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about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

Seasons of Gardening from a Tired Mom

Over the years our garden has changed from an ambitious dream to hard reality.
When we shopped for our own house, we scrutinized the land with an eye for where to put the garden.
Little did we know how much it would change.
Our land is hilly. As we dug to make tiers and hauled railroad ties for retaining walls, I looked for earthworms. In a 100 yard x 20 yard area, I found one. How do you just have one?
But I found a lot of fire ants. 
That should have been my first indication of what I was up against.
But I ignored it in my dream for growing our own food.

In those early years, the boys and I followed the cow around the five acres scooping up its addition to the soil, hoping that would make the soil less like cement. 
When my compost pile grew only fire ants, I stopped saving every scrap from the kitchen to grow ants to spread over the garden.

One year we ordered a truck load of compost. It came black as the night and fine as the silk of an expensive scarf. Before we carted by bucket and wagon to the designated places, the boys used the compost hill as a slide, getting covered with the fine, black silt. Their whites of their eyes peaked out of their otherwise black bodies. But the compost wasn't as great at growing things as I hoped, unless I wanted to grow dirty children.

My garden grew with the needs of our family. 
Potatoes didn’t do wel, when the cow ate the straw covering them, then smashed the plants when it used them as a bed.
Nor did the 50-foot row of thriving green beans survive the one weekend we went away. A gopher enjoyed it. Not one plant remained. How big was that gopher anyway?
When babies were due and children were small, devil’s grass choked out my plants.
Every year I could almost taste the juicy ears of corn. That’s when the gate would “somehow” be pushed open by the cow, and it would graze for a night, leaving broken stalks and almost ripe corn. My “almost” taste, remained almost.
Or the meat bees attacked us while we did pick the corn. We’d run to the house to husk them inside.

We tried growing earthworms. Not so much for any hope in the garden, but for the boys’ fishing trips. When the simple project ended in failure, we dumped the dirt in the garden, with its two earthworms.

Just when I felt like giving up, one son wanted to try different plants. I told him everything that could go wrong. (Didn't I know by experience? I was not the best for encouragement.)
He looked at me frustrated but determined.
He purchased grapes, fruit trees, and berries. He also brought horse dropping to the soil.
We rejoiced over the earthworms that suddenly multiplied. And the soil looked rich.
I felt rich, too.

He tried cantaloupe. Something extravagant for me. We had a patch so full our family of ten cut cantaloupes in half, filled them with ice cream and each ate one-half a cantaloupe almost every night for weeks. Richness doesn’t get any better.

A generous weed-whacking client gave my son asparagus roots.  I never could pick the asparagus at the right time. After several attempts of chewing on wood, I gave up. I enjoy seeing the green leafy shoots when all around is dead, except maybe the weeds stubbornly growing with them.

In our land of constant sunshine, water is precious. And watering every day is a chore. Our pressure doesn’t allow for long continuous hoses or a series of sprinkler heads. And I have tried multiple timers, only to realize manual works every time, timers must be adjusted for the changing water pressure every time. 
So instead, every morning, before temperatures reach 100, I spend an hour or more, rotating the watering to make sure all are damp enough not to die. I don't delegate this job. I listen for leaks, popped hoses, and other problems.

It’s my quiet time before the sun burns. I pick squash or tomatoes, snatch a weed or two, but resist the need to weed extensively—watering must get done. Sometimes I get lost looking for that tomato worm that ate half my plant in the night, giving up in disgust over the gluttony of such a fat. little nuisance and move on.  This hour is just for watering and planning what produce I should can or freeze.
But it is gone, and the day has begun. I have my chores for the boys who are still home to monitor.

When I needed a big garden, I had many workers, but they were small, and unmotivated. I had to be with them as they picked and pulled weeds, encouraging them with a popsicle for their break. And nursing babies and changing diapers called me inside more than not. Who had energy beyond an hour in the morning heat anyway? 

Our watered garden attracted gophers who were loved by snakes. We looked and mostly listened before weeding or picking beans.
Our dogs liked the watered soil, too. They exposed the tomato roots, seeking a cool place to sleep. 
Who knew chickens like red—and knew just when to peck almost-ripened tomatoes? Not eating the whole tomato, mind you, but sampling all the red ones to see which one was better.
Or that fire ants liked squash, even when the boys were sick of them.
Or horses could stretch their necks far over a fence, bending the fence to reach the green beans. 
Or after four months of daily watering, we'd harvest a measly handful of potatoes.

For the longest time, my rose bush was home plate. It’s battered attempts at growth cut short by a slide into home for a winning run. What is more important? Roses or growing boys? But often I found myself yelling out the door, “You have FIVE ACRES to dig holes and play. Why must you do it in my plants?” But the plants were forgotten in the heat of competition and dreams. And besides, you can’t dig in cement, but you can dig in garden soil. And at the bottom of the pasture, I wouldn’t hear their yells and laughter.

