Friday, May 04, 2007

How Green is My Garden?

That is the question I've been pondering lately. NPR has spent the last few weeks focusing on the environment, Calendula and Concrete has asked us what we're doing to be green, S and RWW have just organized a completely sustainable luncheon, and my students and I have just read Kingsolver's "Lily's Chickens." I can't help but consider what I'm doing to help and harm.

Do I need to garden to live ecologically? Do I need to expend the water it takes to grow vegetables in the desert? No. I can get perfectly wonderful, organic, local produce at my farmers' market. I can support farmers who have a real reason for using water: they must sustain themselves and their families. Even with the octagon, I'll still shop at the farmers' market--the garden is not feeding me completely. As I'm not able to grow all the produce I will eat, I'll continue to support those farmers, even if (let's keep our fingers crossed) my summer tomato bounty might put a dent in my regular buying habits. Clearly, growing some of my own food, delicious as it may be, is a luxury.

By gardening vegetables here, I know I'm using more water than I should, in the same way I know that when I eat beef, I'm eating pretty darned inefficiently; however, just as I can't give up meat since it is an essential part of me eating happily and healthfully, I know I need to have this garden right now. Like many of you, I consider my meat purchases carefully, always choosing organic, and seeking out local products. Buying meat this way requires more effort, time, and certainly more money, but I'm more than happy to sacrifice these in order to help protect myself and those I care about, as well as this planet on which we all depend.

In a similar way, I'm trying to do little things to help compensate for the water I'm using in the octagon. I planned the garden as water-efficiently as I could in the space that I have, using a system of connected irrigation ditches for deep watering that encourages deeper root growth, so when it gets hot, I won't have to water as frequently. I've been thinking about other ways to be "green" as well. Every batch of coffee grounds or egg shells or other immediately compostable item goes straight into the bed (I hope to create some kind of real composting system in the not-so-distant-future); I use no pesticides--of course--not even natural ones (unless you count my flicking the occasional plant-threatening bug away as pesticide, an act which could considered such, as I'm "ciding" a "pest"); and here's the clincher, though the octagon garden is at the CC's house, 1.1 miles away, I don't drive there. I walk. Yes, I walk in LA.

Is that really just rationalizing away my guilt? Perhaps. But I need this garden. When I have a crappy-ass day at work, I can't wait to get home and walk over and see bugs eating other bugs. It's all the violence necessary to make me feel better.

I've become friends with a white spider who makes her home between the two Japanese eggplants. Every day, she crawls out of the traps she's created in the curled young leaves to greet me, and her skittish swinging and erratic flitting over the plants makes me feel less skittish and erratic myself. I need this spider. I need to keep a home for her.

I know what I'm doing and that I'm both part of the problem and part of the solution. This garden reminds me of that daily.


Susan said...

Many of us have these kinds of quandaries. Perhaps considering what would become of your octagon if it wasn't a garden would help with perspective. Would it be a parking lot or convenience store with its own drains on the environment, yet no benefit to man nor beast? Good post, lovely photos.

Nabeel said...

You should also have fruits in your garden .. let me tell u a cool thing, try putting apple seeds and there's a 90% chance that the apples that grow will be of a different type (than the seed)

Susan in Italy said...

Such pretty photos of the garden! I'm envious.

Lucy said...

Ah, I see your conundrum. I feel similarly guilty at times about my little plot. But making that connection to food, the growing, tending and harvesting of it, is such an important skill. With it comes all sorts of knowledge.

We are fast running out of water in Australia, so fast in fact that it looks as though our farmers won't have any irrigation water next year, so I never, ever water from the garden tap. It's all water recycled in some way, from the kitchen, the bathroom or the laundry, bucket-ed out judiciously.

But those lovely, intimate photographs of yours remind me of the pleasure that tending the earth can bring.

Very pleased to have found your blog!

Christina said...

Susan: Thanks for the perspective and the compliments. I appreciate both.

Nabeel: Welcome to my blog. I am growing melons vertically in my garden, but with limited space, I can't grow fruit trees. I do hope someday to have a yard where I can grow all kinds of fruit.

Susan in Italy: Thank you. If you were closer, I'd share.

Lucy: Welcome! This is my first garden as an adult in something other than patio pots, so I'm learning more and more with each week. Next warm season, I know I'm going to have to plant differently than I did this spring. Thank you for your inspiring efficiency. Thank you also for your compliments on my photos--I've checked out your own site, and the compliment means a lot from someone who takes such beautiful pictures.

Christa said...

I have very similar thoughts about my garden. I only grow a handful of this and a handful of that, and I like to think I am making a difference by growing some of my own food (and growing it organically), but the garden is really a luxury and I still have to buy most of my food. I try to always think of the ecologial impacts of my choices. I think the garden is what keeps me connected to nature. I enjoy all the little discoveries -- the bugs, the spiders, too. The garden keeps me grounded and it motivates me to keep taking steps for the environment -- even if they're seemingly small steps. It keeps me hopeful.

Christina said...

Christa: I agree. I think that I tend towards hopeful activities--teaching, gardening, and the like--because I would fall apart if I didn't. Gardening makes my decisions about the environment ever-present in my mind, reminding me why I need to take the extra time and effort to try to live as ecologically as possible. Thanks for coming by. Your garden photography is inspirational.