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Reflections from the Garden
by Marc Eisenson
Our garden feeds us -- body and soul. It provides great food and exercise, gives us a quiet reprieve from the stress of the workday, and offers a remainder of our place in nature's eternal cycles of birth, growth, death, and rebirth. It also brings out the philosopher in me. For example:

In nature, nothing goes to waste. Seeds sprout, grow, flower, reproduce, and die -- giving back to the earth everything they previously borrowed. Nancy and I try to emulate nature's recycling program, and hope you do likewise.

Plants take nothing personally. Although well equipped to deal with adversity, they never seek vengeance. They never whine, or feel sorry for themselves. Trim some lettuce plants to the ground, and you won't hear from their attorney's. They'll simply grow new leaves.

Nature is in no hurry for progress. Birds fly using pretty much the same equipment, and at the same speeds as their forebears. Earthworms plow the soil as they have for eons. Peepers contentedly sing their same old songs. And the last thing raccoons want are faster cars or better roads.

Mother Nature's desire seems to be for balance, for the maintenance of life pretty much as it's always been. She's right. Progress ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Neither friends nor enemies. Whatever apparent good or harm plants, insects, animals, and birds may do is inadvertent, natural, and necessary for their survival.

Except for our 4 overfed cats, who occasionally kill a mouse, only to abandon it -- most of our garden's visitors and residents never harvest more than they can eat, nor do they crave possessions. Wouldn't it be great if we humans gave all we could and just took over what we needed?

There are no guarantees. What worked so perfectly in one year's garden, can't be depended upon to work again the next. But, it might -- which leads some gardeners to cling to ritualized behaviors, like planting certain crops by the full moon, others at the new moon, and peas on St. Patrick's Day. Truth be told, some years are better for some crops than for others, and half the fun of gardening is seeing how it'll all turn out, this time.

There's no right way to garden. Pretty much every way works. Long rows, wide beds, raised beds, organic or inorganic fertilizers, heavy or light mulching -- whatever we do -- more often than not, our plants will grow.

How you or I choose to cultivate our own gardens is personal. And fortunately, there aren't a lot of laws decreeing the right way to grow tomatoes -- because there isn't a right way.

I don't mean to offend anyone, but I wish we could all let go of the feeling that we know exactly what's morally right or wrong for others to do, feel, or believe.

Ghettos are no good. Large tracts of a single crop, grown in the same place, year after year, begin to weaken and die. That's because ghetto grown crops tend to deplete their own environment of the very nutrients they need to survive, and their predators can find them easily.

Mixed colonies, on the other hand, tend to thrive. It doesn't bother Nancy's purple basil one iota to live amidst green basil, next door to variously colored lettuces, or in the same neighborhood as cauliflower. Indeed, some gardeners swear that basil thrives at the feet of tomatoes. (I can surely testify to how well they along in my mouth.)

Bugs get a bad rap. I know spiders and insects are strange looking, but they don't deserve to be treated as if they were dangerous invaders from outer space. They've actually been keeping the earth habitable since time in-memorial, taking care of a million chores around the garden, from pollinating crops, to aerating the soil, to feeding birds, each other, and ... maybe, me.

To wit, there's a recipe for sauteed slugs (a cousin to escargot), I've been threatening to try. Fortunately, Nancy, who doesn't often put her foot down, has protected me from having to "put up or shut up," by soundly vetoing this idea, as well as the one I had for cooking "smut" -- a disgusting looking, but supposedly delicious fungus that attacks corn.

There is a free lunch. Even in our well maintained garden, a bountiful harvest of tasty, nutritious weeds, like lamb's quarter, amaranth, and purslane, are usually ripe for the picking (even if Nancy never includes them when she's the one making salad).

My real favorites are the edible wild foods -- like daylily flowers, mulberries, cattails, blueberries, horseradish, asparagus, mint, watercress, mushrooms, and hickory nuts -- which grow free and strong in our meadows, forests, and swamps.

They were thriving that warm summer morning 13 years ago, when Nancy and I first met on a mountaintop. I took her on a wild food walk, during the first 10 minutes of which, she claims to have fallen in love with me.

I've often wondered, was it my considerable charm and wit -- or the wood sorrel I enticed her to eat along the way?

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor
© 1993 Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman
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