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A Garden of Eden begins with the state of your mind


This is our garden. I know it just looks like a big patch of dirt, but heck, that’s what it is (was.) This is the “before” picture just after we plowed an area of the field for our future garden . I will post another picture in late July and you will see corn and peas, yellow and green beans, yellow, green and banana peppers, four types of tomato, cucumber, yellow and green squash, assorted herbs, carrots and beets (well, these will be underground, but you will see the tops) lettuce and spinach, and strawberries. That’s all we planted for our first year attempts. It will get us by. Actually, this picture was taken before we actually planted seeds and seedlings. Now, there are some starter plants, stakes and tomato cages stuck into the dirt. Very exciting.  My dogs think so too, and they won’t stop going in there to dig up our carefully nurtured plants or to pull up stakes because they think those markers are chew toys. Grrrrr…. Damn dogs.
We will be putting up a fence next week. We are pretending it’s for the deer and other wildlife, but between you and me, it’s mostly for the dogs.

Putting in a garden from scratch isn’t easy. First, a tractor is used to plow up an area. I marvel at how much work it is to tear up land that has been weed-ridden for years, and I can’t stop thinking about early settlers and how they had to do everything without modern machinery. Mankind’s innovation and determination is remarkable.
Next, we used a hand held tiller (sort of like a push lawn mower) to churn up the dirt. We then used a hoe to devise rows for planting, and I was assigned the lovely job of squatting over to toss rocks and clumps of weed over my shoulder into the field. Gee, that was backbreaking fun.

Finally, we got to plant. Neva is a good help here. She likes to lay a single seed in a small hole and push the dirt on top, then give it her famous little pat. Very cute.
Next, had to water. Of course, we can’t reach a hose this far from the house so we have to do it by hand. We pull buckets up from the creek, fill a watering can,  and carefully water the seeds – NOT the aisles, because we want to control the weeds. Yes, we are at war with weeds already, even though not a single one has peeked it’s head up from the earth as yet. We hired a plumber to put in a water source down near the garden, but it isn’t finished yet. Soon, thank goodness. Watering once is a novelty. Having to do so for a full summer, I think I’d quit.

This is our creek. I will give you a “before” and “after” picture here too. The creek picture overrun by weeds is what our creek looked like when we moved here. The nice open creek picture is the “after” shot of what things look like after Mark uses his tractor to open up the stream and hand places rocks in just such a way it gives the water a cascading effect. This is a great deal of work. He’s accomplished about 20 feet of creek so far. He only has 50 acres more to go. Check back in ten years and we may be almost done with this particular project. Of course, by then, he will have to go back to the beginning to start over.

Believe it or not, I’m loving this entire gardening/farming process.  Mark is delighted because he has always been a gardener, but it’s been a lone pursuit. I’ve never taken much interest other than “ooing” and “ahhing” at the lovely environment he created about our homes. I can tell it is more fun for him to have someone working along side him in the sun. Until now, while I’ve appreciated flowers as much as any girl, I’ve never been inspired to give up my precious free time to tend them. I’m not so hung up on the visual that it was worth devoting every weekend to making a pretty landscape. But a veggie garden is an entirely different thing, because this leads to kitchen fun. I am all about food.

I’ve learned that anything remotely connected to cooking interests me. Face it, the reason I am excited about bee-keeping isn’t because I like bugs. It’s the idea of harvesting my own honey and making baklava and other treats that I can’t resist. I think my chickens are cute, but I seriously doubt I’d have them if it were not for the eggs I collect and how that encourages me to find new ways to cook them. You see, for all that I love the outdoors, it is all about playing in the kitchen in the end.

Tending a food-bearing garden is a thrill, because I envision cooking and canning all the home grown product. I had such a good time last year making jelly and syrup from the berries I picked.  I bought a cook book on gourmet canning and have collected recipes for pickles, relishes and all kinds of exotic vegetable mixes. And spaghetti sauce! Mark kept complaining as I added yet another breed of tomato to our shopping cart, insisting I will never be able to use all the tomatoes I’m going to get. Ha! He underestimates me. I have big plans in the tomato department. And the fact is, if we are overrun with more vegetables than we can use, I have plenty of animals that will eat the extras -even those that are slightly bug ridden or brown about the edges. 

