Every pepper

Every day, I go out and water my two gardens.  Sometimes, if it’s been especially hot, I do that twice.  I also handpick the beetles from my plants, cut off dead leaves, prop up things that need propping, and take care of whatever else needs taking care of.  When there’s room, I’ll often head out specifically to plant new things.

It turns out that these interludes are the highlight of my days.  I work from home, and taking a break to tend to the gardens makes for a lovely break from the hours of writing and researching that are the hallmark of my work.  But more importantly, I see a huge amount of value in the gardens as constant reminders that there is a world apart from the academic work that I do, and that there is something useful, delightful, and very reassuring about actually working to produce something tangible.

Even when I “produce” something for work, it’s pretty intangible.  A lecture or journal article doesn’t feel like it has a lot of physical substance in the end.  There’s certainly value there – understanding problems and solutions can be a hugely important thing – but day to day, it doesn’t really feel like that much, especially for something that’s very temporal – as with a lecture or presentation that ends and then is done – or intangible – like an article that exists only online or in a journal.  It’s easy, for me anyway, to feel distanced from the rest of the world and like the work that I do isn’t really doing all that much.

As a result, the further I’ve gone in academia, the more I’ve felt the need to do tangible, concrete things alongside my academic work.  I certainly don’t feel like I have to replace one with the other, but I do thing that both are important to maintaining a balance between spending time in my own head and getting out into the world in a way that’s useful and productive. I’ve been cooking from scratch, baking, knitting, and sewing for awhile now.  This is the first year I’ve had anything resembling a garden.  So far, it feels like this is the best antidote to pure academic life that I’ve found.

I certainly think that having to take care of something a few times a day is helpful in and of itself.  The daily garden tasks get me up and outside a few times a day, and focused on something other than theory or course design.  But it goes well beyond this too.  When I make or produce something, I feel connected to the world, and like I’m part of it.  Simple materials become something else – a squash, a dinner, or a sweater.  There’s an underlying history and sense of continuity, since people have been doing these tasks for ages.  And it’s reassuring to be able to do fairly basic things for myself that are useful and practical.

Every pepper feels a bit like a miracle or a form of natural magic in it’s own right.  But each is also a reminder that there is a whole world out there beyond my computer keyboard and classroom, and that it’s a place where things are made, food is produced, and the important elements of daily life happen in very tangible and often rewarding ways.

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The jar of doom

(Warning: photo of many dead bugs ahead.  If you don’t like dead bugs, or bugs in general, this post may not be for you.  If, on the other hand, you are a gardener, you might take a little bit of vengeful pleasure from it.)

Yesterday morning, I walked out of the apartment to water my plants.  Normally, this is a relaxing task and a lovely start to my day.  But that day, I went to water my rhubarb and discovered upwards of 12 large bugs clinging to its leaves and making a meal of them.  There were another few on the chard, kale, and basil, too.

I avoided disturbing them, and came back inside to grab The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control.  It didn’t take long to identify them as Japanese beetles, which apparently love leafy greens even more than I do.  Unfortunately for them, I intended those leaves for my own consumption, and not to provide a tasty treat for an invasive bug species.  The book didn’t offer a lot of preventative options beyond organic pesticides.  But one thing that they did suggest was gathering the beetles up and drowning them in a jar of water and dishsoap.

Thus was born the jar of doom.  I grabbed a canning jar, added soap and water, and grabbed a trowel for knocking the beetles off the plants.  I made my way back outside with butterflies swooping around me and in 20 minutes had committed a massacre of upwards of 30 beetles.  Later trips outside yielded another 30 or so. Today, I killed another 20.  Not bad for two days’ work, but this was still a horrifying number of things that were dead set on eating my veggies.

I’ll admit that I did feel somewhat satisfied getting them away from my plants, but it was also sad to see them trying to fight their way out of the water with no success.  They succumbed quickly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that tonight I may well have dreams of shiny bugs coming after me, with trowels and Dawn in hand.

Two gardens

After a semi-falling through of the community garden plot I was semi-supposed to have this summer, I’ve been gardening in a few different places – a plot across the street, and with some other people in a yard a few blocks from here.  But with less access to land than I thought, I’ve decided to do some more experimenting with a container garden.  I’m treating this year as a trial run to see what will grow well in pots and in the conditions that I have.  If I know what works well, I can do more of that next year, and work on finding better ways of growing the things that don’t.

I’ve planted a number of seeds in the plot across the road: spinach, parsnip, radish, broccoli, and beans.  But with my late start this year, I’m relying more on plants that have been started than I’d like.  This weekend, I stopped off at the local nursery – which a friend who used to work there assures me is quite good, as nurseries go – and picked up basil, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, kale, celery, and chard to try out.  They’re went alongside the rhubarb, thyme, mint, chives, and violets that I’ve already got going from earlier this year.  I’m still considering a few more herbs, starting some quick-growing lettuce and peas from seed, and wondering about whether potatoes might somehow be doable out there as well.

I live in a north facing apartment with a balcony overhead.  I’d like to grow on the patio, but there’s simply not enough sun, and what sun it does get doesn’t hit until mid afternoon.  There’s also a retaining wall and shrubs to the north. This makes for a lot of shade, and not great growing conditions unless I prop my pots on or beside the wall itself.  Having few other options, that’s just what I’ve done for now, until I come up with a better solution.  I’m sure the people who mow the lawn aren’t super thrilled with me, but I think growing food – even little bits here and there – is hugely important.  On the up side, I’m really pleased with what I have out there so far, and I’m hoping that it does reasonably well over the remainder of the summer.