This year's garden follows the farmer's advice.

This year’s garden follows the farmer’s advice.

I’m growing my own food again this year. Last year, I didn’t get it quite right. The bugs had dinner before I could. I read every book on organic farming, yet still, they ate my veggies, impervious to my reading. There were grubs, slugs, and beetles, and other things I couldn’t identify.

Every morning, I’d go out and check on the state of affairs, greeting the toad, dragon flies, butterflies and friendly spiders…The squash beetles disguised themselves as lady bugs, so I talked to them, too.


“Me?” It looked surprised.  No one had ever been kind to it before.

“How’s it going today?”

“Um…” A quick look back and forth with guilt and hesitation, shifting ever so slightly to cover the hole it was chomping in my leaves. “It’s going well, thanks for asking.”

Squash beetles are more orange than lady bugs, I learned. Bigger, too, because they eat all my vegetables. They had to go.  I trained the boy to search for them–and other beetles–and sound the alarm, “SQUASH BEETLE!”  Then, I flicked them into a container of soapy water where they could start contemplating their next life.

I stop by my local farms often to buy eggs and check in. Early last year, my first rural season, my farmer started me off with me three cubic yards of manure. That’s a lot of shit. Then she gave me the next step.

“Put down some newspaper, then a layer of mulch straw between your rows. It keeps the weeds down and roots moist.” I never needed such things in my urban raised beds. They were tightly interplanted. I weeded them when the need arose, running out of room for planting quickly. I planned to plant edible borders around the property, eventually destroying the lawn for crops, too, but I got caught by my husband, The Lawn Ranger, and had to stop. I’m not permitted near his beautiful lawns. The garden is my mess.

I put the straw down. I didn’t have newspaper, just news feeds on Twitter. I don’t need to kill the rainforest to be informed. It’s just bad news anyway. I ignored that half of the advice.

Funny thing about advice. A lot of people receive it, few do much with it–in everything from farming to business to life. You can’t just skip half the sentence and expect the advice to work.

Straw is a form of grass. It has seeds. The newspaper stops the seeds. Without it, I’d planted a row of seeds between my seeds. Hundreds of blades of straw grass grew in every row sentencing me to a summer of extra weeding. Fifteen-yard penalty. First down.

This year, I listened. I put a layer of bad news between each row first, hoping the root vegetables didn’t read it and get depressed. Depression stifles growth.

Now, the straw is situated, and the vegetables are growing. I’m eating them daily. I saw the first of the army of pretty little moths disguised as white butterflies. Cabbage worm moths. This year, I listened to my farmer and sprayed.

Last year she said, “If you see the worms, it’s too late. Do you think we like to spray? That we want to do all that extra work so the public can complain about chemicals? If we didn’t spray, all the plants in the world would look like yours and the world starve. Then people would complain more than they do now.”

She showed me a bottle, “It’s too late now, but next year, spray this before you see a problem. It’s organic. It’ll kill the worms.”

The farms I love are not organic farms. But they’re all natural, and they don’t mustard gas the greens.  Most small farms can’t afford organic certifications, and the paperwork’s a mile deep. Many consumers don’t understand that, though. The marketing machine’s made us want to eat clean, green, and organic. I think it’s better to know my farmer than it is to buy something tightly wrapped in five layers of plastic with a sticker that says, “organic.” Dog poop is organic, too, and I wouldn’t eat that. My farmer is cool. I’m listening better these days, and having excellent results in my salad.

My trying to eat off the land is disingenuous, though. I play farmer while the people who advise me try to scrape by on the leanest of margins. Often they can’t. My farmers are luckier than most, because there’s a great foodie community in Rhode Island resurrecting the glory of local and farm-based food, and it’s a small state. You can drive through it with one flip of the middle finger. That means vegans everywhere can get to a farmer’s market every day of the week in short order. This makes me smile.

Still, I’m trying my best to grow a portion of my produce, and improving season by season.

I wanted chickens, but in much the same way as I was forbidden from destroying the lawn, there will be no chickens now. Truly, they don’t make sense for me. I can go to the farm for eggs and talk to my farmer. Maybe next year when nobody’s looking, I’ll get a chicken or two and say, “Damn, those country robins get big…” They’ll it’ll be my little secret at omelet time.

The greens are in. I’ve started shoving extra plants wherever I find space, and I’m eating what I grow. There’s nothing like going outside, saying, “What’s for dinner?” and having nature whisper the answer.

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