Digging in the Dirt

My garden and I both got a manicure this morning.  The plants got a new compost dressing and I got new nails.  I call it the “Fresh Tip” mani.  (See what I did there?)

This is the first home I have lived in as an adult where I have had any garden space bigger than a balcony, so I’m not a great gardener … yet.  When I arrived two and a half years ago, the small yard was a rough and ragged patch of packed dirt.  For the first four months, I mostly just looked at it, wondering what to do.  I moved a couple of the big pots I had inherited, and observed where the rain fell or didn’t fall.  I noticed the nearness of trees and abundance of shade.  I discovered which way the water ran and where it pooled on the porch.  Then, that first Christmas when my parents came to visit, my dad and I set to work.  With a pitchfork and hoe, we loosened the packed soil and pulled out several buckets worth of rocks and old construction rubble from the top four inches.  We mixed compost with the coarse dirt, and drew a new line between what would be the garden bed and the grass.  I used the pretty rocks from the buckets to start the border.  Finally, we planted the grass seed,  covered it with top soil, watered it, and waited.

It took about two weeks for the first tender shoots to find the sun.  Watching it happen was like watching magic in slow motion.  First, the dusting of green, then the thickening.  We watered it every morning and evening to give it some defense against the intense January heat.  The first generation of grass was patchy.  Still, it was a start; and it was a joy to see something growing where there had once been hard emptiness.

In the two years since that first planting, I have had to sow three more rounds of grass seed, pull many weeds, and re-loosen and aerate the soil (finding more rocks in the process).  Some patches have dried out completely and needed replanting, and other patches have been battered by runoff from balconies above.  Even so, the yard has become a little more established each season.  One of the wonders of life is that it is simultaneously fragile and persistent.  My garden grass is not yet mature – the roots not yet deep and stable – but it keeps growing, and I keep learning.  The pictures below are from the first twelve months.  The first is when I arrived in August of 2015 (winter, so the trees along the side were bare).  The second (top) is in February after the first planting.  The third (bottom) is in June before I left for the holidays.


As for the vegetables in the garden patch and the various pots on the porch, there have been at least as many failures as successes.  As the soil improves, and tasty things begin to grow, all kinds of life move in to partake.  In each season, I have battled various pests – aphids, snails, beetles, ants.  I call them pests, not because they are that by definition, but rather because they become that when they throw off the balance of everything else.  A snail on it’s own can nibble a couple leaves and keep moving, but an army of snails will kill the plants, which then means uprooting and replanting, which neither I nor the helpful bugs in the soil like very much.  Thus, the real magic of gardening is finding the right balance between preventing the activities of certain organisms while supporting the activities of others.  How do you keep the beetles from chopping up all the spinach, without killing the worms and bacteria that keep the soil healthy?  Most of the time I make my own pesticide (a spray made from onion, garlic, chili, and natural dish soap).  Currently, however, I am researching natural ways of getting rid of ants since there seems to be a nest forming under my swiss chard.

Mixed with these challenges, there have also been a handful of surprises.  Tomatoes, for example.  I have twice tried to grow tomatoes and twice failed.  I tried in the plant bed, I tried in a pot, I moved the pot around – no luck.  I think my garden doesn’t get enough sun in a day for them to be happy.  The last pot to carry tomatoes has been sitting empty for at least seven months, except for the occasional weed that makes a short run of it.  Last week, I went to pull what I thought was a weed when I paused and looked again.  I brushed my hands over the leaves to smell them and sure enough: tomato.  I can’t grow them when I try, but here they come popping up when I’m not looking!  I am doubtful that they will ever produces fruit – but hey, I am open to surprises.

Speaking of surprises, the original point of this post was not to brag about my garden or  my adventures in pest removal.  (Surprise?)  Rather, my purpose was to share a thought that has grown in this long process of renewing the tiny speck of earth that is my yard.

ALL of creation was made before humans were made.  God made it all and pronounced each piece of it “good” before even getting around to humans.  At the very end, “male and female, He created them,” and put them – where? – in a garden “to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 1,2)

In a GARDEN.  That He already MADE.  To take CARE of it.  Our hands belong in the dirt.

What I do not understand is how any Christian can be blind to the environmental responsibility given to us since the very beginning.  God made the Earth — filled it to bursting with “every good thing,” layering and connecting so many miracles of life that we will never run out of discoveries — and told us to enjoy it by taking care of it.  Instead, we plunder and destroy.  We take what we want, when we want, at whatever cost.  Our individual and corporate comfort and convenience is the highest aim.  If we cannot hear creation groaning (Rom. 8:22) it is because we have long stopped listening.

There are many threads to this topic that I would like to explore down the road.  For now, I will end by saying that Christians who do not protect, nurture, renew, and redeem the physical world we have been gifted, scorn the One who made it.  Conversely, when we spend ourselves restoring the desolate places and nourishing the weary land, we discover in a fresh way the meaning of redemption.

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