Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Main Thing

or Going to Seed

When I was growing up, my Mom had a huge vegetable garden—the kind that fed our family of five through even the winter months with all the zucchini and green beans and dill pickles and zucchini (and more zucchini) she had preserved.  I loved helping Mom in the spring—counting down the days until the last frost, marking out the rows, laying out the yardstick to plant the seeds the proper distance apart.  I loved the shape and feel of the seeds—the smooth, shiny beans, the faded green of peas, the gritty nothingness of carrots.  I loved misting the newly sown earth with the sprinkler "just until it puddled."  And I especially loved running in from outside shouting, "Mommy, Mommy, the beans [peas/carrots/whatever] are up!"  (N.B.: But I must confess to never being that excited about zucchini.)  (And, as long as we're confessing things, I was never all that excited to help with weeding, watering, or harvesting as the summer wore on.)

I would love to have that sort of garden again, but with CFS, it's just not realistic.  The rototilling, spading, hoeing, weeding, watering, and so on are all labor-intensive, but the real problem is that so much of the work in a vegetable garden needs to be done now.  While I often have energy to do some physical labor, I just can't count on it to show up on any given day.

Burgundy Amaranth Seedlings
The thing is, I'm not always sure whether I like vegetable gardening because I actually want fresh vegetables, or whether I just enjoy watching seeds sprout.  When I reread my garden journals for the last several years, the heftiest entries always come right after planting time, and they almost all say, "The [x] is up!!!" with multiple exclamation points and a lot of excited babbling but no further information.  As the plants actually grow, the entries start to peter out; and I have no (no—I defy you to count them, because there aren't any) entries about harvesting.

The sprouting of a seed has never lost its magic for me— the sense of excitement that "Oh, my gosh, it worked again;"  the awe that something as minuscule as a carrot seed can one day produce an actual carrot, with a root and leaves and everything.  (Yes, I know that it's really just genetic programming in action, but the transformation is no less astonishing for that.)   Those of us with chronic illnesses are often looking for a little magic in our lives, a mental buoyancy to offset the physical lead weights, and for me watching seeds come up is one thing that provides that lift.

Dad's GMMCS's Conquer Again
Enter one of my favorite adaptations: the micro-garden.  Horticultural therapist Hank Bruce and his wife Tomi Jill Folk at Hunger Grow Away introduced me to this idea from CelluGro.  It's a 2' x 4' garden, divided into about 30 individual cells, which is designed for micro-intensive growing methods.  My Dad, using what we in the family refer to as his "Gloriously Magnificent and Marvelously Creative Smarts" or GMMCS's (though I believe he eventually resorted to using tools and lumber as well), built a beautiful, sturdy base for it, so that it stands at waist height.  Using only light hand tools and spending ten minutes a day (if that), I am able to plant and harvest for at least three seasons a year.  The micro-garden doesn't produce a huge amount of food for me (though Hank and Tomi's gardens are incredibly productive)—I get probably two generous or three side-dish servings of vegetables a week.  But it gives me lots and lots of opportunities to watch seeds sprout, and apparently that's the main thing.

The main thing.   I've had to make many adaptations to living with CFS over the years, and I'm just now beginning to learn that the ones that work, that satisfy me as deeply as the original, are the ones where I've figured out the main thing;  where I've pinpointed that little kernel at the heart of something that makes my heart sing, and found a way to nourish it and make it grow. Finding that kernel is another facet of the need to prioritize activities based on your deepest values, which I've come to see as one of the blessings of chronic illness.

The Micro-Garden
I do miss many of the other aspects of vegetable gardening.  I've always enjoyed turning the earth, and the sight of turning forks at garden centers is still a happy-making (if pointless) thing, but the aim of doing so has always really been to see seeds sprout.   (And boy, do I feel like a fool now that I know how little work I can do to enjoy that particular pleasure.)  The other things are comparatively minor losses; they may cost me a pang, but they don't impoverish me.   The essence is still mine to enjoy—the glory of seeing a forest of seedlings, knowing that hope has been borne out and that the magic did, in fact, work again.

Because that's the main thing.


  1. I don't think some people realize that what appear to be days of minimal activity are in fact days that we must pick ONE thing that would mean the most to us to accomplish. Anything beyond that is bonus land.

  2. Love it Aunt Stacy! Yet again, you inspire me to see the beauty in even the tiniest of things; the miracle of a seed sprouting. And to think that God designed that seed for a specific purpose...just think of what He has in store for His people! =D

  3. Karen--I always think of it as being on an extremely tight budget, ranging from "utter poverty" where you're lucky to have the necessities to "lower middle class" where you can choose among limited quality-of-life options. But you're right--it's always a choice, and there's always a price to pay! All the more reason to make sure the choice matters, like you always seem to do.

    Lexi--thank you! That means a lot to me--it's good to be able to share with someone as appreciative as you!

  4. My son did container gardens one year for a home education project. It was great fun for him, but this is excellent! I've not seen them this small before. I've love to do this some day. Thanks for sharing..

  5. Jan Lyn, there may be less expensive ones on the market as well--I was able to buy this one at a hefty discount, but it still made me gulp a little. It's been entirely worth it, though!