fringe benefits

moonWe waited out the last of the “little winters” with our little greenhouse getting a bit too full of plants ready to go in the ground.  The moon was nearly full, in a nice earth sign with rain in the forecast for the next day.  We hustled and got it (almost) all planted.

Doing this change, this year, scaling back the gardens – it’s strange.  We only planted seventy tomatoes.  My Fellow Man and I stood on the edge of the field, looking at the rows and wondering…  could seventy tomatoes possibly be enough?  How could seventy tomato plants possibly NOT be enough?  It’s been ten years since we’ve grown anything less than one hundred tomato plants.  Our season has been organized around hundreds of row feet of just about everything.  It feels very strange, and sort of unsettling, to be growing less.tomatoes

Part of the weirdness is missing our people.  Year after year, I have considered our customers as we plant.  Thoughts along the lines of: “This family loves this variety of pepper, let’s make sure to have plenty of it!”  Or “This person always wants extra orange tomatoes.” Or “I can’t wait for her to see these purple radishes”.  Sharing the garden was such a large part of growing it.  I miss our people, and I still think of them when I’m out there.  No doubt, there will still be plenty of food sharing going on.  It’s just changing.

Another part is figuring out what we, just our family, want to grow.  After a decade of trying to grow EVERYTHING, the question this season is – what do we want to eat, and how much?  Mostly, the answer is still EVERYTHING, but the proportions are changing, and it feels funny to consult only ourselves, not our larger marketplace, in the decisions.  We have grown mostly paste tomatoes this year, with canning in mind.  The watermelon and cantaloupe bed is smaller, more narrowly defined by our personal tastes.  I’m having a hard time believing that we will survive with anything less than a seventy five foot long row of basil.  It’s just not worth the risk!  But some things, like spinach – we can have a small bed of spinach and be wonderfully satisfied while we wait for the cucumbers to bloom and grow. It won’t be long until the excesses of the growing season will be fully upon us. basil

The topic of “how much is enough” is a big one.  We live in a culture that glorifies excess.  We are raised on it, and in it.  The “average” American child consumes the same amount of resources as thirteen of its neighboring children in Brazil, or thirty-five children in India (source).  The numbers are nothing short of absurd, but I don’t doubt their veracity, because I feel it right here at home.  Here we are, trying to live “simply”, trying to produce instead of consume, and still we are over-run with matchbox cars, legos, paperback books, not to mention the constant demand of the fuel tanks, needing to be refilled.  I’m not into inspiring guilt, in myself or others.  I am very much interested in inspired personal responsibility, in myself and others.

While hustling the garden into place this week, I thought about doing my best, and continuing to learn to do better.  I don’t do this – this gardening, this thinking, this writing, because I feel guilty about our excessive use of resources.  I do it, and advocate for it, because it feels good to strive for better.  It feels good to learn, to change, to grow on the inside.  In fact, it is much more satisfying to learn and grow than to buy more stuff.  It’s just a little more enough

And I believe we can take steps in a completely different direction by looking at what it is that we can make MORE of for the goodness of the world.  Love, of course, is the most obvious thing.  Friendship and understanding, love’s counterparts – can’t have too much of those.  There don’t seem to be too many clover flowers, so I think it’s safe to make more clover.  Flowers in general – especially the ones still attached to their roots. We can use more flowers.   Then there’s the other stuff, like tomatoes, for instance, and lettuce (sweet potatoes, too, and cilantro, arugula, garlic and onions, butternut squash – can’t have too much of these things).  If we can’t eat them, or given them away, the chickens and goats will enjoy them, and we will pile up their manure, let it rot, and spread it on the garden, which leads to another good thing – compost, and fertile soil.  Anything that anyone of us can do to enrich the life of a piece of ground (and I’m talking about earthworms, not Miracle Gro here), THAT activity is a service to all life on earth.   The fact that we gain incredible natural beauty, high quality food, and good health from that service?  That’s just fringe benefits.


goats in may

Goats seem prone to discontent. Maybe it’s an adaptation strategy developed over thousands of years of hanging out with humans. Sometimes their capriciousness is a little too familiar. They pull at their ropes, always focusing on something just beyond their reach. They kick their back legs, both in the joy of freedom and in the devil-may-care moments of frustration. They are not afraid to butt something or someone, out of their way. They usually avoid eye contact.

pepper and annie

That’s why it is so pleasing to us, their caretakers, when they are contented.

That’s why we, their caretakers, are so pleased to see the calendar turning to the month of May. The fields have finally grown UP big enough to please the goats. In March and April, our caprine friends were hungry, and eager each morning to go to the field, but never satisfied.


Now that it is May, they graze quietly all day, resting in turns, and rolling in a patch of bare earth when it suits them. They return to their pens in the evening with round fat bellies full of mature dock stalks, thistle leaf tips, clover flowers, and grass seed heads. They are contented to be scratched along their bumpy backs and down their long necks. When we take our first peek at them in the morning, they are still chewing.

Thanks May. We are all so glad you’re here.


what the seeds told me this week

seeds 1Each and every seed carries within it the code for its own doom, as well as for the perpetuation of it’s own kind.

Upon making the effort the germinate, the individual seed itself is destroyed. It’s a beautiful destruction, as it may lead to another green plant, but be it a flower, a weed, or a tree, there is a destruction involved none the less.

The beans have a particularly creative style of accomplishing their transformation, as they use the meaty part of their seeds as the cotyledons, which wilt back as the true leaves mature. Other plants leave just a little husk behind as whatever is left of the seed is absorbed into stem or root, or sloughed off.seeds 4

Seeds have no choice. Given the right circumstances – temperature, moisture, light – a seed uses its inborn vitality and makes an attempt to germinate. If it has been made to wait too long in adverse conditions, that vitality may diminish, and if the moment to sprout never comes, the seed will eventually decompose. Again, the seed’s destruction feeds the living soil.  Whenever a seed gets an opportunity, it plays its part. Even at its own expense, the seed does what it can to bring about more life in abundance.seeds 5

The seed has no housework. The seed doesn’t make apologies. The seed doesn’t juggle a busy schedule. The seed doesn’t linger with good-byes.  The seed has no choice. We do.

Change challenges us. And change is completely unavoidable. There’s something about our capacity for freedom that breeds a spirit of resistance, and attachment. But if we resist the change coming our way, we will still be changed by the very fact of our resistance. If we cling to our beautiful moments, they will never mature into the sacred mundane. If we cling to our pain, we might not find out what it was for.

Some changes are more difficult than others. We are not seeds. We choose. Every moment, we choose, to be awake to life and its changes, or sleep through it and deal with change re-actively, and in the retrospect. To take the bull by the horns, or be thrown. But we can take a lesson from the seeds. They are sprouting up all over the place right now.

The lesson is clear…

Sprout. Grow. Bloom. Set free some more seeds.  Carry on.seeds 2seeds 3

Set aside fear, and vanity.  You will never be the same.  You never were.  Don’t let your unfulfilled potential rot like a seed that never got a chance. When it’s time to grow – let grow.

It’s Life itself that is really so beautiful.seeds 6