Sunday, April 12, 2015

Let the Spring Come

If you've been reading long, you may remember my former passion for gardening and all the mishaps we encountered along the way with The Family Garden at our old house. For the last couple of years, I'd been wanting to start a new garden, but the very thought of it made me tired. Bill had done all the hard work the first time, plus all the watering, and I'd found it difficult to keep up with the weeding. Honestly, I've always had a black thumb. So gardening was one of the things I let slip when I started my life as a too-busy, always tired single mom.

One thing I picked back up this semester, with great joy, was ladies' Bible study at my church, We've been doing a very different sort of study called 7: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker. The study challenges us to examine seven areas of excess in this entitled, self-indulgent culture: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

If we had more time, I'd tell you about all the changes that little book has inspired in me. For now, I'll just say that it's very convicting. Even the chapters that I thought surely didn't apply to me--such as Spending--really made me take a hard look at how I live and how I think about myself, my family, and others.

The chapter on waste was another that I didn't think I needed so much. After all, I already recycle, I don't buy bottled water, I do buy organic produce, and I shop in the bulk section at my beloved Sprout's Farmer's Market. But I found that I did have a lot to learn, and plenty of room for improvement. I particularly loved the way Jen separated ecology from politics and reminded us that God has commanded us all to be good stewards. She posed some tough questions, like "Why don't we care for the earth anywhere near to the degree we do our bodies?... Why don't we fuss and examine and steward creation with the same tenacity?... Do we think ourselves so superior to the rest of creation that we are willing to deplete the earth to supply our luxuries?"

I made one commitment that week: I've gone back to reusable grocery bags. I'd started using plastic again because those bags are very convenient for cleaning the cats' litter boxes. As I thought about what I could change, I realized that I could just use one trash bag per week, storing it in the old litter tub where I stash the full grocery bags. It's a little smellier that way, but really not a big sacrifice.

The video that week got me thinking about gardening again, not just because we could potentially eat vegetables straight from the ground, but also because there's just something about gardening that fosters a love for the earth. That's what I want to teach my kids.

Despite my willing spirit, my weak flesh was pretty stressed over all the work this would entail. How would I have time to plan it all, let alone carry it out?

As I was turning all this over in my mind, God provided the solution right out of the blue. My brother Rick had invited the family over for dinner, and that evening he told me he had three old Earthbox containers I could have. He assured me that these self-watering containers made gardening foolproof. All I'd have to do was set them up, fill them with potting soil, fertilize once, and plant the seedlings. The mulch cover would protect them from weeds and pests, and I wouldn't have to figure out how much water they needed; I'd just fill the reservoir to overflowing each day, and the moisture would wick up to through the fertilized soil at just the right rate.

"You're sure it's that easy?" I asked. "Well, okay. Why not?"

I went home with a book on container gardening and a list of the plants that had grown best for Rick. To be honest, all the intricate details of the book had me ready to call the whole thing off, but Allyson was way too excited for me to do that. And Rick kept assuring me that it really was super easy.

Friday before last, Allyson and I went to Ace Hardware and bought six cubic feet of Black Gold organic potting mix, 11 sweet little seedlings (summer squash, zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage, strawberries, eggplant, and red bell peppers), and a packet of cantaloupe seeds. Allyson was most patient while I tried to discern the ingredients of the 15 different soil mixes, agonizing over the optimum balance of sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite. If you count the replant kits that I ordered online from Earthbox, my total expenditure was about $120. I found that ironic because this was during Spending week in the 7 study, and this was the largest unbudgeted purchase I've made in a long, long time. I figured it didn't count since it was homework from the Waste week.

Allyson wanted to plant everything immediately, but she had learned from her online research that morning was the best time to transplant the seedlings because then they'd have a whole day of sunlight to help them settle in. So we stowed the seedling tray in Allyson's window seat and carefully shut her door to keep Arwen from devouring them. (She loves to eat anything green even though she usually throws it all up within minutes. She never learns.)

I woke Allyson at the ridiculously early hour of 8 o'clock the next morning so that we could fill the boxes and plant the seedlings before soccer practice. Despite temperatures into the 80s over the preceding days, it was pretty nippy for our thick Southern blood, probably in the upper 50s. So we went out in our flip flops and jackets, and our wet fingers were soon numb.

