Live Simply. There's Enough For All

Notes From the Gardener

Richard Digs in the Garden
Richard Digs in the Garden

I'd like to present you with some of our beliefs or philosophies, if you will, so you might understand what motivated Penny and I to quit jobs in industry to operate a small organic herb farm in Upstate New York.

On a wall in our home hangs a gift from a friend who spent hours cross-stitching a piece depicting eight different herbs. In the center of the herbs is a quote from the Book of Genesis stating, "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth. They will be yours for food'". This ancient quote reflects our central belief.

The earth nourishes us. The soil is the cradle of life. All life depends on the earth for its substance, for its continuing existence. The more fertile the soil, the more nutritious the food. Consuming food grown in good soil results in good health. Not only does the earth nurture our bodies, but our minds and souls with its beauty.

Put back what you take out. Since a crop depletes the soil of nutrients, it is our responsibility to replenish the soil so that those who come after us may be sustained. Composting, mulching, green manuring, are all essential to this task.

Reverence for all life. It becomes evident to the organic grower that all forms of life have a purpose and are an integral part of a greater whole. From the deer and rabbits to the birds, bees and insects to the micro-organisms in the soil, who by their very life process nourish the soil, there is a chain of life of which I, too, am a part. To interfere in this chain of life is destructive. (Well, maybe we could make an exception out of the ignoble blackfly.........)

No pesticides or chemicals. As a boy, I was helping my father dust the garden with pesticide. My mother warned me not to breath it or get it on my skin. I wondered why we put it on our food if it was so dangerous. I have never been able to answer that question. Here we rely on a natural balance to prevent insect infestations. This is known as the pest-predator relationship. Pesticides disrupt that relationship.

There's enough for all. Since we rely on pest control by natural predators, we are not alarmed when we lose some young plants to cutworms. We don't run for pesticides when beetles ruin a rosebush. We realize this is the natural order, so we plant more than we need right at the start. There's always loss, but we get what we need and the critters get what they need. There's enough for all of us, people and pests alike.

Live Simply. We have found that if you have food, shelter and love, little else is necessary to living happily. Fancy toys only distract us from the things that really matter. We find that a little bit of money goes a long way when you're not bogged down in the quest for possessions.

Gothic Farmer With His Old Shovel
Gothic Farmer With His Old Shovel

Share knowledge with others. We are always eager to share with others what we have learned over the years. We really enjoy teaching people how to interact successfully with nature. Knowledge is something that must be passed along or it will be lost. We are all teachers, in a way. We all have something to share. We are equally willing to put down our tools and take the time to learn from others.

We walk on this earth for a short time only. We need to make the best of the time that is allotted to us. Tomorrow is not something we can control, for it may not come for us. Sharing our love, our caring, our knowledge today is all that we can hope for.


Compost Chores and Garden Cleanup

Notes From the Gardener



As another growing season comes to a close, one of the major garden chores is the cleanup. All the spent plants are brought to the compost for use the following season when it will be returned to the soil. Perennials such as lavender, southernwood and sage are cut back to ground level, where next year's growth is evident on the old wood. What Penny doesn't use on her craft work also goes to the compost. Old squash vines, tomato plants, pepper plants - everything organic goes to the compost.

At first, Penny didn't understand my diligence in gathering organics for compost. She would throw her eyes skyward as I stopped the car at roadsides to put bagged leaves into the trunk. When I berated her for throwing egg shells and coffee grounds into the trash, she was sure I was obsessed. Now, however, Penny is equally diligent for she is schooled in the natural order.

How does one learn such things? By simply being still and observing. For instance, let me relate a recent occurrence. I was gathering together spent plants when I heard the geese overhead. My back needed stretching, so I stood erect and watched a large misshaped "vee" formation of Canada geese split and form two perfectly shaped "vee" groups directly overhead. As my entertainment was passing, a gust of wind drove a leaf so hard against my reddened ear that I "ouched" out loud. This brought my attention to the hundreds of leaves being loosed by the wind and brought to the earth where they were really starting to pile up. The forest floor was thick with them. My wondering brought me to ask where all the leaves went by summer's end. Well, they're eaten, of course. The leaves are actually consumed by a multitude of living things, ranging in size from microbes to earthworms. The leaves then become part of a soil that nurtures the trees above. It was at this point that I realized I was being given a lesson in organic gardening. These oak and pine are some of the largest plants on earth, but they sure don't need any 5-10-5.

When a tree breaks dormancy, the sap flows through its roots deep into the earth and gathers nutrients, delivering them high above to the new growth of leaves. Later the leaves fall. The leaves enrich the soil, the soil feeds the tree. Simple? You bet. I don't need to understand the processes by which organic compounds are broken down or altered. I leave that to those that it interests. My lesson has been this: when living things die they are returned to the soil, which is enriched and may now sustain new life. Simple.

I recall once reading how rains can leach nutrients from the topsoil into the subsoil so deep that they become "lost" or unavailable to plants because their roots just don't reach them. When I think of the depth that a large tree's roots reach into the earth, I realize how much of those "lost" nutrients are recovered and how nutrient laden leaves must be.

Our neighbor has just offered us his leaves again this year. Judging from the size of his place and the size of my truck, this will require numerous trips. Oh well, the thyme can be cut another day. Priorities. Some people shake their heads when they see me stockpiling leaves. I shake mine when I see people burning them.

A few lines from a favorite poem by Robert Frost come to mind.

"..I may load and unload

Again and again

Till I fill the whole shed,

And what have I then?


Next to nothing for weight:

And since they grew duller

From contact with earth,

Next to nothing for color.


Next to nothing for use,

But a crop is a crop,

And who's to say where

The harvest shall stop?"