It's a little funny that I'm writing about the benefits of gardening, seeing how I'm happy if my plants survive the season, my composting hasn't decomposed at all lately, all my red worms fled their Rubbermaid habitat, and I'm occasionally in danger of getting kicked out of my community garden plot. In order to not exaggerate my failures, I should say that do have a pretty constant supply of vegetables and herbs which we eat due to my gardening, and I am a pretty capable weeder. And in the four year that I've had a 20' x 30' garden plot, my boys have gone from helping me with my garden to having their own garden bed in addition to helping with the rest, to now wanting to maintain a second bed all their own. So overall, I love what I'm seeing at my garden.
Recently I mentioned to my boys that I love how much we've learned through our gardening work. They both were surprised to hear me say that, thinking that they hadn't learned anything. Either they didn't remember a time when they didn't know what they know now about plants, or they didn't consider the little bits of knowledge gained here and there significant. Our talk continued, and as I listed what we now know about gardening, learned through our attempts and mistakes in our plot, they agreed. We have learned so much.
Sometimes on the drive to my garden plot, I ask myself why I keep up this project. That's when I recite this list to myself, a list of some of my favorite things we've learned through maintaining our garden plot. The following is that list:
When we show up at our garden plot and our blackberry canes are full of flowers, my boys cheer, knowing that means lots of berries for us soon. We have previous to this seen in botany books that the fruit develops from the flower's ovary. But it is a much more exciting thing when berries are involved, especially when those are berries which lead to pie.
We have also seen how even something as sweet as wonderful as a ripe blackberry can dampen your spirits after weeks of berry picking. What starts as a labor of love can become a tedious necessity. And that is Solomonic wisdom for a boy of 8 or 9 year old.
We can now visually recognize many of the plants which produce the vegetables we see at the grocery store. A few years ago a brussel sprout was a thing without a stalk or huge protective leaves. Now we know it's history.
My children now know that the round reddish thing labeled 'tomato' at the grocery store has nothing to do with its garden counterpart. We know how vegetables are supposed to taste.
We now know that if you plant new plants above the level of the soil and build a little mound of soil to cover the exposed roots, that mound will quickly rinse away, leaving you with exposed roots (and likely dead plants). We have learned other ways to kill plants too.
Plants and pets and babies all have regular needs that can't be overlooked if you want things to turn out well. It doesn't matter if you really don't feel like it today.
My kids know the joy that often (although not always) comes from working hard, working in dirt, and being surrounded by interesting bugs and accomplishing something in the earth.
Not long into this whole gardening adventure, my then six year old son said, “I wish Adam never sinned.” This longing was provoked by weeding. My kids are learning the effects of the curse are unrelenting and widespread. We need the Savior who comes to make His blessings know far as the curse is found.
Hawks hunt rabbits. Rabbits each lettuce. Caterpillars eat leaves. Birds eat caterpillars. We see it all, all in our little 20' x 30' ecosystem.
Where else could my boys have an opportunity to shovel mulch and manure and to push a wheelbarrow? And 8 year old boys need to shovel mulch and manure and to push wheel barrows.
If you know a lot about plants or gardening, I know my list is not impressive. But hopefully next year, my list of gardening attainments will be even longer. But if not, at least we will have memories of working together and enjoying the smell of the soil and exhilaration of being finished with our work. And hopefully lots of blackberry pie too.