Following the steps outlined on the Earthbox videos, we assembled the screens and water tubes and filled each box with water. Then we scooped in the potting soil, mixed in the dolomite powder from the replant kits, and made a trench for the fertilizer. Next we topped off the containers with more soil and shaped the dirt into mounds so that the water wouldn't pool when it rains. Then we stretched the mulch covers, which looked like giant shower caps, over the filled boxes.
Making the Trough for the Fertilizer

The next part was tricky. For each seedling, we cut an X in the plastic cover and eased a hand through it, blindly hollowing out a depression. We eased the plants out of their plastic boxes and through the opening in the plastic, settling them as gently as possible into their new homes. As nervous as I've been before when transplanting seedlings, this was a whole new experience, It was much more challenging to squeeze them through the plastic and plant them just by feel.

With one of the boxes, we made a mistake with the placement of the fertilizer trench. It was supposed to be on the same side as the water tube, but our boxes were backward compared to the diagram, and after Allyson had dropped in the fertilizer I didn't think we could move it over. The seedlings were supposed to go on the side where the fertilizer now was.

"Do you think we should plant the squash on the other side?" I asked.

Allyson shrugged.

"But the diagram shows the seedlings on the opposite side from the water tube," I mused. "Let's just plant them on the fertilizer side, I guess."

In retrospect, I realize how illogical that decision was. The position of the water tube doesn't really matter because the water comes up from the bottom, all the way across. The tube just allows you to pour water into the reservoir. The fertilizer, on the other hand, is toxic to the plants.

Rick said the squash wouldn't survive, and his advice was to uproot them and plant something else on the opposite side.

So I guess I've murdered the poor squash. Still, they look so happy that I can't bring myself to dig them up. What if they survive? Would they be toxic to eat? The fertilizer was supposed to be organic. Now I'm waiting for them to die because I can't bear to pull the plug on them.

About half of the remaining seedlings appear to be in distress. Just four days after we planted them, I noticed that the zucchini plant was in full flower.

"Is that bad?" I asked Rick in a text.

He said that it was probably stress from the transplanting, and I should pinch off the flowers so they wouldn't sap all the young plant's energy. When I went out to follow his instructions--which pained me, because the flowers were so beautiful--I noticed that the cauliflower seedling was already producing fruit. Look at the teeny cauliflower in the center:

On Rick's advice, I gently plucked off as much of the cauliflower bits as I could. Hesitating for just a moment, I put the tiny florets into my mouth. Yep, it was cauliflower all right! For the record, my little garden has produced at least one thing that I could eat.

Since then, several other seedlings have started to flower, and I've vigilantly removed each bud. Hopefully something will survive. But I guess if anyone could thwart a foolproof system, it was me.

My theory is that the seedlings haven't gotten enough sun. The mulch cover has a black side and a white side. For most of the country, the black side should face up so that the sun's warmth is absorbed. But the white side should be up in southern states where the temperature consistently exceeds 85 degrees. (Yep, that's us!)

The very day after we planted our seeds, the weather turned. We had several cool, drizzly, cloudy days in a row. With those white covers repelling the sun's warmth, maybe the poor babies are cold.

Even if this experiment yields no success, I'll still be glad we did it. Allyson and I had so much fun planning our little garden and then putting it together. As we worked, I felt the keen joy of spring, with the hope of new life all around us.

After Allyson left for practice, I went for a much needed haircut from my dear friend Angela. After my cut, we stood outside her house and chatted about the stresses and joys of parenting, and about the demands of our busy lives. When I asked if we could pray together, she said, "Of course!"

Holding hands in the gentle sun, we poured out our hearts to our Father. Angela thanked God for the beautiful day, and asked that spring would come to our hearts and to our families, bringing new life. And then we shared a real hug, not that polite, quick pat-on-the-back kind. God is so good. I love the way such precious blessings come when I'm just going about my business. I walked away with a new look and a light heart.

Just a few weeks back, I'd been feeling so discouraged, blind to the beauty of my sweet life. I still feel exhausted, but as I soak in the sun and take in all the vibrant hues of green and the glorious profusion of flowers, I feel my heart coming alive, and my hope too.

I'm so glad God gave us winter so that we can appreciate the resurrection of spring.

Resurrection Sunday - Me, Dad, Mom, Emily, Amy

Ethan, Me, Allyson

Emily's kids, too (Sam, Jacob, Savannah, Hillary),
plus her husband Paul

P.S. Tomorrow I'm seeing a doctor for my fatigue. It's a wellness practice, and I hope she will be able to help me with nutrition counseling. Please pray for her wisdom and discernment.

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