Of course, I’m not growing food commercially for finicky consumers, so my produce doesn’t have to be perfect. And I allow myself the great luxury of the vegetable garden: a certain number of dismal failures, more than made up for by the screaming successes.
For example, we have no cucumbers this year, though my children love them. The ones I started from seed died because I planted them too soon, in soil that was too cool. The seedlings we bought after that mini-disaster turned out to be mislabeled zucchinis. Plus, though I wouldn’t admit this to everybody, I can’t seem to grow a full-sized carrot to save my life. Maybe I start them too late? Maybe I pay too much attention to my job and not enough to thinning the tiny bastards early in the season?
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. And in complete defiance of all conventional wisdom, I get unusable amounts of delicious apples from trees probably planted by cows, trees to which I do absolutely nothing–no pruning, no spraying, no thinning. As with everything else in life, there are risks and benefits. I’m willing to forgo apples beautiful enough to appear in Snow White in order to avoid poisoning the planet my children will inherit. Plus, I work hard enough in the garden to understand when to leave well enough alone.
Of course, there are problems with gardening this way. The gardener is not sufficiently susceptible to marketing. The gardener fails to contribute sufficiently to big corporations. The gardener is not sufficiently anxious.
Have you noticed the degree to which even the most well-meaning garden suppliers trade on anxiety? Back-pack sprayers to kill all the threatening insects. The one package of fertilizer precisely formulated for tomatoes, the other package of stuff precisely formulated for the roses. Weird bags for automatic watering that look, interestingly enough, like disposable diapers for trees. These purveyors imply that the road to success requires precision and lots of carefully calibrated things that they happen to sell. Actually, I believe that the road to success mostly involves worms. Amy, can you back me up here?
They’re only scaring us to get us to part with our money–and encouraging us backyard farmers, who are after all, VERY GOOD PEOPLE, to do ugly things to our little piece of earth in the name of practicality. I have a different idea: Accept that our crops don’t have to be any more perfect in appearance than the people we love and no more perfect than our own flawed selves. Instead of spending our money on wrinkle cream for the apple trees, let’s spend all our money on plants–that’s where the adventure is–with an occasional really insane purchase of a teak bench or an iron arch that will deliver years of beauty.
Let the back-pack-sprayer producers go belly up. It’s America. We’ve got a dynamic economy here. They’ll soon find a more useful line of work.