Fruiting Vine Moon
As I inspect my trees and plants, heavy and bowed with veggies, fruit, and flower, I am celebrating abundance. There is no scarcity here. Even the moon is at its peak over these two days, adding to the sense of fullness. I am amazed that so many have turned to vegetable gardening, in the midst of COVID-19. It was only when a neighbour, who had just put in a new garden, could not access seeds, that I realized the shortage of seeds. In my sustainability classes, we always talk about the WWII Victory gardens. A few still remember them as a child…the effort to become more self-reliant to enable the nation to channel its collective resources into the war effort. But little did I think that this would be taken up again by the general population in my lifetime! It is very reassuring that these “old skills” are still alive and people turn to them in uncertain times. It is also the "germination" of something much more important!
Let’s be honest though! Emma Beddington in The Guardian (Aug 30, 2020) talks about the failures in her new garden…many high hopes planted with each seed, seedling, and sapling plummeted alongside the shrivelling, infestations, and disease. So, despite the pride in my gardening, I think gardeners need to come clean, for those just starting out.
No, not everything grows well every year. Gardens go on a boom and bust cycle – bumper crops one year and sometimes little the next. Hence, the need to preserve bumper crops to make it over a span of two years. For me, this year’s successes are 10 pounds of garlic, at least 30 pounds of onions, and many pounds of apples, enough for most of the year. The cabbages, broccolis, cauliflowers, and countless greens have already provided four months of eating with lots more to come. The cucumbers, peas, fingerling potatoes and various berries are passable, although brief for about a month of eating. But the carrot fly decimated my carrots several times over and the weather left my normally 12-foot corn barely 3 feet.
The jury is still out on the final tallies for beans, tomatoes, squash and peppers. I need enough to fill jars with dried beans for a few soups and baked beans, and enough for a year’s worth of salsa. Eggplant is probably a wash out. Honestly, it takes three to four years for a garden to get established, especially building up the soil, the core component. I have had numerous gardens in three different ecosystems, needing three years to experience the challenges and work out non-invasive responses. And let’s be fair, there is no end to learning about everything from composting and healthy soil to when certain pests lay their eggs to pruning to avoid powdery mildew and promote maximum fruitfulness. Then there is our beloved dog tramping down the middle of the raspberry patch literally munching on ‘low hanging fruit’ there and around the garden. HE will never go hungry. Some days you just want to throw in the towel…er, trowel!
My awe and respect for all my grandparents and ancestors has skyrocketed as I realize that they purchased very little, only honey from local beekeepers, salt, sugar and apples from regional providers, and imported tea and coffee. They did EVERYTHING else, from all dairy, meat, grain, egg, fruit and vegetable production. Clearly, I have been slacking! To augment, they fished, hunted, picked mushrooms, berries, and some medicinal plants, like chamomile. Even I remember making sauerkraut, sausage, jams and jellies from picked berries, and freezing or pickling a range of vegetables, most of which I continued with my children. And I still resist convenience,
doing things the long way, to remind myself. The many stories of my aunties and uncles attest to the backbreaking labour of my grandparents as well as some devastating losses. In earlier generations, looming cloth and knitting clothing would also have been part of the daily round. My elders tell me that they knew every person in their large families was vital to the annual success of feeding, clothing, washing, housing and warming themselves. Everyone had a purpose. And in times of devastation, their large extended family and the local community were there for each other. So, the lessons and memories of self-reliance are still in living memory. I have worked hard to record all this for our descendants, who will absolutely need this knowledge once again.
To be honest, both my grandmothers wanted an easier life for their descendants and saw education as the pathway. But this has been a slippery slope in terms of knowledge loss and a rise in dependence on global systems and massive transport for our necessities. It is money that now stands between us and our basic necessities, not a significant issue in nonmonetized economies. It is the job/employment now that is critical and trying to keep work
commitments from swallowing the best parts of our energy and creativity. We put so much effort into landscaping for beauty, status, hosting, and "keeping up" with the impossibly green, weed-free lawn monoculture and consuming to duplicate our house amenities in outdoor spaces. But, when I realistically look at my alternative garden, we are not going to be feeding ourselves year-round anytime soon. It would take most of my backyard and perhaps front, to come within the distant horizon of self-reliance. So, I too rely on local producers for additional food. However, it has been said there is not enough food on the whole of Vancouver Island to feed our population year-round, a “growing” priority within increasing global vulnerability.
Which brings us to the very design of our societies now. At the moment, unsightly, noisy, and smelly use of land (in the case of chickens, manure, etc) is not allowed in cities, as urban sophisticates drink
wine in their manicured backyards (ok, me too; I get the policy which is why we live semi-rural). Yet, COVID-19 has been a lesson on how quickly things can change. It was Gandhi who broke the British colonial power over India by advocating for swadeshi or localization of production. If Indians acquired salt from their own oceans and wove their own cotton, he felt this alone would break the colonial hold on their economy and its creation of artificial scarcity. And so, it did.
Helena Norberg-Hodge talks about taking back the economy into our own hands and countering the global elite by “promoting small scale on a large scale.” She saw first-hand the vibrant culture of confident women with high self-respect, relaxed men, and the sense of security and strong identity of Ladakh culture high in the mountainous north of India. This
gave way to competitiveness, greed, poverty, crime, ethnic conflict as well as people unsure of themselves and women deeply concerned about their appearance, with the introduction of TV and capitalism culture. They had met their needs for thousands of years without money, but now the global elite was telling them that they needed to specialize in production for export. The village-scale economy and strong sense of community crumbled in just decades. This has been repeated in so many places. Despite what we have been told, this is not progress.
The time is coming when we will need to return to small scale production again and take "meeting our needs" into our own hands. Somewhere closer to small scale gardening and local agriculture than a world tied into a global economy for the wealth-making of a few, lies the answer. There is already a blurring of the lines between urban and rural, as megacities become more hazardous on multiple levels and people take up guerrilla gardening, inner city gardens, suburban community gardens, and community supported agriculture. American Wendell Berry says that the 1960s urbanization was considered a “liberation” from farming, land ownership and self-employment. This is ironic, as my ancestors moved to several different countries over several generations to find this very situation - where they could provide for themselves, own their land, where no one was master over them...all equating to human dignity and their freedom.
So, little gardens and keeping alive these “old ways” of thinking and being are essential to the survival of humanity, as we enter into a rough ride over several generations. But, Indigenous Elders talk not only about the tough times to come, but beyond, to an evolved humanity and a more mature society. This is a fullness, a ripeness that I yearn for and place my hope in.
This month, do a walking meditation celebrating ripeness wherever you see it. Find flower gardens and say a silent thank you for their fullness (or not so silent...I talk to plants!). Find vegetable gardens and compliment the gardeners/farmers for their hard work and the cooks for their care of the homegrown. Notice elders in your midst and strike up a conversation, thanking them gently in your heart for what they have witnessed and the knowledge they carry. Notice the wild, setting seed and buds for the coming year. Nurture a strong sense of contentment, to counteract artificial scarcity, acknowledging and giving thanks for all the ripeness and abundance around you in people, gardens and the natural world!
Thanks to Phoebe Dunbar for her moon photo over the Juan de Fuca Strait.