Growth and Perfection

It’s so good to be really into the summer season (it came a bit late this year to Cleveland), even if it was 87 degrees as I walked to shul this past Shabbos. I have had so much pleasure in the last weeks from puttering around with my various planting projects. As I blogged about it last year, I am trying to incorporate as many low-waste practices into my gardening as I can. Back in the dark, dreary days that are the hallmark of winter in Cleveland, Ohio, a bright spot arrived in my mailbox: seed catalogs! Seed catalogs provide endless room for daydreaming, but to keep incorporating low-waste tactics into my gardening (I blogged about it last year), I have to rein myself in a bit. It’s too easy to get carried away and buy way more seeds than I have room for since I am limited to the number of pots and containers I can safely put on my second-floor deck.

Of course, you don’t have to discard seeds that are older than their sell-by date. One year my garden was made up exclusively of seeds that I had left over from the previous year and the year before that. I planted everything I had, knowing that not as many seeds would germinate and sprouted as they would have the first year I bought them, but I still had a good result.)

Although I love the seed company I buy from, John Scheepers, my goal is to stop buying seeds plant starts and instead grow next year’s plants from seeds I will IY”H harvest from this year’s container garden. Purchasing plants from a garden center or plant nursery more often than not involves buying plants in plastic pots that aren’t great for garden reuse. They are flimsy and not meant to hold mature plants. This year I bought five tomato plants, two pepper plants, and two stevia plants. Only two of the nine pots were made of compostable matter. Ideally, I would have searched for a garden center that only sells plants in compostable containers, but ideally, I’d also have a housekeeper named Inge who would do all the things that keep me too busy to make all the necessary phone calls. Still, it doesn’t hurt to put it as a goal in my BulletJournal calendar for next February. 

You can save the seeds from any garden plant to grow for the following season, but many (if not most) of the plants you’ll buy commercially are hybrids that won’t produce a plant that looks like the one you started with. So, I made sure all the seeds I bought this year were noted as OP in the seed catalog. Unlike F1 hybrid seeds, OP seeds grow into plants that will yield seeds that produce an identical plant the following year. The tradeoff is that OP plants are more susceptible to diseases and pests. So far, a slug managed to lop off quite a few leaves on my zucchini and cucumber plants, but even hybrids fall victim to that particularly slimeball. In any case, I’ll see how it goes. Growing plants is a constant reminder that HaShem runs the world! We do what we can to succeed, but there are so many variables that are totally out of our control. As a certified control freak, gardening provides recurring reminders that are very helpful. 

That’s not the only lesson that gardening gives me. It forces me to accept my helek and to work within it. HaShem has given me a small yard, much under tree cover and all exposed to the very hungry deer (and rabbits, and groundhogs, and who knows what else) that roam the Cleveland suburbs, and he waits to see what I am going to do with it. It connects me to HaShem as the Creator, the one who created “herbage yielding seed, fruit trees yielding fruit, each containing its seed after its kind.” I can’t grow everything I would like to, but I can raise enough to ensure I don’t have to buy fresh basil, cilantro, or mint for the next several months, and I’ll have some to dry for use throughout the year and give to friends.

In the last few weeks, HaShem has provided me with a few reminders of the verse in Ashrei, “Poteach et yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon—You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” In short order, I mentioned to my husband that I needed three things for gardening: a screen to sift my compost, a hose for the rain barrel to make watering easier than filling up a watering can, and a pallet to put containers on so I could expand my crops into containers I had added to my inventory since the fall. (Keeping containers up off the ground will help the plants drain better and prevent damage from water standing underneath them.) And in short order, we found those three things within a few blocks of our house and all headed for a landfill. From the inspiring teacher Ruchi Koval, I learned to think of such occurrences as “hugs from HaShem.”

The hose had been stored improperly and had deep kinks that prevented water from flowing through it. But I didn’t need it to take water across a huge lawn, just a few feet of deck space. I carried it home from where I found it just down the block. I wasn’t sure if it would also be leaky in places where it wasn’t kinked, but I figured it was worth a shot, and if it didn’t work, I could just put it out with my own trash. 

When I trimmed it to just before the first kink, it turned out to be just long enough to water all but a pot of sage and two tomato plants that sit in the farthest corner away from the rain barrel. Was it perfect? No, but it’s a good reminder that “perfect” is the enemy of “good enough.” As Ben Zoma taught, “Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has.” And after a few days, I figured out that using the hose to fill my watering can instead of holding it under the spigot meant I could use my previously needed hands to take care of a few weeds while it filled up. 

The excellent school my son attends (the yeshiva ketana at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland) has for the past few years stressed a “growth mindset,” a way of thinking that emphasizes building skills and intelligence through effort and the stick-with-it-ness we often call “persistence.” People with a growth mindset “embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, and seek out inspiration in others’ success—sounds a lot like Judaism, doesn’t it? When it comes to the physical world, building things isn’t my strong suit. Although I’ve taught myself many repair skills and can make simple modifications like drilling drain holes in garden containers, I’m clumsy by nature and get frustrated with myself more quickly than I would like. This week I plan to get my husband to help me convert the screen he found (I’m guessing it is from an old garden fence) into a compost sifter. We’ll see if the growth mindset can help me grow better plants once I start harvesting my compost!

Amy

Click here to see the full list of changes I’ve blogged about and their impact.

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