But optimism must be organic and deeply engrained. I come from farmer stock and I think there is a gene that forces me into an optimism about my planted crops. This optimism might be essential to being a gardener, after all, I have a sign on the wall often pointed at with a laugh, but its truth was evident over sad summer season: Hope will not die as long as seed catalogs are printed.
When I could have planted lettuce, I held out hope for my tomatoes. Rather than throw in the trowel, accept that the tomato season was a loss and plant lettuce and be done with it, I never gave up on my tomatoes. Only when the calendar had officially shown summer to be finally dead did I begin to start lettuce seeds and move ahead into winter.
This is recounted here not as an example of what to do, but what not. Whether or not it is Global Climate Change (and, from what I read, it could be), a gardener can be more successful by being adaptable. Farmers, with fields measured in acres, cannot switch on a dime and replant a different crop, but gardeners, with plots measured in square feet, can. I could have put lettuce plants, beets and carrots in between my tomatoes. It wouldn’t have hurt the tomatoes, they didn’t grow anyway, and I would have been able to harvest something from my garden instead.
But there was a mystical element that seemed to prevent me from doing just that. It was as though I would have been giving up on my ‘tomato-children’ and I just couldn’t swallow that. Yes, it was a very busy summer and, yes, I was distracted by all the hub-bub of modern life, but it points up one significant fact: if I had to depend on my garden for food, I would have had a much harder time getting enough calories to stay happy and healthy!
In the light of this shortfall of summer fruits, I recall how my grandfather’s generation lived through the 1930s and ten years of crop failures. We are truly blessed today when a crop failure only means we have to go to the farmers’ market to get a fresh tomato for our summer meal rather than do without altogether.
If I learned from this to be more willing to adapt, this tomato-less summer will not have been a complete failure. I have another sign on my wall: Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape. Amen.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: email@example.com