Sunday, 19 August 2012

Broad beans, life, the universe and everything...

Great joy this morning....  the first baby broad bean....

I had planned to write this post during the past week,  but somehow time got away from me.  It is about the environment and a conversation that I had recently about the environment and how we need to get out there and "save it."

Some people seem to find a difference between the "environment" that is "out there" and themselves and their gardens.  It is as if the environment begins at the fenceline.   But gardens are just a much a part of the world,  the universe really, as that other environment that includes us all.

To have a garden that is "pest free" is something like living in a sterile bubble.  The alternative doesn't mean that one needs to save every snail and slug or encourage sap sucking insects to the vegetable patch,  any more than one would be lax about personal hygiene to the point of contracting disease.
Food gardening seems to have grown out of a peasant culture that is almost lost.  In such cultures, information about useful plants, managing pests (for managing them is what we do) and what plants would be the most productive for the minimum of effort was passed along from one person to another.  The connection with nature (the environment) and food production was obvious.

Nowadays, when food production is remote from most of us and it is more useful to acquire knowledge about supermarket specials and the best farmer's markets, there is a disconnection from the environment that is frightening.  David Suzuki has referred to this as a "nature deficit disorder" that requires some remediation.  This disorder may begin with teaching children to have a fear of spiders and other "creepy crawlies" and end up with the use of such drastic anti-bacterial agents that the lack of gut organisms can lead to disease. This is becoming better understood in recent years, though there still seems to be a love for the pristine perfumed kitchen and the exquisite garden or lawn.

What about our gardens?  Many of our gardens are far from a "natural environment"... mine included. My garden has very few of the original native plants still around, though I have "re-vegetated" with local natives in some patches.  There has been encouragement for gardeners to use "organic remedies" and many of these are good. However, the "environment" (that part of the world that is over the other side of the fence) is more variable and more of a compromise than that. In fact, it is very much like that on my side of the fence as well.   Pests are there and they vary in number.  Some years one or another pest will be the biggest problem.  Sometimes this is due to the weather or the climate,  and sometimes it is due to the lifecycles of other predators or prey.  One needs to plant extra and greater variety so that if something does "go wrong" there will be enough.  It is all a compromise in which the gardener is just one of the beneficiaries of the garden, along with all of the other  organisms that live there.  This is why the introduction of strange chemicals and terminator seeds can be so destructive.  These can upset that balance (so well described by David Suzuki in his book, the Sacred Balance) that we are a part of and that we depend on.

However, this compromise can be frustrating, as any other compromise can be.   When the birds that nest in my trees disturb the mulch as they pick out the earwigs or eat the uncovered pea seedlings before they can produce anything that I want it can be more than frustrating.  But then, they probably object to me pulling out some plants for my chickens when I don't need them any more.... it is a compromise and the gardener is just another member of the cohort that lives in the garden. This is probably why gardeners are notorious for growing more than they need (especially tomatoes, it seems) just so that when something does go wrong, there is still enough to satisfy needs.  

Far from existing alongside the environment, the gardener is a part of it, with all of the same problems and joys of the other species that share the area on this side of the fence.

I even like to think that I am a part of the universe, having taken millions of years to arrive here and that I'll always be a part of it....  way into a future that I can only imagine, but that is a whole other story.

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