On being an alchemist
Posted on August 3, 2011
“Deep down I suspect that many gardeners regard themselves as small-time alchemists, transforming the dross of compost (and water and sunlight) into substances of rare value and beauty and power.”
–Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
I started a garden because I wanted to prove to myself (and perhaps to a few unnamed others) that I was no longer a plant killer. I started a garden because I wanted to grow things that I could cook and that my family and friends could eat. There is a special sort of Zen in all of this — the digging, the weeding, the planting, the watching and waiting — and I wish I had learned it sooner.
Because I am battling the hell out of this garden right now.
I spent months and months planting every square, fertilizing them accordingly, and watering, weeding, picking and replanting them as needed. I got tomatoes earlier than expected, fresh carrots in time for my daughter’s sixth birthday, more basil than I could handle, salsa-enlivening Serrano chiles, and cucumbers upon cucumbers upon cucumbers (I owe a post about cucumbers and it’s coming). The okra I’ve been picking? Ridiculous, especially when fried (another post to come about that).
Then the rain came.
Normally rain is a good thing.
In this case, however, you really can have too much of a good thing.
I lost some cucumber plants to bacterial wilt disease. I’m in danger of losing my honeydew plants to the very same beast. I went in and did a bunch of organic this and that to the garden tonight. All I can do now is sit back and hope for the best.
And yet, there are times in life when do everything you’re supposed to do — have your heart in the right place, work your tail off, be determined and consistent, and so on — and things don’t work out the way you had hoped they would. Maybe it’s not worth it, not nourishing to keep up the battle. Some things just aren’t meant to grow in certain environments (and I’m not necessarily talking about my backyard here). Or maybe you realize it’s worth digging in and seeing things through to their fruitful conclusion. After all, if this seed doesn’t work, another will. Maybe your garden won’t look the same. But a summer’s worth of opportunity is proof that you’ve made this garden flourish once on your own. You can sure as hell do it again, with patience, sunlight, water and the right mix of compost.