Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Lots of people gardening and growing things in the North these days. As the nursery rhyme suggests, things can go quite contrary to what you expect or were hoping for. It can be too hot or too cold, too calm or too windy, too wet or too dry. If you are a gardener or a farmer, the weather can be your friend or your foe.
It’s not just the weather you have to be concerned about but also some critters, insects, fungi, and even single-celled organisms that want to take over the world and your garden. It’s quite amazing when things work out and you get a crop or fall harvest.
Lots has been written about the joys and tribulations of gardening. You are outdoors battling wits with nature and her denizens. Cut worms, grubs, and snails. Moles, voles and hungry rabbits or hares. It’s a jungle out there.
I started tending gardens as a kid and weeding was a job I enjoyed, then and now. You get to sit in the sun, do a lot of stretching and bending exercises and once you get the hang of it you can weed while your mind explores other things.
Way back when, thousands of years ago, when people were still in the Stone Age, people started experimenting with growing things. Someone was probably out picking berries and they started to think: if we removed the other vegetation competing with the berries, that would probably allow the berries to grow better. We could water them and fertilize the soil, that would also probably help. Pretty soon they were growing a lot of fruit, berries and other things.
Someone wandering around finding the occasional corn plant or bean plant and thought, you know we could plant some of these seeds and grow a whole lot more of the stuff closer to home. So they did, along with grains, vegetables and other crops.
I am sure they learned how to do this by observing nature and watching the other critters. Our little red squirrels will prune spruce trees in the spring by nipping off new growth. This encourages the tree to grow tall and straight and produce a lot more cones than they would otherwise. Bees pick certain plants they like to go gather nectar from. This in turns pollinates the flowers and encourages them to produce more seeds, which spread and grow more of that type of flower. That is a form of farming for certain crops. Some ants will actually protect and herd aphids and milk them to get a sweet sugary drink.
When you start to look at nature from a farmer or gardener’s point of view, it shines a whole new light on some of the things going on. So, as I sit weeding, enjoying the day, I think about all the generations of farmers and growers before me. It is an ancient and modern pastime.
Some people buy potted plants and then set them outside, watering them occasionally. It is growing plants to be sure but to me it’s not exactly gardening, unless you are getting your hands dirty and covered in soil. I like feeling soil, smelling it and getting up close and personal. Studying soils is also a part of geology and geology is learning about how the earth works. You could spend your entire life studying soils and they are vitally important to the food we eat and grow.
Some people actually make and enhance their own soils using recipes handed down from one generation to another. Others make their own fertilizer often from compost or worm poop. So, I am not sure why Mary grew silver bells and cockle shells or had pretty maids all in a row, but I prefer poppies which certainly seem to be a favorite of the bees.