Friday afternoon through Sunday night was beautiful early summer weather here in central Ohio, and I was out in it for most of the weekend tilling the garden and getting everything planted. Between a cold spring and general busy-ness I war running a couple weeks late this year, but I tried to make up for it by expanding the garden strip it it longest form yet. It now runs five feet wide and fifty feet long, running the whole length of the driveway down towards the garage.
All together I put something like $150 (plants, seeds, new potting soil for the pots out front, garden soils amendments, etc.) and twelve hours of fairly strenuous labor into the endeavor. If all goes according to plan, we should get as many tomatoes as we can eat all through the late summer and early fall, plus peppers (hot and bell), egg plants, three kinds of squash, cucumbers, sweet corn and lots and lots of basil. Oh, and the multi-colored radishes and carrots the young man insisted on, and the peas and chives our oldest started in her own garden.
I don't know if I'd exactly say that I garden for the fun of it. I like having done it, and in a sense I even like doing it, but when I'm hot and sweater and grimy and someone is badgering me about whether she can pleeeeeeease plant this nooooooow, I'm a fairly grouchy fellow. And yet the fact remains that unlike the vast majority of humans throughout history, my prosperity and nutrition in no way depend on my ability to cultivate food. Indeed, while I always object to the idea of paying $5/lb for fancy heirloom tomatoes at the store, it would probably be cheaper in dollars (definitely if you count labor too) if I simply bought the nicer varieties of produce that I grow. I spend my scarce free time growing vegetables that I could more easily buy.
The idealist in me wants to say that I do this in order to have a connection with all those other people throughout history who have grown their own food -- to maintain a connection with the earth and root myself in the cycles of nature. But let's be honest. Gardening is not farming, much less subsistence farming. The fact that I got things in two to three weeks late this year does not mean that we'll be missing meals. Indeed, I just came back from the grocery store tonight where I picked up bananas which were grown thousands of miles away, potatoes grown more than a thousand miles in a different direction, and lettuce safely encased in a plastic bag. Gardening is not like farming because no matter how far into it one gets, at a certain level, like any hobby, it is not serious. When a picturesque caterpillar killed my potato plants, I shrugged it off. The year most of my tomato plants succumbed to mold, I simply bought more tomatoes at the store.
And yet, even though at a subsistence level gardening is in no way necessary to me, and it is doubtless not the most efficient means to getting the food it provides, I do find a very real value in the simple act of tilling, planting and harvesting vegetables. Even if it is now a sort of vestigial urge, and a non-practical one, I think that I lead a better and more rooted (if you will excuse the pun) life for putting in the manual work to grow food in my back yard. It may no longer be necessary to the stomach or the wallet, but at a certain level it seems conducive to the soul.