Gardening: Growing vegetables

"All beginnings are hard" (Midrash Mehilta on Exodus 19:5).

pumpkin 88 (photo credit: )
pumpkin 88
(photo credit: )
Starting or creating something new involves taking risks, making oneself small in relation to the task at hand and acknowledging that the final product will probably not be perfect. Nevertheless, you begin. The Zohar teaches that God created the universe through contraction or tzimtzum. God diminished himself - actually, concealed or withdrew his light - and, in that penumbral space, our world was formed. With the uninterrupted hardship the world has experienced up till now, we must still be at the beginning stages of creation. In Hebrew, one of the verbs for "create" or "form" has het-lamed-lamed as its three-letter root. But het-lamed-lamed also has the meaning of desanctification or desecration, as well as empty space. In fact, the Zohar uses the word halal to describe the void or darkened space in which the universe was formed. So when King David sighs in Psalm 51 that he was created in sin - b'avon holalti - he leaves no doubt as to his, and our, imperfect nature. The first sin on earth was not committed by Adam and Eve when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, but by the earth itself. On the third day of creation, the earth was commanded to bring forth fruit trees with edible wood to match. The wood of a mango tree, for instance, was meant to be as sweet, succulent and altogether edible as a mango fruit. Instead, the earth disobeyed God and produced a mango tree with wood that was dry and tasteless. But why did the earth sin? The answer might be found at the beginning of Psalm 90, where Moses makes the statement that God existed before the earth was formed - b'terem teholel eretz - and then, on God's behalf, asks those whose spirit has been crushed to return to God. Here, the verb used to express the earth's formation is the same as that found in Psalm 51, where King David's own, less than holy fashioning is described. According to the commentaries, the opening verses of Psalm 90 refer to the fact that the process of teshuva, repentance or returning to God, was already in place before the universe was formed, a sure indication God knew that his world would not be a perfect place. It has been said that "you are always a beginner in the garden." Each foray into the garden presents you with its own challenges and difficulties, whether you have hard ground, too much shade or pest problems. And sometimes you are sure you have selected the perfect plant for a certain spot only to see it flounder. Although any beginning in the garden could be a trial, the best insurance against potential difficulties is to create soft, crumbly, compost-enriched soil. Compost means mixture. It is made by mixing green or fresh organic material (grass clippings, green leaves, vegetable scraps or goat, chicken, cow or horse manure) with brown, fibrous or aged organic material (fallen leaves, shredded bark or paper, wood chips or sawdust). Equal amounts of these two types of materials should be mixed together. This is most easily done by putting down a 10-centimeter layer of green material, a 10-cm. layer of brown, another 10 of green and so on. The pile that is created should be around one meter wide, one meter tall and as long as you wish. Compost is what remains when this green-and-brown organic mix has decayed into a moist, brown-black, sweet-smelling, crumbly, soil-like material. Finished compost is produced in one month to one year. A compost pile kept moist and well-aerated will break down faster than a pile that is soggy, dry or compacted. A compost pile should not be allowed to dry out but should not be overwatered either. Keep it moist, like a wrung-out sponge. To keep the pile aerated, turn it frequently with a spading fork, but not more than once a day. Compost improves the soil by making it softer and spongier, encouraging root growth. Compost makes heavy clay soil drain better and sandy soil more water-retentive. Compost fortifies the immune system of plants at their roots, helping them resist the attack of pathogenic fungi. It is also known that insect pests are more likely to zero in on plants in a weakened condition, often the result of growth in unimproved soil to which compost has not been added. Before planting annual flowers or vegetables, cover each nine square meter area with a 5 cm.-10 cm. layer of compost and fork it into the top 20 cm. of soil. A principal reason for the failure of novice vegetable growers is that they try to do too much. Someone who has never grown vegetables should probably not plow up his entire yard for the purpose of cultivating tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and corn. Start with a single bed that might be three meters long by one meter wide. Another common mistake of inexperienced growers is to locate their vegetable plots in locations that receive insufficient light. Vegetable gardens must have most of the day's sun shining directly upon them. Otherwise, you might be able to grow root and leaf crops - such as radishes and lettuce - but little else. Vegetable beds should be no more than one meter wide, since once they are planted, you do not want to step in them. All weeding, watering and harvesting should be done without walking in the bed, since such foot traffic will compact the soil and impede the growth of your crops.