Grow Your Own Life

Our global capitalist world is a vulnerable, small world, stitched together by jets and cargo ships loaded with stuff made by workers with no unions or rights. The unexpected consequence of our economic system — the pandemic was here and everywhere so quickly.

With all the suffering around us, it’s hard to find any positives, but there are some. The land, sea and air have benefited from less of us about. During these months of fear and chaos (aka “reopening” and “pause”), with no end in sight, many people are thinking over the state of their lives and their place of sheltering. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • My spirit brightens and soars when I’m in nature or in my garden, growing my own food. I stand up close to admire the astounding intricacy and beauty around me. If I were constantly busy, known as “normal life”, I’d miss all this. If I were surrounded by lifeless steel, concrete, and gadgets (or rather, proto-trash); it would be damn difficult to be calm, joyful, or even healthy right now.
  • Virtual life isn’t life. I read quality news sources online for today’s dose of horrors and idiocy – but limit that to once a day.
  • I consider the health exposure to myself and others of going somewhere vs. the benefit of going. If I must go, I always wear a face mask properly and keep my distance.
  • Each day I learn something new. Today, it was this: in a handful of soil, there are more microscopic organisms than the entire global human population. Getting my head around that is like trying to come to grips with the size of the universe.
  • My home-grown beets taste like the warm, rich earth they were grown in.
  • These days, grocery shopping is like a treasure hunt, an empty shelf one day, maybe stocked tomorrow…and the prices, going up. I don’t need a shopping cart to have flavorful and healthy veggies, just a simple trug under my arm. I give any extras to friends and neighbors. Any fruit or veg I don’t grow myself is locally sourced, organically grown, and seasonal.
  • Letting my hair turn gray is self-affirming. Wellbeing is more important than a dye job. I trim my simple haircut outside (that would have been unthinkable before this, but self-sufficiency is back).
  • Lately I’m asking myself questions that I’ve never asked before, some quite odd. I chalk that up to the times, or that I’m becoming more aware of how much life exists outside of my species. Do the birds have enough protective shelter for nesting in my garden? If my plants could rate my care of them, would I get five stars? Have I selected well to provide nectar for bees all year?

My prescription for myself in these terrible times is green medicine. Stepping out to my veg patch in the morning banishes the stubborn shadows of anger and despair like nothing else. And it doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription. I don’t have to stand six feet apart at a drug store or have it delivered or disinfect all that packaging except for a wash-up. That’s the kind of medicine that I need.

Short passage from the new book in progress, “Grow Your Own Life”:

I’m Emily, writer, gardener, almost 74 years old, but nobody thinks I look it (despite the road miles). I can’t do the heavy stuff anymore and have support once a week from a burly local landscaper named Brad. I grow a substantial amount of my own fruit and veg, all organically, giving space and support to wildlife and pollinating insects. I garden with the clear knowledge of climate change, warming temperatures, and potential for wildfires.

I grow only what I like to eat. I’ve stopped growing tasty things that cause acid reflux though. My veg area is essentially raised beds using Charles Dowding’s “no dig” method, laying this year’s compost and goodies on top. Soil is key, so is rotation of what I grow, companion planting, heritage seeds varieties, wise use of water. I recycle and reuse poles, PVC pipe lengths, netting, and Enviromesh. My main issues are pigeons, roving domestic cats, leaf miner, cabbage white moths. I mulch, mulch and mulch for water conservation (water to roots in the morning).

Everything looking beautiful is very important to me. So, I use a French potager approach, mixing flowers with my veg patch (dahlias, sunflowers, marigolds, etc.)

Growing your own is experiencing a revival during a time of pandemic and lockdown. It makes us look at our lives, our places of sheltering. But it is much more than that.

Mental health experts agree that gardening and nature will cause our blood pressure to fall, our minds to lift. The brain chemicals that underlie the feeling of happiness will outweigh the chemical of flight and fear.

Our old normal was dependence on supermarkets for our food, mostly grown by far-flung conglomerates. Food’s getting more expensive and uncertain during these virus times. Even a small container on a balcony can grow lettuce. Get your kids involved as they instinctively love dirt. Put a container or raised bed on the lifeless concrete or lawn. Watch a seed unfurl, burst into leaves. Growing your own fruit and veg will be far more flavorful and healthier.

If you don’t use pesticides, wildlife will return to fascinate you. You can encourage them to stay with bug hotels, untidy areas with leaves and fallen limbs, pollinating flowers, dwarf fruit trees, bird boxes, a small pond, and so forth.

Your outdoor surroundings will be far more lovely, and you will want to spend more time there. Nature will calm and enrich your life. Share your discoveries with friends and neighbors. Without a lecture from you, they will discover the healing power you’ve found—in a sense, you will pay it forward. My neighbor reimagined cucumbers after she ate one of my homegrown ones.

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