Dirt part II: the Earth yields

our garden's plucky first fruits

The idea took root a year ago: plant a garden in our backyard. A vegetable garden. Grow green leafy things to nourish our bodies right from home. High on a hill on Grand Rapids’ West Side, it seemed an inviting foray into urban farming.
The idea was proposed by Max, my restlessly creative son. When he is not learning to speak Chinese at Grand Valley State University, he brings home bags overflowing with great green things and stuffs them into the fridge. This is life with a college student who works at a health food store and is vigilant about every thing he puts in his body.
So sure, let’s do the garden because I don’t need to mow the lower lawn down there by the pear tree anyway. Although it may interfere with my bocce court. No matter. Garden it would be, for body and soul and making this little patch of the world a little more self-sufficient.
This would be our bit in the urban farming movement, a hopeful trend for greening up our healthy cities and reviving struggling ones like Detroit. Also it would provide cheap fresh food for our table. How much better to get it from the yard a few steps away than to drive to the grocery store which had it driven in from a few hundred miles away.
It took a year because most things do around my house. But after much planning, diagramming, buying of seeds and really heavy bags of gooey black stuff, we went at it. Max went at it first, digging out the grass aided by his friends Cang and Tim, Tim being way more comfortable shredding riffs in Max’s band than excavating clods of dirt.
Max and I framed it in with 6- and 11-foot lengths of 2 by 6’s. Looked nice and orderly there at the bottom of the yard, a little human organization imposed on the wilderness. Then came the kneading in of the peat and compost and top soil as if we were folding together flour and such for bread. Remove more clumps of grass, rake out the soil till it’s a delicious black.
At last, then, time to plant the seeds. Max chose lettuce, kale, spinach and cucumbers, a fine mix for summer salads and industrial strength smoothies. He dropped the seeds in thoughtfully, carefully, smoothing the dirt over them with his hand not unlike a Buddhist monk creating a mandala. Watered it down. Looked it over. Lovely. Garden planted, now let nature rock.
Just a few days later, nature did rock. Sprouted, rather. Yielded up a fetching bright green row of little lettuce nibbles, which upon spotting them made me smile with delight. Really, already? Way to go, earth! You’re such an efficient food factory!
As I showed this to Max, he also spied tiny sprigs of spinach and coy cucumber petals poking up in circles. He laughed with joy. Wow, amazing! You just plant the stuff and a few days later up it comes. No chemical applications required. No major machinery. Just a good hard digging of the earth and planting of the seeds and anointing all with water. Dirt does the rest.
It’s a sacred process, really, tending to the good earth that was created to feed us. Miraculously, it does so with remarkably little coaxing, even after all the abuse we have inflicted on it. All it takes is paying a little attention to it, gently kneading it and lovingly watering it. So little work for such a generous bounty. It calls for a hymn of grateful praise.
Now comes the weeding. It’s the least we can do.

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8 Responses to Dirt part II: the Earth yields

  1. Rachel says:

    This reminds me of when I used to garden with my mom at the home I grew up at. Only I wasn’t exactly a willing volunteer. 🙂 Maybe someday I’ll try again.

    • Yeah, I was assigned to pull weeds in my mom’s garden, so it’s still not my favorite activity. However, as the rest of life has gotten more complicated I find comfort in the simplicity of digging stuff out of dirt. No wonder they call it a grounding activity. 🙂

  2. John says:

    Ah, one of the negative components of living in Tokyo, no real garden but we do have a veranda overflowing with flowers and, at the moment, snow peas, basil and tomatoes are coming

  3. Charlie,
    it’s great. enjoyed reading it and am so glad you have that to share with Max.
    Diane is busy planting up a storm in our backyard and around the house. it’s a labor love for her.
    will we see you this summer?
    Fred

    • soulmailing says:

      Hi Fred ~ Great to hear from you! Glad Diane has some cultivating going on at your place. It truly is grounding in both senses. Afraid I probably won’t make it to the lake this summer, but sounds like you’ve have an ample crew. Enjoy the sunsets and send me a few pics ok?
      Best wishes,
      Charley

  4. jane strunck says:

    So this is the first summer in almost 40 years we have NOT planted a vegetable garden! To me, planting seeds is so much about hope and and my gardens have never let me down. This summer we’re simplifying the backyard. T he native plants have adapted so well, they’re taking over!! If weather allows and motivation persists, we’ll have a late summer garden for fall crops. Enjoy the father-son venture. Very cool!
    Will miss seeing you this summer,
    jane

    • soulmailing says:

      Hi Jane ~ I’m sure you and Ted could teach me a thing or 20 about vegetable gardening. You guys have always been good role models for living a healthy organic life style within the metropolis. It continues to amaze me how the yard comes on of its own volition, truly like a jungle that won’t be denied.
      Yeah, I’ll miss you all this summer as well, but I’ll be back. Andrea and I are going to do a fall getaway this year. Plus I will be in Turkey July 15-23! More on that later.
      Have a great summer break.
      Charley

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