Friday, September 27, 2013

Growing a Green Thumb

If there is one thing I’ve learned this year that has forever changed my outlook of things, it is this: Green Thumbs are planted.

Up until Meals with Morri transformed my perception of health and food, I never really sought to answer the question, “Where does our food come from?” We go to the supermarkets and farmers markets, many of us not realizing the time and effort it takes for such things to get onto our plates. Sure, perhaps I had this inkling when I visited Hollin Farms and saw the pumpkins on the vines and the various root vegetables in the ground. But there was this disconnect of understanding the concept of gardening for me, believing farmers (both in the rural and urban sense) and people who could grow herbs on their porch to have this niche I just didn’t inherit. Most of my caring for flora had turned dry and brown and… well, dead. So at an early age, I thought I was a serial killer for all of green-kind.

That changed in college. I kept a couple of plants sporadically throughout my undergraduate studies, mostly the seasonal potted plants from Trader Joe’s. I was able to keep a clover plant alivelonger than I had expected, and it then transitioned to a series of succulents, a spider plant, and then a lavender plant. Except for the clover plant, the first of my Green Thumb experiments, the rest are alive and well based on this crucial secret: the amount of sun, water, and soil type a happy plant makes.

 The year 2012 was a crucial point in my Green Thumb Development. Although I was adamant about having a garden, I didn’t feel confident enough to try; instead, I began reading all I could about the where’s, how’s, why’s, and when’s of food production and gardening. “Sustainable development” was the term I fell in love with and desire to understand all I could to combine certain aspects of food and the conflict resolution discipline. I studied urban farming, vertical gardening, the controversy of GMO politics, food security, hunger, and the “local movement”.

By 2013, Grad School was in full swing and Meals with Morri was put on the back burner in the worst way. For someone to go at it full-time, sacrifices are made on how many hours you work, how often you see friends and family, when you can travel and for how long, and downtime. (And blogging? Forgetaboutit.) I was an emotional wreck during the spring semester, and I was so burnt out by the summer that I didn’t have the energy to do anything. Frustration and anger simmered beneath the surface, with the feeling of hopelessness and total lack of control constantly looking me in the mirror. I began doubting everything, especially my ability and readiness for what awaits me after graduation: Do I have the knowledge to be part of a collaborative process in food security and policy? Will I have a career that I believe in?

At the end of May, what with finals finishing and summer school starting, I took up gardening and the Insanity Workout challenge to deal with the depression that began to form. I meant to talk about both months ago (including said depression), but the more I fell in love with both concepts and the more the situational depression darkened my disposition, the more quiet I became about it. In truth, I was afraid that if I wrote about the processes and failed en route, there would be a documented reminder of those failures for the entire world to see, and thus creating one more reason to be upset. My friends and family knew about both exploits, but I wanted to post the finished products (in other words, the triumphs) on the site.

But I saw both experiments through, and I am extremely proud of myself for that. I finished Insanity after ten weeks (still doing it from time to time, although not as religiously as the 6x weekly schedule), and I started that garden I always wanted. “There are worse things to do during Grad School,” Mama Dazz had said a joke, because when I am set to do something, I do it (and this can be positive and negative, depending on the context).
That being said, it all started with dirt.

Correction: It all started with one thousand pounds of dirt.

Mama Dazz gifted me with ten tree planter containers, in the logic that container gardening was easier to manage and you could control the type of soil you worked with. I initially started with small plants ready for transfer (nothing fancy… just Home Depot purchases): two tomato plants, three pepper plants, two garlic cloves (from the store), one cucumber plant, one okra plant, seven sweet potato plants, and a series of herbs that I thought would be good for beginners. I also transplanted my elderberry bush into one, and after it finally assimilated to the outdoors, it began to thrive beautifully.

I used two cinderblocks to plant flowers from packets I bought from MOM’s Organic Market, and a plastic container to grow bell peppers from seeds we got at Trader Joe’s. I also simply planted a whole pumpkin into the ground last fall to see if it would be as successful as the accidental garden I had the year before…  you know, just for giggles.

To reiterate, I didn’t do this to eat what I grew, but to go through the process of tending to different kinds of plants and learning what helps them grow or causes them to fail. Both the cucumber and pumpkin plants didn’t turn out so well. I got one cucumber from the plant early in the summer, but after that the little cucumbers that could were consistently shriveling up. The pumpkin created beautiful leafs and flowers until the white spots formed and the flowers were falling off. The vine showed signs of rot, and thus I gave it (along with my cucumber plant) a proper burial in my compost pile.

The nightshades were the most successful and the easiest to grow. So successful, in fact, that both tomato plants are heavy with fruit and the peppers popular among the pests. 

The sweet potatoes were my instant gratification harvest; even though the tubers were relatively small, I still enjoyed pulling them up from the soil and seeing what ninety days in the soil did for their growth.

Gardening gives me a sense of responsibility and control while dealing with stress. It’s a meditation of sorts to go outside in the morning and/or in the late afternoon, turn on the hose and do my rounds (starting with the quince tree I got Mama Dazz, refilling the birdbath, and then watering my garden). I feel empowered that I can work with plants and learn how they succeed and how they perish.

I feel my Green Thumb rooting itself in my consciousness for the future, and that future is currently looking into beets, winter greens, carrots, and radishes for a December harvest.

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