Many of my clearest childhood memories involve eating a fruit or vegetable within a few hours of harvest: fists wrapped around an enormous peach, the juice dripping down my chin…pushing wheelbarrows of tomatoes up the hill to the picnic table for processing…blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries sweet with morning heat. 

 

Wherever I have put down roots in my life, I have made a garden. My deepest roots are now at the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, where I’ve been the manager since 2007. I’m grateful to the many teachers I’ve had along the way: my parents who gave me an embodied experience of the value of food grown by your own hands, Dr. Wilson who taught me you could garden year round, Laura Lengnick who taught me about soil science, Patricia Allison and Chuck Marsh who taught me about permaculture, Craig Siska who taught me about biodynamics and the unseen forces in our gardens, and the many teachers from Organic Growers School and the Southeastern Women’s Herbal Conference who introduced me to cover cropping, plants as medicine, and more. 

 

From them, as well as from my own daily experience, I’ve synthesized a garden philosophy that guides my steps in the garden. 

 

 

Observe, don’t act. Spend time observing everyday and you will be amazed what’s going on in your yard. Let your observation be your teacher. You need to do so much less than you think. Nature is always working towards balance. Our actions are often interruptions to that progress.

 

Eat something from your yard everyday. Stephen Harrod Buhner writes in The Lost Language of Plants, “It is sad that the first thing we learn about plants as children is often “No!” …But the Earth community itself can speak to us and teach us much more.” We evolved with the plants. Buhner teaches that often the plants growing in our yards have exactly the medicine we need. The violets, the dandelion, the chickweed, the sourwood and basswood leaves, and so much more have nutrition and wisdom our bodies need. Eating something from your yard everyday, whether a weed or vegetable you intentionally grew, builds an important relationship of gratitude and reciprocity. 

 

Keep soil covered… Concern yourself with what’s going on beneath your plants, and the plants will take care of themselves. Keep soil covered by growing cover crops, flowers and vegetables, by letting weeds* grow in areas you aren’t ready to plant, or by covering as needed with mulch such as aged leaves from your yard. 

undisturbed…Don’t till your soil. Period. Keep the top on the top and the bottom on the bottom. This limits the exposure of weed seeds in the soil, and protects precious macro and micro organisms which are responsible for soil fertility. 

and with living roots at all times. Plants feed the soil. Sixty percent of a plant’s exudates (carbohydrate production) go to feeding microorganisms in the soil. Take away the plants and the roots, and the microorganisms die. Microorganisms are responsible for plant health, nutrient uptake and more.

 

 

Learn how to keep a proper compost pile. A well tended compost pile should produce fertile organic matter every 6 months for use in your garden. First and foremost, your primary responsibility as a gardener is to build soil.

 

Grow plants for your compost. *Weeds are allies for building soil. Let weeds like chickweed, lambs quarters, or purslane flourish under your vegetables and flowers, and then add them to your compost pile when you’re ready to plant something else. Also, grow comfrey, nettles, and other nutrient dense plants to add to your compost pile. Common garden weeds like burdock, yellow dock, dandelion, violet, and more add trace minerals and nutrients to your compost pile, in turn to your garden, and ultimately to your fruits and vegetables and YOU!

 

The health of our soil is directly related to the health of our guts. In the Hidden Half of Nature, authors David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle share the science behind the relationship of soil microbes and our gut microbes. In one teaspoon of healthy soil there are 1.5 billion beneficial microorganisms…in a handful of soil there are more microorganisms than there are people on the planet Earth. Read that again

Without healthy soils, our health declines. The two are simply and significantly intertwined. Our mental health is intertwined as well. Bacteria in soil stimulate serotonin production–the hormone that makes us feel happy and relaxed, and alleviates anxiety and depression. 

 

 

I built my first garden in the forest of my childhood home on the bank of a creek when I was 13. Each year the more I learn, the more mystery and wonder unfolds. Plants have wisdom and a means of communication I’m still trying to learn. 

You may think you just want to grow a few tomatoes and herbs, but I’m telling you, if you heed the call, the plants are hoping you’ll do so much more.

 

Author: Diana McCall

Diana McCall manages the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden which is home to nearly 70 gardening families, over 100 fruit and nut trees, mushroom logs, a native species trail and a biodynamic donation garden which produces 4000 pounds of produce annually for distribution in Black Mountain. Her work also includes school garden programs, expanding community gardens in the town, and partnering with numerous agencies and institutions to educate her community on how to grow, access and prepare healthy food for themselves and their families.

 

Author: Diana McCall

Diana McCall manages the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden which is home to nearly 70 gardening families, over 100 fruit and nut trees, mushroom logs, a native species trail and a biodynamic donation garden which produces 4000 pounds of produce annually for distribution in Black Mountain. Her work also includes school garden programs, expanding community gardens in the town, and partnering with numerous agencies and institutions to educate her community on how to grow, access and prepare healthy food for themselves and their families.