Friday, November 19, 2010

Near the end of harvest

This afternoon I picked a bushel of brussels sprouts from the garden and as the light grew dark I cleaned them and cut off the stems and outer leaves. After supper I blanched them and put them in plastic bags and then into the freezer for the winter and spring. The outside temperatures have gone below freezing a couple of times now--just barely below--which, somehow, makes the brussels sprouts a little tastier. Wait another week, though, and they could suffer from the first hard freeze. 

I still have some lettuce, spinach, and arugula growing under agribon spun polyester row covers. Light freezes do not affect it. I've been harvesting it some, but there is much more available. I'm waiting to see how cold it needs to get before it freezes to the point where it is adversely affected. It's possible to cover it with a second layer in the form of a low tunnel covered with more spun polyester, or transparent plastic, which will create some air insulation and keep the greens growing in much lower temperatures. Some who grow vegetables no more than an hour's drive from here, on the coast, have experimented with this winter gardening and written books about it. The winters can be very cold; I've felt the temperature drop to twenty below zero (F.). And if the summers are mild and foggy here, rather than hot and dry, if tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, and other heat-loving crops do better elsewhere, the long growing season and late frosts (increasingly late, perhaps a month later now than fifteen years ago) favor other crops, such as greens and brassica.

All of this is highly labor intensive, and uneconomical in the sense that it costs more in terms of one's time than it would if the produce were purchased at the supermarket. Sometimes I'm asked why, then, do I do it; why have I done this for nearly thirty summers? I have many reasons. Economics does not figure in them. One, the food from an organic garden is more healthful. Two, gardening itself is healthful in the sense that it is good exercise. Three, and this is harder to explain, I get satisfaction from the physical work, and it seems to both rest and free my mind. I'm sure that if I grew up on a farm and had to work in the fields from dawn to dusk I would hate it; luckily, gardening on the scale that I do it, to supply a household (and not all of its needs, be it said), is not tedious and without respite.  

A mind and body tired from physical labor rests and sleeps better, I believe, than one which spends a day at a computer keyboard, in a classroom, or scheduled from one meeting to another, clients and colleagues. At least mine does. Four, gardening is a challenge, a mental stimulus, a discipline of mind and body which I find satisfying. And finally, as we think more about energy use and global warming, home gardening has a much lower carbon footprint than buying one's food at a grocery store. It is one small way of contributing to a more sustainable planet. If many families grew their own food, in small-scale organic gardens, the contribution would be substantial.

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