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It’s alive!

OK, not really. I mean, they are alive, but not in the Frankenstein’s monster kind of way. Just the botany oxygen and carbon dioxide if-you-peel-back-the-bark-and-see-green type of alive.

We have plants. Edible ones. And they’re growing!

Even though our compost wasn’t quite ready yet, we went ahead and started our garden. In a 13-by-13 section of our back yard, near our south-facing neighbor’s fence. My husband dug up four, 5-by-5 plots for planting and a 3-foot cross path. Because I’m involved in this project and me and Murphy’s Law are BFFs (best friend forever…haven’t you seen the AT&T commercial?), naturally the day we picked to start all this was cold and blustery. And of course, I mostly just played with a jolly baby while my husband did all the hard, sweaty work. He loved it and we had a lot of fun watching and waving from a window and occasionally going outside to visit. My inexperience thought this planning, plotting, digging, and planting wouldn’t take any longer than two hours, tops. It’s a lot more hard work than I thought!

When you see a garden of beautiful flowers and yummy vegetables and fruits it’s easy to think only of the pleasant results and ignore how those results came to be. I know I glorified the work and thought oh how much fun it will be to weed and plant and transplant and dig and … get sunburned and bitten by ants and stung by mosquitoes and feel your shirt stick to your back. Somehow, I “forgot” about all those times I was encouraged to go outside and help keep the flowerbeds looking neat while growing up and I hated it. All I could see was the negative side of things. Sticky sap, hot sun, dumb plants. Strangely, somehow I almost enjoy it now.

In early March we planted carrots, garlic, mesclun mix lettuce, cilantro, and garlic. We already had a pumpkin (due to lost seeds somehow mixed in the compost that sprouted. Now there’s a tale: When my husband shoveled out compost to fertilize one of the plots…surprise! There’s already something growing!) and a sweet potato started before we began digging the garden plots. My husband measured and dug the four plots we’d be using for our garden, three non-perennial (annuals and bi-annuals) plots and one perennial, and then laid newspaper down to act as a mulch and fertilizer since our compost wasn’t quite ready to be used alone. Black and white print newspaper can be laid down on top of garden beds to block out sunlight and kill weeds. On top of that, fertilizer (our compost) can be spread. To plant the seeds we just poked holes in the newspaper and planted, then covered the holes up with the dirt and fertilizer.

It’s been six weeks and I am really amazed at how well everything is growing! The cilantro and lettuce are already ready to be cut and used, the carrots are getting bigger and have been thinned out, and about three weeks ago we added beans, tomatoes, onions, and strawberries to the beds. Actually, the strawberry plants are in a separate location entirely, in a bed bordering the house. The tomatoes, onions, beans, pumpkin and sweet potato are all in the one perennial bed together. The cilantro, garlic, and mesclun are in another and the carrots in a third. The fourth bed is so far empty. I’m not sure what is going to go in there, possibly cantaloupe for starters, but we’re preparing it along with the other three so that it is ready when we decide what to plant there.

Part of my surprise with this whole experiment is that things are actually growing. I’ve never had what you could call a green thumb. I guess since my husband is doing most of the actual planting and pruning, it’s his thumb that is giving us all the luck. My job is mostly to weed, water, and keep the baby out of the sun. The other part of my surprise is that everything that has helped the produce grow successfully has been made entirely of things we had on hand. Nothing from a store or nursery (with the exception of the seeds and strawberry plants) used and everything is recycled. No synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or pesticides!

Now why would we want to do this gardening thing the “hard” way? You’d think that with all the do-it-for-you products on the market, anyone who chooses to do-it-themselves is kind of dumb. Surely the chemical fertilizers and pesticides are better, since they’re man-made, work almost instantly with quick and observable results, and quality tested for my protection.

Not so, my good friend! What good does all this “made from scratch” prepping and gardening do? Well, according to the University of Florida Cooperative Extension (even though I am an alum of dear ol’ Florida State, I harbor no ill will against my *cough*lesser*cough* collegiate brother), lots of good comes from leaving behind the synthetic stuff and embracing the all-natural way. Some benefits include: improvement of soil ability to hold nutrients and water, helps dissolve mineral form of nutrients, buffers soil from chemical imbalance, recycles organic wastes to keep them out of the landfills and waterways, and they are cheap energy sources.

As I’ve mentioned, we’re using our own compost right now as our fertilizer. Natural compost made up of organic wastes, such as food and yard scraps, work as artificial manure. There are other methods for natural fertilizers and pesticides. Composting is just one that can be done at home, without needing to buy anything. There is another type of plant-based manure called green manure. This type of manure is great for improving soil structure. Cover crops are used as green manure and we have contemplated using a cover crop with our own garden. It seems fairly simple, the crops are seeded and grown and then plowed into the garden to release the nitrogen. Living mulch is somewhat similar: a green manure crop is sown and then the vegetables are seeded into the plots and through the mulch. Animal-based and animal-derived products are also popular, but unless you live on a farm where you have free and easy access to manure or slaughter-house, um, leftovers you’ll have to buy those types of fertilizers.

Of course, if you really want to, you can buy all the organic fertilizer and mulch you need, instead of making your own. In the end, all that matters is that you use organic or all-natural materials. I mean, who’d want to eat something they’ve just sprayed with some kind of chemical compound mixed in a laboratory? I can just see the mad scientist, white lab coat dragging on the floor and enormous goggles magnifying crazed eyes, as he mixes and pours and boils beakers of brightly colored liquids. It’s alive, all right. Do you want it on your food?

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