspective comes from experience, the experience of a lot of Aprils and Mays and Christmases and birthdays and such. That kind of experience also helps a lot of things. It helps in knowing that the summer heat will break, that winter doesn’t last forever, that there will be a spring and that fall colors are worth waiting for.

This principle of gardening is probably one of if not the most important one. Waiting. Another word for waiting is allowing, which is really what we are doing in gardening. We are allowing the natural processes to take their course.

Nature does what it does effortlessly and in harmony with everything else. Nature is in a constant state of change, either growing or decaying. Neither is good or bad, they both just are. There is no static condition, no “holding pattern” in Nature. Growing or dying, that’s all there is. But that’s good, too.

When something is growing, it consumes what it needs to manufacture or obtain the necessary elements and energy to grow. When a plant grows, it consumes the energy of the light, mixes the carbon, the hydrogen and the oxygen in the presence of chlorophyll and produces the energy it needs to grow. It consumes materials from the air and the soil and takes them and binds them together in the myriad combinations that form the roots, the stems, the leaves and the fruit.

When the plant has completed its life cycle, it dies and decays. But in its death, it provides life for the animals and organisms that consume its form in their quest to grow. Growing or dying, that’s all there is.

When we plant a seed, we don’t think of the seed as the plant. The seed must, after a fashion, die and from it comes the plant that we desire. We plant seeds in the expectation that there will be a flower or a fruit or an edible root or a decorative tree or some other feature of the plant. We even plant seeds for more seeds. But whatever the reason, we begin with the end in mind. Stephen Covey in his classic “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” has that as habit number 2.

We want our plants to complete their life cycles. I want my tomato seeds to swell and sprout and send out roots and stems and leaves. I get excited as I see each of the phases the plants go through in their development and maturation. I like the process as much, if not more than, the end result of a sweet, juicy fresh tomato. But I plant the seeds thinking of the tomatoes at the end of the cycle. I begin with the end in mind.

Too many times in our instant gratification world we don’t develop the patience necessary to truly appreciate what is going on around us. We want it now and we are not going to wait for it. Fast cars, fast food, shorter lines, instant this and instant that. Without patience, we miss the miracles of what is happening.

I remember my first computer. It was a Commodore Pet 1000. It had a monochrome monitor, built in to the keyboard system. And it had a cassette tape recorder built in to act as a storage device. It weighed a ton and was a blast. I programmed stars and constellations and taught myself astronomy with that thing. Compare that to the computer that is on my phone now.

I had to wait for it to “warm up” and then boot up the operating system from the cassette player. There was no internet yet. We swapped programs by mail, not e-mail, postage-based snail mail. It was fun then, but would drive me nuts now. Later, my first external hard drive was 20 megabytes. I have a pen now that stores 4 gigabytes! I have a terabyte drive sitting next to my computer now, and I back up online with unlimited storage.

Now when I turn on the computer I want an instant multi-media experience with music, sound effects, colors and realistic images. I want to download software and send e-mail and write blogs and research vermicomposting in Florida or wicking beds in Australia or aquaponics in South Africa. And I can do all of that and more. I just had to have patience for these things to come about.

Nature cannot be rushed without upsetting the delicate yet power balance that exists in it. There is no natural rushing of the cycles, no manipulation of the cycles and patterns of nature. Nature just allows things to happen.

We need to allow things to happen, too. We need to be there when we are needed and get out of the way when we are not. We can enhance the soil, add water or nutrients and we get to plant the seeds where we want them and when we want to. By providing our earthworms with what they need, they are happy and eat more and reproduce more and I have more worms.

By working within the cycles of nature, I get to experience life and all that it has to offer. I get to learn the patterns of nature, that patience and perseverance are vitally important and that I’m not alone in what I am doing. Others have done it before and others will do it long after I am worm food.

That’s why we need to be thankful for the harvest even before we plant the seeds. we need to work to bring about that harvest and allow the things to happen as they are supposed to happen. We need to exercise our faith in the process, the outcome and the principles of nature that are at work even when we are planning our gardens. Give thanks for the harvest when you plant your seeds. Act as if the produce is already there. Do what you need to do to husband your garden, give what you can and then…

…then get out of the way and let Nature do her thing. She’s better at it than you are.

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