Growing up on a small Back to the Land homestead, I was exposed to all types of gardening including both vegetable and flower gardens; yes, those are different disciplines withing the gardening community. I was shown how to grow plants of all types with little to no chemicals, what we now call “Organic” gardening/farming.
Organic gardening is something that used to just be called gardening, that is before the DuPont company decided to market unused chemicals from the World Wars as pesticides, but that’s a story for another day.
By using this natural method of gardening, I learned not only how to look after the land for growing my own food, but I also learned how the pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial farming hurt the land and render it unusable without more of those chemicals. This is the main reason my dad taught my brother and I how to farm naturally, aka the old way.
You’re never alone in the garden
We always did things around the homestead by hand when possible growing up, because that’s how my dad likes to do it. It reminded him of the people he spent his childhood with and all the lessons they taught him about life.
There’s just something about getting your hands down in a freshly plowed field and pulling the earth to your nose that connects you with all of the living things that were there before you. You can almost feel the hands of your ancestors on your shoulders encouraging you and remind you that you can do this, just as they did.
For us, gardening isn’t just about sewing the seeds to feed our physical bodies, it is about sewing the connections to each other and the creator that will nourish our souls and keep our hearts full throughout the cold dark winter months.
Spring, the season of rebirth
Every spring we are reminded that there is always new life to find and that even things we thought had passed will have a chance to live again. As we till the earth and sew our crops, we are reminded that everything worth having is worth working for, and the harder we labor, the better the outcome will be.
During this time of year we are able to see how interconnected everything is; from the smallest microbes in the soil, to the birds and bees that help spread wild seeds and pollinate out crops. After the field is plowed, you can see the worms moving through the soil, a sure indication that there are enough nutrients to grow the crops that will nourish your family.
Dad used to say if the soil isn’t alive, then the plants won’t be either. He meant that if the soil couldn’t support the small worms and bugs, it was a sign that there was something wrong with it. It either needed rest from over usage or was tainted in some way, like by harmful chemicals from one source or another.
Life starts from the ground up, and you must take care to ensure that the foundation of your life is rooted in the earth, not in some career goal that no one will remember you for anyway. Learn to care for the earth and all living things in it and on it and you will find that your soul will be just as full as your belly.
I was taught how to care for all living things and how to use plants and animals to help and heal each other. I was taught how the clean water and ion charged rain from thunder storms would make the plants grow better. That even though the summer storms can be scary, they helps make us stronger in the end.
These storms, often feared by people who don’t understand how important they are for plant growth, help to feed the newly established plant root systems, that will help your harden grow strong. If your plants don’t get enough water, they won’t be able to grow, but too much will cause their roots to rot under the soil. Later Spring becomes a balancing act, often involving prayer for more or less rain, depending on the year.
The land becomes part of who we are
My family has tilled and tended the land wherever we have gone. From the icy cold of Northern Europe to the steamy summers of the American Southeastern Atlantic coast, all the way to me, where I planted my roots in Southeastern Ohio. Every time I work my land here on the TreadlingHome-stead, I feel the generations of my family, going back to the beginning and know that they thought of me, as I am today, working the land and connecting back to them and nature.
My dad and I often talk about the old family farms that sustained our family for centuries here in America. We talk about the pecan trees on his grandfather’s farm down south and how his granddad’s granddad planted them in hopes of helping to feed his family and community after the American Civil War.
We talk about how his other grandfather raised cattle and planted fruit trees. Dad loves to talk about climbing in the trees to gather their fruit as a child and helping his grandmother prepare them in the kitchen. He reminisces of going to visit his family in the South and how his aunt would always have fresh peach ice cream there for him. He lights up when he remembers their loving embraces as he helped them with their harvest.
He talks of how hard his father was on him. He realized as an adult that his father was trying to plant the seeds of knowledge so that Dad would be able to care for his family as he did in the hard times and the good. You see, creating a garden, especially with your family and friends, is so much more than just putting seeds in the ground. It is laying the foundation for future generations of your family to be able to tend to their own matters without having to rely on others.
Gardening helps to bring you closer together, when done right. It shows children how to be good stewards of the land and all living things on and in it. It teaches them kindness and patience while creating memories that most of my generation can only dream of.
I think that is part of the problem today; most people in my generation, millennials, have never had to fend for themselves. They have always had a safety net there to break their fall and never let them feel the full consequences of their decisions.
In a garden, if you don’t tend it properly the weeds will overtake the garden and your plants will die. If you are growing flowers to bring beauty to your environment and don’t tend them, they will wilt and become food for the other, stronger plants. If you are growing vegetables and you don’t tend them, the weeds will grow faster and taller than the plants you have sewn, getting all the sunlight and shading out your future food.
You see, when you work with the land, even if it’s just a potted plant in a city apartment, the land gets under your skin and growing things for yourself, either for beauty or self sufficiency, becomes almost an addiction. Something you need to do to feel whole, and the lessons you learn along the way stay with you for a lifetime.
Gardening teaches us lessons we need to learn.
Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is realize that everything happens for a reason. The universe, or God, will never give you more than you can handle.
Trust me, I know this one is hard. I have had my fair share of cow patties thrown on my sunny day parade, but the fact that I can always look out over my garden or plants and see something that I have been able to create and grow with always helps me to make it through.
Gardens teach us all kinds of things about ourselves. They teach us where our faults are and give us direction on how to better ourselves. For example, if you are a procrastinator like myself, you may see weeds starting to grow and think, “I’ll get to that tomorrow.” Then it rains tomorrow and for the next few days and suddenly your entire garden is full of weeds and you think, “What happened!?!”
If you would have just taken those 10 minutes and pulled those small weeds, you wouldn’t have to spend an hour out there now tugging on well rooted larger plants that want to take all those nutrients you built up for the plants you planted for themselves. As you tug you curse both the weed roots and yourself for letting them go that long and swear to never let it get like that again.
Then next week comes and the same thing happens. You get mad at yourself and think that you wish you would have just followed through and finished the weeding when you noticed it. After a few weeks like this you will either start pulling the weeds as you notice them growing, or give up.
Now let me be clear, giving up is never an option in gardening. You should take on every edible plant as if your family’s lives depended on them, because they may one day be.
This scenario might sound like something you would do, because it is something that I do on an almost yearly basis. If you have followed the blog for any period of time I’m sure you have noticed that I do really well for a while, then life gets out of balance and I fall off, then I start again. It’s a problem and it’s the number one thing I’m trying to work on within myself this year.
I’m going to use my garden this year to reconnect with the flower child I used to be who loved to be outside and in the dirt. I’m going to work on remembering all of the lessons I have learned from my family about caring for the earth so it can provide for me and my family. I’m going to try to remember the lessons all of my gardens have taught me. I mean, I’ve only been doing this for 32 years…you would think I would have it together by now, lol!
Let me know what lessons you have learned from your gardening experiences in the comments. And yes, I’m talking about self reflection, not necessarily gardening tips. That’s for another time.