Growth In Spite of Me

Gardening can be a humbling process. It amazes me how little help my garden actually needs from me to grow. Oh, it certainly helps when I water, when I tug away away weeds and clip off dead leaves, when I loosen the soil so the water can seep in more deeply, when I spoon coffee grounds around my tomato plants. That time and sweat I pour into the garden helps nurture it and make space for it to grow. But even when I don’t put all that effort into caring for it, the garden keeps on growing in spite of me.

This month I neglected the garden for several weeks, watering only sporadically and letting the weeds grow rampant. My attention was mostly limited to a run-by glance on my way out the door to work.

Even so, the garden grew. And grew. And grew some more. Plants doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size. Flowers unfurled, eventually falling away to make space for firm green fruits emerging beneath them. Bright zinnias blossomed. Beans multiplied under the shade of their leaves. Our tomato plants grew so large they began toppling over.

In eight weeks it went from this…

…to this…

Even in the midst of my neglect, we found ourselves with more greens than we could eat. We made salads and pestos and sandwiches and pastas with greens and still gave away bags full to friends.

It reminds me of something that Ben Pasley said when he spoke at the Boiler Room last week, about how a tomato doesn’t need to be told how to be a tomato. It has the DNA of a tomato planted inside it already, contained in that initial tomato seed. It doesn’t need to be told to grow into a tomato. When given the soil, water, and care it needs, it will natural grow into what it was already designed to be. He used the picture of a tomato growing as an analogy for how we grow into our sonship and in God. As believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, we already have the DNA of the Father in us. It is inevitable that we will grow into His likeness, from that seed planted in us (though it helps when we weed and water and fertilize that seed).

This summer, as our garden has grown, blossomed, and burst into fruit despite my neglect, I can see ways that God is drawing Derek and I into our sonship, too, despite our distraction and struggles. God has been reminding me that our continued growth and restoration as His children as inevitable as the tomatoes emerging out in our garden.


Our little garden is actually planted. And already sprouting thanks to the rain and 80 degree weather this week.

Last Saturday Shiloh borrowed a friend’s truck and hauled in a truckload of compost. I could tell it had arrived before I saw it because our yard smelled like a farm. With the help of her friend, we spread it around the plot, digging it in and shoveling some into a row of old tires we put along the side of the plot (about a week before that I put a request on craigslist asking for old tires and one guy drove thirty miles to bring us fifteen tires for free, only asking for gas money, with several more offering to do the same if we needed more).

After we spread around the compost, we each hauled out our plants and packets of seeds and sat down to decide what to plant where (we had to revise our original plan some because I couldn’t get some seeds and we had more than we thought of others). While we were sorting through the seeds, another neighbor brought out a sunflower seed kit and a salsa seed kit. She said she had intended to plant them inside, but that she decided to give them to us. So we added those to the mix, too.

Somehow we fit nearly everything in our little plot, though somewhat haphazardly. We even left room for sweet potatoes (which come in at the community gardens on Mother’s Day). We planted six of the tomatoes in tires along one side and saved the remaining tires for butternut squash, spaghetti squash, luffa gourds (to make sponges — they looked interesting), and zucchini. Brenda joined us and planted the sunflowers, then went and bought two hoses and a sprinkler for us so we could water everything. We left the garden, full of hidden seeds, wondering what would actually grow.

The following week I mostly ignored the garden as I wrote a whole stack of final papers (one more to go…), consoling myself with the fact that it rained at some point everyday.

When I finally took some time to look at the garden on Friday, I found that something (rabbits?) had eaten every single leaf off of three of our pepper plants (the three mini sweet pepper plants) and nibbled a bit on a few of the other peppers and tomatoes. Both the peppers and tomatoes were dropping a bit, even though Shiloh had just watered them, and the leaves on the tomato plants were starting to turn yellow in some places. Anyone have any insight to what causes that? My only guess is that they don’t like our soil, with it’s combination of clay and compost (which appeared to be comprised mostly of cattle manure and wood chips).

While the peppers and tomatoes look a little tentative still, several other things are springing up. Friday night I found lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, zinnias, and beans all sprouting. By Saturday morning those were joined by sunflowers and okra and the beans had tripled in size.


So now I plant to research tomatoes and soil and see what I can do to help them. After I write this last paper, of course…

The Best Laid Plans

Today I met with our neighbor Shiloh and her young daughter to plan our garden. Shiloh brought an armful of seed packets and I printed out a grid of our garden. Together we made a list of everything we wanted to plant.

We decided to try the block gardening method (also known as compact or square-foot gardening). Growing up, we always planted in rows. After doing some research, though, it looks like block (or compact) gardening sounds like the best option for maximizing a small garden space so we’re going to give that a try. We divided our (approximately) 10’x10′ garden into four 4’x4′ plots with walkways between them and put different vegetables in each square foot of garden space, depending on how much space that type of vegetable takes. We planned tomatoes, okra, and zinnias for the north/south sides of the gardens so they won’t shade the rest of the plants and gave the zucchini and sweet potatoes lots of room to spread out. We’ll probably add some pots of herbs, too, that can be moved around.

As of right now, our list of things to plant includes:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers (both sweet and hot)
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Bush Beans
  • Onions
  • Okra
  • Greens
  • Cilantro
  • Zinnias

The only things we couldn’t fit were sunflowers and butternut squash. I may still see if I can find a creative way to plant the butternut squash. In late summer we should be able to replace some of the earlier plants with some more cool weather plants (we missed the planting window for some of the spring crops).

Shiloh has some seeds already (include some that she’s started inside). Thursday the Kansas City Community Gardens starts selling the warm weather plants, so I plan on going to pick up some of those, plus whatever other seeds we need (I get ten free packets). Shiloh is going to see if her friend will go pick up a truckload of compost for us from Missouri Organic, too. We may even be able to start planting a few things tomorrow.

This garden is really happening!