When the boys were small, they made a mud slide through my corn. They had to play there?
Another year, we intentionally made a bike trail through the corn, so they could get lost when the corn grew tall before the cow found it. 
Or after watering daily for months, the water pump stopped working. After a few days in 100 weather with no water, there’s not much hope for harvest. That happened four times.
Or when my husband suggested “vacation” in the midst of harvest. I watch the tomatoes almost ripen, only to leave and know they will be dead or gone when I return.
Don’t even mention tomato worms.
When the bermudia grass, aptly called “devil’s grass” took over the nicely tiered garden, I wanted to give up. 

One garden patch was left barren for my pepper plants. After planting them, flowers grew around them, choking them. Were these seeds from another year, finally coming up? Or did my sons plant before I did? I picked one pepper plant, thinking it was weed. I tried to replant it, but it died. I’ll enjoy the flowers. Who needs salsa anyway?

But God blessed our efforts. Some years we had tomatoes ripening slowly into November, beans so prolific I picked every other day for weeks, squash so abundant I made pickles every other day, plus enough for eating and freezing for breads.
It seemed even with the abundance, there was a cost. Produce must be managed when it is ready, not when mom is ready. I had to juggle nursing between canning times, or rise early to pick the green beans so the boys could help snap them for canning before the kitchen was hot. 
Produce never comes at convenient times—at least not for me. Almost like interruptions on my plans.
But isn't that why we planted—for the harvest.
And so those harvests encouraged me to try again when spring came with renewed hope. 

But more than that, some of our boys found their passion. They love the dirt and what it could do. Others found moving dirt with big machines was more impressive. They found what they didn’t like. They found the satisfaction of working hard. And tasted the difference between a fresh picked green bean and one from a can in the store. 

Now when spring comes and the desire to touch the soil to see new things grow pulsates through my blood and my son begs to buy more plants, I contain his and my efforts. I don’t have ten to feed.
Everyone else has places to go—everywhere but the garden.
My garden has shrunk, intentionally. I don’t want to spend an hour a day watering (although somehow I still am). There are too many weeds for just me to pull. And I don’t want to spend my morning weeding and my afternoon canning. The weeds don’t get less.

I just plant tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Green beans is just too much stooped labor for me. I pray the six squash plants will make it, since the seeds didn’t sprout after planting them twice. How can squash be so hard?

I cram the tomatoes plants into a space not really big enough, but that’s all I want to water. 

I design another watering system of pvc piping with drilled holes. Maybe the puppies won’t chew that. I replace an old soaker hose in the grape vines and find the “perfect” watering system for my flower oasis of last year won’t work this year, because the lilies have grown too tall. 

Another son surprises me with flowers over an area that never had anything growing.

My watering hasn’t gotten less, it has merely changed from vegetables to flowers. I enjoy them as they raise their frilly heads to soak in the sun, until a gate is forgotten and the cow mows them down—not once, but four days in a row. I thought the boys had grown up and could remember to shut the gate. The cow has left its soil amendments on the path for me to drag the hose through as I change the sprinkler’s location ten times a morning. 
Our water pump squeaks by for several weeks before dying finally. I pick some flowers to enjoy inside, as I watch my outside flowers wilt under the hot temperatures and wonder if the pump will be installed in time to save them.

I am slowly learning just because there's produce doesn't mean I must can, freeze or use it all, even if I can't give it away. That is hard to accept. I was raised not to waste, use what you have and prepare for tomorrow.
But God shows me how He feeds the birds today. He will not let His own go hungry. And I should find others who could use His harvest. That requires me to reach out beyond the safety of my walls. And allow the tomorrows to rest in His Hands. 

If I look at others’ gardens, I could grow envious. How do they water? Or leave for weeks at a time without thought of dead plants when they return? How do they have such beautiful rose blooms? But I don't linger. I have a harvest. I will be content.

Plans, dreams, harvests.

Today, although much smaller, the harvest still comes. Sometimes in ways we don’t anticipate. We don’t need so much.

I water. Smell the roses. Enjoy the flowers. Watch the ripening grapes. Eat a tart apple. And remember.

A garden is a place to wonder at God’s grace at bringing a harvest I inspire of all setbacks.

But it also reflects a God who brings hope in little places when you take the time to look.

Displaying all 2 comments

I enjoyed reading this! I have never been the greatest at keeping plants alive; my husband has a much greener thumb than I do! But I do enjoy the harvests! And I do love flowers too. As a mom I guess I just don't have the emotional energy to expend on plants dying.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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