This Year in the Yard project has been a labor of love, filled with interesting surprises and full of challenges on many levels. I’m a bit behind on things, so let’s get caught up!
OUT AND ABOUT
Mid-May to mid-June was gently perfumed with the scent of roses, honeysuckle, and elder flowers. Fireflies have been dazzling us with their winking lights in the darkness, bringing a little magic to our summer nights. Birds have been busy with nestlings; baby skunks, groundhogs, and squirrels have made their appearances, and the insect world is in full swing. It is the time of growth and abundance!
HOME SWEET HOME
When I started this project, I promised myself that I would share both successes and failures, so here it is…the journey of an amateur gardener trying to use her experience as a naturalist and herbalist to create a sustainable and productive yard. The more I work with the land, the more I realize how little I truly know. I’m humbled by the knowledge that I am a very small part of a very large, interconnected world.
Mistakes are learning opportunities, and boy, have I been learning!
As I came up for breath this week on the heels of an herb conference, herb kid’s camp, holiday weekend, new dryer, new roof, and a bunch of meetings for new projects in the community, I stared out at my veggie garden, yard, and deck.
The good news is that we’ve had our fill of bountiful butter lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard! I neglected to take pictures of that abundant bed at its height of beauty, but it was a delightful sight of vitality in the yard and nourishing to our bodies. The tomatoes in the other bed that looked like they would never survive finally pulled through and are producing fruit and looking vigorous!
We’re looking forward to a good tomato harvest in a few weeks if I can keep the juvenile groundhogs (affectionately named Frick and Frack) out of the RAISED BEDS WITH TANGLY NETTING AROUND IT.
I’m pretty sure I scared the bejeezus out of them though. When I saw they had gotten into the bed, I ran out to chase them away. Frick got caught up in the netting trying to escape and I thought we were going to have to cut him out. I went back in to get gloves and some help, but by the time I got back out to the bed, he was gone. Whew!
At this point, the lettuce/kale/chard bed has gone wild under the care. We got a little behind on the picking, so the bugs have taken up where we left off. The lettuce is no longer palatable and has gone to seed, the kale has had every last leaf munched, and the chard – well, we decided we didn’t like it that much anyway. This bed is dead. (As far as the humans are concerned, anyway).
Meanwhile, my deck is overflowing with about 30 medicinal plants I’ve accumulated in the past week and there are still some that weren’t put in the ground last month. :0
The rest of the yard has burst with life…a little too much bursting, in some cases. Stinging nettle has settled in at the edge of the driveway, reminding us to slow down and be aware of our surroundings as we load into the car (“Mind the nettles…”). My family gives me the hairy eyeball when we get into the car, and I keep telling them that I’m going to collect the seeds, because I missed the leaves when they were young enough to eat and turn into medicine. While I’ve been waiting for that one nettle plant to give up its seeds, three more have popped up and are now in flower and leaning further out into the driveway.
Copious grasses and weeds I haven’t identified yet have moved into every bed, and I have to say that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I have a new appreciation for the amount of time and effort it takes to manage even a modest yard. What started off with a great routine in the spring has become a game of catch-up due to some crazy June scheduling and lack of finishing landscaping (ya know, like maybe some mulch to dissuade the weeds a bit?)
So it’s time to get back on track and establish some boundaries. The young nettles will have to go, but I’ll create a flower essence with their tiny buds first. The rest of the weeds in the yard need to be reminded to share the space. We’re cohabitating here! I am ever-so-grateful for my hubby who donned thick gloves to remove the wild blackberry plant with its vicious canes. Some Bee Balm was lost in the battle, but the Joe-pye and Echinacea are much happier for it.
I decided to refurbish the dead veggie bed and start over. I salvaged what kale I could, but all the chard and lettuce had to go. I started pulling out plants last night. As I pulled each stem from the rich soil, it felt appropriate to thank it for its life and apologize for my clumsy care. I felt like a toddler struggling with a puzzle, realizing I didn’t do something right. A little part of me grieved. I’m an amateur, and I am grateful that plants are patient and forgiving teachers.
When I had pulled out more than half the plants, I started to see all the movement…pill bugs, caterpillars, worms, spiders, and a praying mantis. This garden bed had truly become its own ecosystem. The foliage had been hiding treasured secrets of the life of invertebrates…
The diversity that occurred in such a short amount of time in a human-created plot gave me pause. I stopped pulling plants as the wings of a dead cabbage moth fell to the earth, feeling in awe of what had been going on all this time.
Then I started to doubt what I was doing as I stared at the carnage…the wrecked habitat. I was no better than a bulldozer. I stood there confused, though I had felt sure at the beginning that starting over was the right thing to do. I knew I would make many mistakes on my journey of becoming a gardener, and this was clearly one of them.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to be still for a moment. A renewed sense of “rightness” settled in about pulling everything out and starting over.
As I freed the last stem from its dirt, I watched the bare soil wiggle with life. I offered my thanks to all the creatures who were an integral part of the veggies we enjoyed and offered my condolences to those for whom this would be a death sentence.
Isn’t this the cycle of life – death and rebirth? Though it’s deeply painful to experience death, it is only through death that there is space for new birth. If we kept everything and everyone we had ever loved, there would be no room for more. No room for anything new and breath-taking. No room for new life or love or friendship or jobs or space. Everything has its time and place. There is a delicate dance of life, each and every being on this planet pushing and pulling against one another. When one dies, another has the space and resources to be born and flourish. It is a continuous cycle of which we’re all a part.
So I’ll continue this dance with the land, with the plants and animals as my teachers, learning to weave weeding and blogging into the routine. I will honor the losses and mistakes of the past by reflecting on those lessons and integrating them into future plans to minimize harm.
I am human, and I am working my way toward becoming humane – a being who is capable of living in balance with the whole. I have a long ways to go. I hope to someday immerse myself fully into the dance so that my pushing is the perfect match for another’s pulling, with no waste of energy or resources on either end. The choice of letting go versus leaning in is present with every breath, thought, and action, and it will take a lifetime to master which way to bend and when.
May your July be filled with bright beauty and bounty! Enjoy the abundance, wet your feet in the bubbling streams, and shelter yourself in the restorative shade during these hot days. There is much growth to be had yet, let’s dig in deep, shall we?
Until next time…