Monday, March 25, 2013

The Value of a Hoe

A funny thing happened on facebook recently. Generally, my online personality is reticent; I rarely make a peep. But I was so proud of myself for repairing my washing machine that I wanted to shout it to the world. My exact phrasing was: 

Guess what I did today? Replaced the drainage pump on my 25-year-old Maytag (all by myself, with a little phone coaching from Jeff Schultz of Schultz Electric on Rt100/29). Go Maytag!” 

Thirty-five (that’s 20%!) of my “friends” had something to say about the comment.

This blew my mind.

To what do I owe the ability and fortitude that allowed me to pull off this amazing feat? Well … (blush) at this time I’d like to thank my father, who made me stick with a task until I got it done, and my partner, who gives me unending and outrageously extravagant emotional support, and the ladies of my book club, who offer me the very best of bragging arenas. And Maytag and Jeff Schultz and my internet provider and god and my country and the angels above. And my agent … wait, I don’t have an agent.

Oh, and my garden. Most of all, my garden. Why my garden, you ask?

Grasshoppers jumped from Cowpea cover crop to tomatoes. How convenient!

If you are a gardener, you probably don’t need to ask. 

Cabbage aphids require cunning. Strategy.
It is my garden that challenges me with problem after problem, day after day. My garden has taught me that the answers are never simple, and they are never the same as they were last time. It has taught me perseverance, creativity, confidence. What do you do when grasshoppers take little bites out of all of your beautiful tomatoes? You try your hardest to think like a grasshopper, and make the situation a little less pleasant for the hopping marauding tribe. You cut down the immediate weeds where they like to perch. What about when dense colonies of cabbage aphids cover the stalks of your kale? You blast them with a sharp spray of water. You squish them with your fingers. You bring in the ladybugs. 

Ladybugs in the greenhouse. Yes!
You make a plan for next year’s garden, and site the kale in a distant plot of land. You do all of the above. 

Vermin? Follow the trails of their destruction to the holes from whence they emerge. Drop in a few mothballs. Or you get a dog. Or a very secure fence set 8 inches into the soil. Or you acquire a trap, and prop it open for a couple of days until the groundhog is deceived into comfortably waddling in and out of the metal mesh cage, and then … GOTCHA! Then you come up with a plan to transport it 10 miles in your car and release it (surreptitiously, sneakily, when no one’s watching) where you think, you hope, it won’t eat someone else’s garden. And if it does, well, it’s not your garden. You gotta be tough. 
You gotta be smart.

Groundhog trails lead to groundhog holes.
Tomatoes come with a complicated collection of conundrums. How do you keep them upright late in the season when the vines are weighed down with fruits and green? How can you spot a tomato hornworm before it strips half the plant? Is there a way to keep last year’s fungal spores from splashing up onto this year’s foliage? And what do you do about the stinkbugs that stipple your perfect fruits with sunken lesions that look bad and taste awful? Each problem calls for diagnostic skills and intricate solutions far more elaborate than those required in taking a pump out and put a new one in.

The pump. Not so hard to replace. Really.
Even so, it felt great to be discussing the ins and outs of soapy water with Jeff Schultz—talkin’ pumps and hoses and belts. I’ve never felt the power of having a gun in my hand (and never plan to) but I wonder: might my feeling of triumphant power on fixing my machine (which, by the way, is still functioning) be similar? Might the feat of a successful vegetable garden make us less likely to seek power in one of the destructive means that are all too common in our society? 

These are things I will never know. One thing I do know is this: we thrive on feelings of power. Our emotional health depends on sensing that we are in control. The garden helps us to achieve this status. In fact, there is empirical evidence that this is true. Dr. Jill Litt of the University of Colorado has determined that “community gardeners (and in some instances home gardeners) had statistically higher ratings of all psychological, social and health measures, after adjusting for age, educational attainment and neighborhood socioeconomic status.” (1)

So there you go. I have no illusions that I’ll convince others that, based on studies, and life experience, gardening is one of the pursuits that makes life worth living. 

Still, it’s true. 
I know, and my Maytag knows.


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