By MK Martin
Our little corner of the earth sits atop one of the highest elevations of the Province. This is where wind is born. Zeus sometimes hangs out here, in the winter, zapping a few trees here and there, while the winds swirl and gust through hidden crawlspaces, resulting in sounds best left to Halloween.
As such, it can be pretty tough to grow food here. Alternating years of heavy rains, lost from some other continent, and drawn out drought have compacted most of the dirt into a stubborn, grey clay in which sturdy, local potatoes grow and not much else. Our yard seemed at first, an abyss. A grand stretch of land we’d run across fields and fallen into rivers and rolled over our hems for. One season of too many tomato plants told us otherwise.
We planted seed after seed in little peat pot after egg carton, grinning at the tadpole tails and embryonic leaves that emerged after a few days’ simmering in humidity and moisture. But then, they all become seedlings, and I could not bear to just ‘thin’ them out. So I planted them, green beans and another mistaken monster, oregano, in the same place and watched as the tomato jungle took hold. I knew nothing of pruning, or pinching. I knew nothing at all. And we drowned in tomatoes, were drunk on the scent of tomatoes in the air and giving away tomatoes with pleading croaks, ‘Surely you can trade us a zucchini!’
When I had the first, shiny green eyes of garden planning, every scene was a Monet before me: the idle buzzing of insect wings around plentiful flowers, trailing bean tendrils looping through a lattice, fat little squashlings basking in a not too hot sun, for exactly seven hours. What bucolic, Antoinette bliss it would be, as I pop myself into the picture, dressed in linens, harvesting crops in a fine wicker basket.
The reality looks more like the yoga pants I wore during the early stages of labor, covered in dirt as I tried to hack enough organic materials into unrelenting clay, hair in my eyes, itching my nostrils, black flies biting my ears, picking rocks, just so I can get seedlings in the ground. No matter how much we amend our soil, it insists its true makeup is clay.
Each year, for the past eight years, something has gone wrong. One neighbour started using Roundup. The other neighbour mercilessly cut down every tree in his yard, ripped up every plant and installed a chemically fed lawn, which he cuts every other day for one hour.
Both yards run right into ours because we are strangely situated lower. The year after the Tomato Jungle, we wanted to grow kale, and were besieged by flea beetles. No natural remedy worked, and the consensus was clear: unless we took care of it in the early stages of spring, we were out of luck. Our early tomato jungle became wilted, pale and blossom rotted, no matter where we planted them.
This year, I planted flowers. Flowers upon flowers, fragrant flowering herbs and let the weeds grow where they may. Our garden was bursting with poppies, bachelor buttons, clovers, melilot, calendula, zinnias, marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary, nasturtium, morning glories, yarrow and borage.
The dream of hovering bees was realized, and we were not plagued by insect destruction.We had very little rain for most of the spring and summer, a possible monsoon season is our future reality. Our zone has changed from 4b to 5b in the time we’ve lived here, so each food plant needs babying to survive.
Where a cultivated species fails, a wild bloom flourishes, sending its encoded roots down to heal what it can. We may not see the the fruits of letting our ‘field’ lie fallow in flowers, but we know the possibility is there. Putting my ear up against the ground, I inhale quietly, hold a breath and listen to them work.