We’ve planted plum, pear. peach and apple trees just for the hundreds of future batches of crisps and pie I aspire to make. I snuck in a few raspberry plants, and grapes, for other dessert options. My sourdough starter sits bubbling in my fridge, beckoning me to make bread even though we are on a bread-ban thanks to diets. Well, if that is off-limits, I can lean how to dry and make tea from scratch from home-grown herbs. Can’t be hard. Might be fun.

I know what you are thinking. It would be a lot less trouble to just go to the farmer’s market and purchase homegrown product in season and I could cook whatever I wanted for allot less trouble and a relatively equal investment. But that isn’t nearly as much fun. Heck, that’s like asking why I raise angora bunnies and spin my own wool to make a scarf when I can buy synthetic yarn at Walmart. Better yet, why not just buy a scarf made in Taiwan at Walmart and avoid making anything at all?
See, the point is not that you can’t get a scarf any other way. It isn’t to avoid effort or save money, but to experience the process of creating something from start to finish – to take pride and make an art of the food I present to those I care about.
And there is also the fact that I write about these experiences. I am working on a memoir about an urbanite midlifer discovering the joy of country living now. And more importantly, I will always write historical fiction. What better way to research how my characters lived years ago than by trying my hand at a few of the former necessary life skills? Since these activities are approached as a hobby and not a part of securing our existence (or paying a farm mortgage) I can always stop anything that turns out to be too much work, no fun, or that ties us down too much. For now, it is great fun to try new things. 

This weekend I’ll be taking my three day seminar at the Campbell folk school on how to make wine. Can’t wait. Mark rolled his eyes and said, “If you like this as much as I’m afraid you will, can we at least wait until another season to put in a vineyard?”
Ha. Of course, Dear. In the meantime, I’ll play with juices and store bought grapes, and even try my hand at mead (made from fermented honey) and country wines (made from fruit like apples, peaches and mulberries.) I might even make some beer, just to see what that is all about. 

I think what I like best about
all we can do now that we no longer spend every moment obsessing on a dance school, is that life is seasonal. This summer, we can use the long lazy days to harvest and cook, work bees and enjoy our land. We can horseback ride and go kayaking or boating and really spend interesting time together. The kids and I will both be out of school, and Mark is done building the house, so we want to spend a few months celebrating our first summer of total freedom.  But in the winter, things will be different. The chickens stop laying. Imust leave the beehive dormant for months. Nothing is growing in the garden. It is too cold to boat or ride (well, you can go out on a horse if you enjoy snow and crisp wind). The kids are in school. The house is quiet and dull. That is when Mark and I will travel a bit, and when home, I will buckle down to do some serious writing. He will hole up in the workshop and crank out furniture. It is when I’ll make bees wax candles for Christmas and open up jars of homemade sauce or pickles to see how they turned out when I want to play little house on the prarie.  And there is the fact that we are seriously considering opening another business. We looked at a building to buy yesterday and got all excited and started brainstorming. But we are in no hurry. Why invite that kind of work focus into your life again any sooner than you must? It is only a matter of time until our attention shifts to the world beyond our little hobby farm.

I like having a rhythm to life, and after years in mild Florida, I look forward to every change in season with newfound appreciation. Weather and the shifts in nature’s bounty make every month different here – each season is filled with it’s own flavor and surprises.  Next summer I may not want a garden, or bees or anything else remotely connected to farming. We may be emmeshed in building a new business. But as it stands now, I feel wonderfully connected to the earth and I am enjoying every bee sting, every broken nail, and every cry for Advil after a day of hauling or digging. Nothing lasts forever. It is important to savor each moment as it comes, and to pause to appreciate what you have before it is gone.






  

   

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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