Friday, February 18, 2011

Grow The Good Life

All the snow had melted in the roadside vegetable garden. I could start collecting bags of wood chips down by the river again to continue with a fresh layer of mulch. The remnants of the wild flower surround could be cut down when the time presented itself. I gazed longingly. The vegetable garden was ready to be made clean, fresh and new again. Another season's bounty lay ahead.

Boy was I surprised and thrilled when I opened the mailbox and a free advance copy of Michele Owens new book "Grow The Good Life" Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise published by Rodale Books was inside. Michele's writing on vegetable gardening at Garden Rant has always been informative and a pleasure to read. Now there is the book and she was kind enough to think of me and send me one. No autograph though.

I have gotten an absurd amount of pleasure from the roadside vegetable garden in the three years since greatly expanding production and taking over control from the resident gardeners. It was so easy, so productive and so relaxing when my life was in transition to put things kindly.

"Grow The Good Life" would be preaching to the choir for me. Some of the book had already been read. Many of Michele's essays from Garden Rant where in the book. The book however is a fleshed out, added to, enhanced, logical and compelling case for why non-gardeners should pick up a shovel and start growing their own absurd amounts of pleasure. It had put in to words why I was deriving so much pleasure from a simple and orderly patch of vegetables.

Mid February, high on the low spot of a North Carolina mountain top, a month to soon to plant even the earliest crops and I can get out in the fresh air and tentatively warm sun to play in the vegetable garden. Bags of wood chips were collected at the tree trimmers dumping site down by the river on the way home from work to continue the annual process of feeding and building a great soil.

"Other gardeners rave about wood chips." I will just assume Michele is talking about my raving when she discusses a short list of what longtime gardeners do to ensure their success. In three years by piling wood chips on top and letting the earth worms do their thing, my soil has turned from a yellow brown to a nice milk chocolate colored brown. Every year it gets easier to dig a hole or fork up the taters.

Michele's book is not so much a how to, as it is a why to. Basic principles for a successful garden are discussed, but there are no rules and no specific crop information. Beyond the obvious reasons of growing your own good tasting healthy food and the exercise benefits, she delves in to the real science behind why getting your hands in the dirt and growing a vegetable garden is good for you physically and mentally.

The industrial revolution and strong cultural forces separated most people from the land and from nature itself. And most people quite happily never looked back. That has caused some real negative consequences for the human animal species only a nanosecond removed in biological and evolutionary time from its origin.

Dirt is good for you and there are scientific reasons why. Exercise is good for you and there are scientific reasons why. Sunshine and fresh air filled with plant's volatile chemicals are good for you and there are scientific reasons why. Gardening creates a "flow" experience by offering a challenge that doesn't overwhelm your skills. Fully occupied there is no room for worry. You are fully in the present. Happiness can be a result.

I don't have to fret over the hardpan a foot beneath my vegetable garden because I am building a fantastic soil on top. I bet time and biological activity from a diverse micro flora and fauna in a healthy soil will even begin to take care of that. There has been a huge improvement in how deep I can go in just three years.

This is the roadside vegetable garden after all. You can't glue a scenic byway to the side of a steep mountain without a certain amount of major earth moving. I am fortunate that the resident gardeners reclaimed what was a traffic pullout thirty years ago and started gardening this rare sunny spot in the forest. A much slower approach to reclaiming a damaged soil had a good head start.

Grow the Good Life is about pleasure. Michele makes a strong case that vegetable gardening should be easy, fun and rewarding when you do what works for you in your climate and your particular situation. This is not some URBAN HOMESTEADING® manifesto where your survival depends on it, though if the need should arise you will be one step ahead. It is about enhancing your life on multiple levels.

Buy the book. You will love it.

And while I anticipate and wait for the right time to plant this year's bountiful roadside vegetable garden, there are snowdrops to enjoy. A sunny sixty degree day actually had their little petals fully open. They look like bugs. Bugs are good for you and there are scientific reasons why.

And the truth is you can grow the good life even if you only grow ornamentals, but why not be able to enjoy fresh healthy food from your own yard when it is so easy?


Carol Michel said...

I'm reading Michele's book, too, and loving it. It makes me want to run out and garden right now, in February. It adds to the angst of the seemingly endless wait until spring.

Lola said...

I totally agree with you, Christopher. It is wonderful to get out in one's garden & get dirty. Total therapy.
I must get that book.

Anonymous said...

Your photo of the shovel in dirt made something viscerally move inside me, wanting to go right outside and dig! (except it's dark now). Our time is acomin'.


Siria said...

Great post! A vegetable garden is something I have longed to try for a long time now. The closest I've gotten is growing herbs and a few veggies in pots (tomatoes and peppers). I need to just get out and try it.

Michele Owens said...

Thank you, Christopher. And of course, you are in the book as one of the "other gardeners" who rave about wood chips. You and Linda Chalker-Scott.

Christopher C. NC said...

Carol the book made me a bit antsy to plant too. At least I can tidy up the wildflower surround while I wait.

Lola it is so true that you can zone out when you are absorbed in gardening and forget about time and all your worries.

Bev it would be nice if I could have put a tomato in there. I will probably get to some more shrubberies first when the nurseries wake back up.

Siria I bet you could grow some nice stuff during the winter down there. The salad greens would do great then.

Thank you Michele. It's not every day that I get a sort of mention in great literature. It is nice that Linda Chalker-Scott, a real scientist, agrees with my years of observation.