The loveliest green beetles have discovered our plants. They are voracious, and not very picky about what they consume. We have squash vine borers at the London Ferrell Community Garden. Flea beetles are doing their best on many of our eggplant leaves. The cabbage looper moth is working the kale pretty hard at the Castlewood Community Garden. And on the day I am writing, we haven’t had any rain in about a week.
Gardeners face so many challenges over the course of the growing season: so much pest pressure, so much weed pressure. So many reasons to just stop watering and procure food some other way!
However, this week I tasted the summer’s first cherry tomatoes from one of our gardens. One of our Summer Youth Employees shared it with me as he watered. I found eggplants that had quietly beaten the flea beetle and fruited just fine. I ate three more blackberries and saw that the canes were so happy they were flowering again. Sometimes the work is rewarded with food. Sometimes a gardener cooperates with the soil, with natural processes, with the elements, and food comes forth. This is an ancient dance, infinitely thrilling. We discover cucumbers under the pale green leaves, potatoes under the rich dark soil. We taste these things. We photograph our food and we share it. As growers, we have every right to be proud of our work, and every reason to be grateful witnesses of the magic of cultivation.
We celebrate each small harvest—the rattlesnake pole bean we eat as we weed a row—because sometimes, we know, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes the seeds rot right in the ground and never germinate. Sometimes a cutworm fells a young pepper plant. Sometimes a groundhog samples every tomato that went suddenly red-ripe in the night. Sometimes the work is not rewarded with food but with perspective, with patience. Sometimes my best crop is humility.
I can see it all clearly in the hazy and humid heat of mid-summer. No matter what is growing or what is dying in these gardens, we have reason for gratitude. We can be grateful for the lettuces as the grow bitter and bolt, flower and try to go to seed in the heat. We can be grateful for the last carrot, and the row that is ready again to be planted, employed. This gratitude will sabotage resentment. It always does. It will water humility. In gratitude, we will renew our declaration of dependence—we absolutely depend on healthy soils, on clean air and water, on a web of relationships that can only be observed when we slow down long enough to taste and see that this is fundamentally and quietly good.
I do hope your garden is thriving this summer. But even if it is not, even if the poke weed and goose grass have already won, don’t miss a chance to go and observe, to catch the earth healing itself in your midst. See if you don’t get caught up in that humble grateful story.