Gardening is in my roots. I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa where we had three separate gardens. One was in the backyard, one by the old chicken house, and the third … out in the west field. It was a long way to walk, especially if you were carrying buckets of water for thirsty, young seedlings and it hadn’t rained in weeks.
Growing up gardening, I didn’t know what it was like to not garden. Gardens were planted every single year; rain, shine, or hail. My parents instilled that into us. All siblings had to help with gardening. As garden drones, that generally meant carrying water and tools for mom, harvesting, becoming proficient with a hoe, or being on bug patrol with a shaker can of ‘Sevin’. Chemicals were part of gardening. My parents taught us that chemicals controlled diseases and insects which meant that we had more produce to harvest. Chemicals made gardening easier.
When I went to college, it was a natural for me to major in horticulture. But an interesting thing happened while I was in college. I learned. These teachings were much different than my experiences on the farm. Not all agriculture chemicals were safe to be around.
Words like ‘organic’, ‘earth friendly’ , and ‘integrated pest management‘ took root in my lexicon. I found myself at odds. I had been happily shaking the can, applying a white powder to our farm produce, yet some of those various powders and sprays were considered hazardous. That became very apparent during a class that prepped horticulture students studying for their applicator’s license.
This lesson was further driven home through some of my college experiences as a horticulture student. Experience 1: I was selected to help a professor apply ‘Temik’ to a greenhouse that had become infested. At that time, ‘Temik‘ was the most toxic chemical in the horticulture industry. Experience 2: it became my job while caring for the roses in the trial garden to spray them every two weeks. To prepare for spraying, I had to don long pants, boots, long sleeve shirt, jacket, cap, gloves, goggles, coveralls, and a respirator. Tell me… is a chemical truly non-toxic if it requires that much safety gear?
With college behind me as well as the farm, I felt free to make my own decisions. Organic gardening became my mantra. I raised more produce with fewer chemicals and a HAZMAT suit was not required.
But as an organic gardener, I must confess that some insects creep me out. Spiders are a natural pest control. Great, right? Yes… up until they creep out from under a bunch of freshly harvested kale sitting on the kitchen counter. It is all I can do to NOT run from the kitchen. So with several deep breaths, I take a leaf and scoop up the spider and deposit him back into the garden where he belongs.
Tomato horn worms are also stuff of nightmares. They are just so big and squishy. If they make an appearance in the yard, I pluck the entire leaf they are munching on and either toss them into the chicken run for the girls to take care of or lord help me, I have been known to toss the offending leaf/bug combination over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.
I look at my yard and garden beds. I will never have the perfectly manicured lawn. Yes, there are weeds. Yes, there are bugs. I am OK with that. Perhaps what college changed the most was my perception of gardening? Weeds can be pulled and bugs can be squished (or captured and given to the chickens). My reward for changing my style of gardening? Plucking a tomato straight from the plant and eating it while it is still warm from the sun.
I confess to loving my style of gardening.