Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Faith in the Trenches

In the past few years, I’ve gotten much more involved in gardening. I didn’t build or plant the garden beds here at the farmhouse. They have been passed down through various opera employees who have been housed here over the years, but I suspect started with an earlier more permanent resident. The garden improved greatly over the past 3 or 4 years after I started hoeing in the compost each May left from the previous summer’s compost pile. The first year the herb bed got compost, it went from only growing ten inch high basil to growing 2 foot high basil bushes. Let it never be said that compost doesn’t work!

As I get more involved in (and attached to) this garden, I get more ambitious about what I plant. I also get more optimistic about how long I think I’ll keep coming back to the Opera to reap the harvest of my previous year’s work. And of course, if I am going to expand the area and content of the garden, doing so with perennials means that I won’t have to keep planting all that space every year.

This year’s perennial expansion includes mint transplanted from Dad’s garden so I can have minty iced tea, rhubarb, and asparagus. All the mint that used to grow at the farmhouse has died out, so I got some of Dad’s unstoppable mint. We don’t even really know what kind it is (although it looks the most like pictures of spearmint) because it was already growing at my parents’ house when they moved in the year before I was born. I planted it after Memorial Day, and there’s already twice as much as I planted. The rhubarb is a hopeful investment for next year’s pies, but the asparagus is a real study in faith.

I tend to feel like most gardening is a study in faith. It’s not surprising at all that Jesus used planting and harvest in so many of his parables. It takes only a little faith to believe that when I plant a small plant, like tomato plants or herbs, it will grow to be a larger version of itself. It takes a tiny bit more faith to believe it will eventually bear fruit. For me, the really powerful experience is planting seeds, and then spending weeks carefully tending a patch of dirt. I’ve seen my lettuce seeds grow into a pretty impressive bed of salad for years now, but it still seems miraculous every time. It’s only faith in experience, in the words on the back of the seed packet, and in the previous experience of so many other gardeners, that keeps me coming back each morning to lovingly water a patch of dirt as if it was a bed of lettuce. And every spring, after a week or two of faithful, but emotionally illogical dirt watering, lettuce grows! I water even while I doubt. I question whether I planted it right this year, whether the seeds I bought are viable, whether I’ve planted at the right depth, provided the right amount of water, whether I’ve waited long enough to avoid frost. Even though I doubt, I continue to tend out of faith, and my faith is rewarded.

This spring, when I planted the asparagus, I set myself up for a much bigger test of my gardening faith. First off, I’m trusting that I will still be working at Glimmerglass in the summer of 2010 when I’ll get my first full harvest. Second, I’m trusting that planting dead stuff that looks like an octopus made out of dry sticks and raffia is going to actually result in asparagus, and wasn’t just a hoax perpetrated by the garden supply store. The best part is that both Rachel and Brittney joined in on my act of faith and helped dig THE TRENCH.


I am very proud of THE TRENCH. Every summer, I garden with only a few rudimentary tools, like a crappy old shovel and a nicer pitchfork. There are no rototillers or garden weasels. There isn’t even a wheel barrow to move the compost. The three of us used a hoe, a crappy shovel, and a pitchfork to dig THE TRENCH 10 feet long, 18 inches wide, and 12 inches deep, plus we had to loosen and de-rock an additional 6 inches of soil below that. Then, as it was getting dark, we went over to our neighbors, the dairy farmers, and politely asked for 3 buckets of old cow manure. We got to ride in a Dodge Dakota up to the hill where such stuff was piled and, with our shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, dig up our bucket fulls and ride back down to THE TRENCH. My intrepid helpers learned the hard way that when riding in the bed of an open truck with buckets of manure, one should ride forward of the buckets of manure to keep one’s eyes clear of debris.

Then began the layers. Commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer was spread in the bottom of THE TRENCH, then the manure, then 2" of dirt, then the dry spidery roots–10 of them at 1 foot intervals. Then another 6 inches of dirt. Then began the waiting. As the waiting got really long, my faith began to stretch and crack. After all, this was an involved process with lots of steps that could be screwed up. I could have buried the roots too deep, they might have sat dormant in the store for too long, they might be too close to the manure and get “burned.” I started looking for information on how long it should take for them to come up. Dad didn’t really remember, as his asparagus bed is at least 15 years old. “Sprocket’s Victory Garden” didn’t say. Most websites don’t say. I finally found one that said, “after several weeks,” and another that said “as the summer progresses.” I got antsy. That’s a whole lot of work, much of it offered freely by friends, that I’d hate to see result in nothing. I started getting worried that I wouldn’t see any asparagus before leaving at the end of July. I’m supposed to wait until it comes up before filling in THE TRENCH the rest of the way. I’d really like to fill it in the rest of the way, because I’m tired of having to weed the pile of dirt that’s waiting to go back into the THE TRENCH from whence it came.

Then yesterday morning, there it was.


One teeny tiny asparagus shoot. Asparagus in miniature. My shaky faith has been shored up. My doubt has been dispelled. If nothing else, asparagus #1, on the far left end, has come up. Now I’m waiting for the others, so I can finish the job.

1 comment:

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Was that "locally grown" manure?

I'm so pleased that you've taken over the garden and are having such success!