by Ben Lewis
I grew up in a household where, during my childhood, there was at least some form of a garden nearly every year, and as such have fond memories of “helping” my dad create and tend it. As an adult, maybe two-to-three times in the eight years Jen and I owned a home in metro Atlanta (pre-kids) we had a small garden, but that was more “buy a few small plants from Home Depot, put them in the ground, throw out some Sevin Dust and chemical fertilizer, and see what happens.” To be honest, I didn’t think about it in terms of taking care of God’s creation or participating in His wondrous food cycle; it was merely a utilitarian exercise, and farming at home wasn’t something that I considered when purchasing a home or making a budget. In the eight years we lived in Charleston and the first three of our time in Greensboro, we never had or really (that I can recall) even discussed having a garden. Gardening certainly wasn’t part of any greater ethos for us.
That all changed in the winter/spring of 2017-2018, primarily because of the influence of the Farm at New Garden Park. I watched my daughters engage with our church’s farm through their catechesis classes and their personal interactions with the Farm Director, Lena Van Wyk. During farm workdays, I sifted compost, dug holes, and covered hoop houses. I saw the wonder and excitement in my children’s eyes when they could eat food moments after harvesting it during the Garden and Grow series. I heard the messages about caring for the land and connecting with God’s creation, and I was in, but it was rather last minute. Jen and I made the decision to have a garden in early April 2018, and later that month, everything we would plant was in the ground. There was little planning; I attended one class offered by the extension service on vegetable gardening three days before I started planting. Some things grew quite well; others didn’t. Still others (like squash and zucchini) produced well for a month or so before being destroyed by pests that I’d never heard of before 2018. (Do we really need squash vine borers?)
But through the successes and failures, I was thoroughly hooked by late summer/early fall 2018. At that point, I began reading as much as was feasible about gardening, companion planting, and composting. Once the 2018 garden’s remnants were removed from the soil, I created a larger area for 2019 and put three large compost piles in to attempt to vastly improve my soil quality. Also, I attended several classes through the NC Extension Service that provided a wealth of information.
This year’s garden is significantly larger and vastly more productive than that of last year, and the kids requested their own little mini-beds where they could plant whatever they wanted and harvest it for themselves and their friends. My daughter, Carter, for example, doesn’t like cherry tomatoes, but her friend next door does, so she wanted the freedom to pick them for her friend whenever she’d like. We grew a few more vegetable types than last year, also added perennial blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries to the mix.
- The parable of the sower has been constantly on my mind this year in particular. The areas with the better soil are significantly outperforming the areas of the garden that have good-not-great soil, and there’s simply no comparison of the production of this year to last. Our seed that has fallen on good soil is yielding almost unimaginably.
- The NC Extension Service’s web site and free classes are incredibly useful sources of information. The classes are paid for by your tax dollars. Use them! The web site has dozens of fact sheets and mini-guides, and their Gardener Handbookis simply a must-read.
- No matter how much I try to control things myself, I’m still at the mercy of the Creator and the creation. Even with all the careful planning, companion planting, and composting, there are still challenges galore, mostly presented by elements outside of my control. Groundhogs, birds, squirrels, insects, lack of rain, too much rain, hail, and too much wind have all presented challenges of varying degrees.
- Home-grown organic vegetables just taste better. We’ve eaten more vegetables this year than ever before and enjoyed the tastes more than ever as well.
- Being able to delay gratification reaps benefits. The berries are producing only small amounts this year, but also, the bell peppers where I pinched off the initial flower buds (as is recommended) are growing much larger and stronger (and look as if they’re going to produce more peppers) than those where I left the first blooms in place to get peppers as quickly as possible.
The Lewis family experience has been one of physical and spiritual growth and enrichment. I can’t imagine what the coming years will “produce.” If anyone tells you that you don’t have a green thumb or can’t have a home garden, don’t listen! We are people of the land.