Building Health

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, April 26, 1996

Our work in the garden this time of year is filled with hope, joy, and satisfaction, as well as challenge and even some good eating.

Seeds for delicious and nutritious plants, a few hand tools and a bit of land to cultivate promise good eating over the next year. The soil, rich and friable after several years of composting and care, is like a clean slate, ready to be filled with carrots and greens, tomatoes, potatoes, peas and onions in rows and beds.

Preparing the garden beds gets us close to the soil. Its inhabitants, color and texture tell of the soil's quality. Where it is dark, crumbly and full of worms, we've done a good job of growing fertile soil. Weeds pull out easily. Other beds need more compost and perhaps a cover crop and time to continue their improvement.

Growing vegetables and flowers is an ongoing process. Day to day and year to year. Time is a friend of the gardener. The sun will shine, the rain will fall, and seasons will follow one another in due course. We can use these natural processes and plants to feed ourselves and improve the soil. This is basic stewardship of the Earth: caring well for what land we get to use, and using it to produce what's needed to keep us alive.

So, we've already planted potatoes, onion sets and seedlings, shallots, lots of mustards and other greens, dill, coriander, spinach, radishes, carrots, parsnips, beets, Swiss chard, arugula (of course), kale, broccoli, cabbage and some lettuce, actually, too. These are the frost-hardy plants. The occasional early morning temperatures that dip below 32 degrees (which are possible between now and mid-to-late May) won't bother them at all.

However, we keep the frost-sensitive vegetables inside- tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and celery. The traditional Native American "Three Sisters" - beans, corn and squash - and their relatives pumpkins and cucumbers, need warmer soil in order to germinate and no frost once they are above the ground. Sweet potato slips need the same conditions.

Right now, dandelions greens and leaves from over-wintered turnips and onions are delicious in our stir-fries. They are all loaded with vitamins and minerals.

What a great time to be working in the garden, surrounded by blooming daffodils, magnolias, hyacinths, forsythia and often children as anxious to plant and learn as I am. I highly recommend it.

Perhaps because Earth Day focuses our attention on the environment, we've been getting a lot of bad news recently. It seems we've made some big messes - more subtle and less visible than the burning lakes which inspired the first Earth Day, but maybe more serious and worrisome. These include:

These huge problems can be depressing. But they won't go away if we ignore them. To avoid making these problems worse, we can consume less, and help our communities do the same.

In order to begin to improve the health of our environment, we should satisfy our needs with as few negative impacts as possible. Feeding ourselves from nearby gardens with respect for the soil and without chemicals, nuclear power and lots of extra energy is a good place to start.

Our gardens connect us with ancient traditions and with the forces of nature. We discover the wonderful productivity of the Earth, the joy of seeing and eating the fruits of our labor and of working in a functioning ecosystem. We simultaneously build the health of the soil, of the plants we grow and of ourselves. This may be the most sane response to those large environmental problems.

Gardening is an antidote and a cure for what ails us. It centers and connects us, nourishes and heals us and the Earth.

Good gardening to you and yours.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.