The ruins of the garden

My garden is in ruins.  The soil here is poorer than I expected.  Next year it’ll be truckloads of manure and wood chips, trying to get a little less sandy of a texture in the soil, better water retention and better quality.  Right now everything is dying, between the heat and how quickly the soil dries.  Not that the garden ever produced as much as I’d hoped, anyway.  We only got a few pounds of tomatoes off of most of the plants, It was a serious disappointment.  Part of me is bitter.  I put in all of that work for what?  Some spaghetti squash and green beans (the only things that seemed to produce with any kind of fervency.)  I feel cheated.  Cheated!

I look at the ruins of the garden, my little kingdom, dying off bit by bit like the Roman Empire.

I grumble and curse.

Then I remember that I have learned so much.  I’ve learned about gardening in the Steppe, which is so very different from gardening in the Midwest.  I’ve learned about what kinds of things I can expect to flourish here (beans, squash, corn, hardy tomatoes) and what I can expect to wither and die at the first sign of summer heat (peas and lettuce will never do well here, spinach has a short but boisterous growing season).  I have learned to water in the early hours of the morning.  I’ve learned to bury my compost to keep the neighbor dogs out of it.  I’ve learned that the stakes and tomato cages that worked in the Midwest WILL warp and give way here.  I’ve learned that I can start my seeds indoors even earlier than I expected, and that when I plant I need to cover EVERYTHING EXCESSIVELY will bird netting.  EXCESSIVELY.  My melons produced nada, nothing, zip.  But it is because the birds stole the shoots and I had to replant 12 weeks after the original seeds had germinated- those 12 weeks stole my chance at fruit.  Next year I will not let that happen.  I’ll keep my tomatoes indoor longer and force germinate them to start out with, and I will stake those puppies in hand knotted hammocks nailed to two-by-fours.  They will NOT have half their fruit rotting from being on the hot soil.  I’ll plant a lot more eggplant so I see a better chance at getting some fruit off them.  I’ll fall in love with more varieties of beans.

The garden next year will be bigger.  Bigger.  A better chance of enough of it surviving my learning curve, a better chance at produce.

Yesterday I was talking to a classmate who confessed to feeling like she’d started out this school year behind.  “I’m failing at everything!” She was gritting her teeth in exasperation.

“You need to give yourself permission to fail,” I said, commiserating.  “Accept where you are now so you can move on from it.  Accept, and keep fighting.  Don’t despise yourself and give up.”  Our teacher, eavesdropping rather obviously, had a knowing smile.

Ah, yes.  Yes.  I realized just seconds later that I was speaking to myself, too.

I need to accept where my garden is right now, accept the lessons it has taught me, and move on.  I need to plan for success and accept the failures and just keep going.

Because that is life.  Bitterness that life has cheated us is just thinly disguised rejection of the true gifts it has to offer.

Having God say, “Hells to the No,” is an answer to prayer, too.

And brown, withering corn produces the wisdom to plant it lower in the ground next year, where the water will pool better around the roots.

Scrawny, underproductive melon vines produce the knowledge to plant them where they have room to spread.

It all matters, even the failures.

Sometimes, especially the failures.

Sometimes the biggest learning comes in the ruins.


“Well, I’ll never make THAT mistake again!”

I’ve said that line a lot.  Like the time I forgot to check the latch on my back door, and while I was folding laundry I heard a knock- my neighbor coming to tell me that my 20 month old son was wandering around the back yard alone.  My heart stopped beating while I checked every inch of his body to be sure he was okay (a process he found hilarious) and then as soon as I could calm myself down I laughingly said to my neighbor “I can’t believe I would do that.  There’s no excuse.  But at least that’s one mistake I’ll never make again.”

A mother herself, she nodded knowingly.  And she replied, “That’s the good thing about mistakes.  You learn from them.”

Like the time I wanted to add cinnamon to a recipe, and seeing red powder I didn’t really even look at the label.  Imagine my surprise when my spice cake had cayenne pepper as the primary flavor!  Or the time I put bread under the broiler and then went into the other room to fetch something without setting a timer.  Someone came to the door and I forgot about the bread until I smelled it charring.  Or there’s the time I put pizza back in a warm oven for my husband, and we both forgot about it until the next time I needed to bake something.  I started the oven preheating, smelled something strange…  Well, I’ll never do THAT again!

There are more serious times- like the time I was twelve and at a new school where I had few friends.  A gaggle of girls started talking badly about my mormon friend, how weird her clothes were and how annoying it was when she started getting “preachy”, how odd it was that she had such a huge family (she was on the lower middle end of seven kids from eighteen to four), and on, and on.  Desperate to be accepted I joined in the conversation, just to turn around and see my only true friend crying in the doorway.

Lesson learned.  I will NEVER again say something I don’t believe only to gain acceptance or approval.  Our words all carry power and a price.  But out of all of the bad I’ve done, to meals and to people, some good has come out of it.  Because all of these mistakes I’ve turned into something positive.  An opportunity to learn and grow and mold myself.  As much pain as some mistakes may cause, like the pain I caused to my friend Faith, if we are willing to admit our shortsightedness, if we are willing to be humbled and broken and to ask for the world (or our own mouths) to forgive us, we can grow.  We can learn.  We can be better.

As bad as a mistake can be, we can always choose to never make it again.