Starting Over — or Not?

It’s been just over two years since we left our Maryland gardens behind, and moved to Pennsylvannia. After 14 months of a torturous, CoVid-complicated, mold-complicated renovation, we have a year under our belts in this new home. The next natural step is to start building gardens. Right?

Only our love of gardening is at conflict with aging knees, shoulders, and increasing desire to “be still.” The property is surrounded by an established “lawnscape,” beautiful mature trees, and existing shrubs. We don’t have to do this. But will we be able to stop ourselves?…

It was fairly easy this spring to put some drift roses, lavender, and Shasta daisies in under the blue cypress out front, in time for our daughter’s June wedding. Adding a few Oriental lilies along the patio was an hour’s work in a raised bed. (Imagine being able to grow lilies! without voles??) We hired help with weeding this summer, and heavy mulching helped us cope. Weeding is still something Edward still loves to do, despite troublesome knees. The gardens look good.

But what about the stated purpose of this blog, to grow our own FOOD? We started the prosess. Black locust planks purchased to build raised beds lay all summer in a pile of overgrown grass on the south side of the house. Black locust doesn’t rot, and we got a great deal on the lumber last spring. But we couldn’t summon strength to deal with those heavy boards.

A lot has changed about our bodies since 28 years ago, when we moved into a new house, and created brand new gardens, improved heavy clay soil, and raised kids and vegetables, dogs, cats, and chickens together. The process of “getting rid of” that our move required of me is catching. I like it. I love it. So my question is, how much of my old life do I really want to take up again?

The winter squash didn’t wait for me to make up my mind. It sprouted and sprawled happily all over the compost pile that we have planned eventually to be a blueberry bed. The summer squash Edward threw in in May seemed to thrive on neglect, producing abundantly. As the vine borer discovered and killed one stretch, another vine took over and carried on. (This success was likely thanks to the manure, dirt and leaves I layered on the beds last fall.) Even with deer and groundhogs and rabbits helping themselves, and no watering, we harvested plenty of yellow squash and a couple cucumbers, and a colander of little potatoes. No tomatoes, the deer gobbled those, fruit, leaves, and stalks.

For so many years my query has been: How can ordinary busy people raise a significant part of the food they consume? And, how can more people get access “organically” raised, that is to say nontoxic, food? First of all they would need to see the value in it…. Too few Americans will discover the startling difference between say fresh Lima beans (with butter and salt and pepper!) and the limas you get frozen. Or between a local grown peach and any of its cousins who sit on supermarket shelves, trucked in from far away places. How about the richness of eggs from pastured chickens, compared to pale sad eggs from large egg farms. It isn’t a subtle thing.

Maybe the answer to the gardening vs aging body challenge lies in barter: what can you offer in trade for what you need? Our youngest moved home for a bit this fall, and is willing to lend us his muscles and building expertise in exchange for bed and home cooked meals. Suddenly those hunks of lumber that lay fallow in the tall grass all summer are raised beds. Two beds are even full of dirt — the problem of the lack of a pick up truck solved with a tarp laid in the back of my Toyota RAV.

This fall I picked up an old favorite, Animal, VMiracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver writes about her own experiences with growing, and the value in locally grown food for the economy and for the world. I don’t see raising turkeys on my horizon, but her enthusiasm about varieties of plants and eating local is always inspiring…. Maybe it’s time to sign up for some seed catalogues.

Looking ahead to 2023, my new outlook will be “Suburban Growing for People Growing Older!” I plan to raise the beds higher. Drag a strong-backed helper along to harvest muck and leaves to build up soil this fall. Compost scraps right in the garden bed. Mulch like no tomorrow. And focus on plants that relish neglect. 2023 here we go.

Now we just need to move that sycamore…

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