Each year around this time, following months of freezing cold and heavy rain, Northern California experiences a “false spring” – the sun shines, the temperature is balmy and pleasant, and the grey and wintry landscape is suddenly covered in a bright green veil as the hardy early risers begin to sprout and come awake. It’s not really spring – we’ve got months of cold weather to come – but this is the preview, and the whole world seems bursting at the seams with life. Riotous, juicy, joyful. What could be better?
Well… if you look at the “gardening” aisle of a random box store with the row upon row of poisons and growth inhibitors, you may get the impression that “better” means doing things that limit this juicy exuberance without delay and regardless of the consequences. The industry built around the production and sale of pesticides and herbicides emphasizes an aggressive approach that seeks to “help” nature by killing off the “undesirables” and appeals to an all too popular “person against the world” mythology. This isn’t my imagination – There is a commercial that uses an old-west gunfight theme to sell weed killer! It won’t surprise you that this paradigm doesn’t appeal to me. Having worked for decades to develop farming methods that work in harmony with nature and its life forces – with excellent and productive results! – I believe that we can all benefit from cultivating (literally) a more sensitive and integrative perspective of our place (and our food- and soil-growing place) within the whole and balanced natural system.
Gardening for Health and Nutrition—An introduction to the Method of Biodynamic Gardening by John & Helen Philbrick is one of my favorite books in terms of building this sensitivity and perspective! It introduces gardeners to a fact that is often strangely overlooked in modern farming: that gardening is about living things and the life force that runs through us all. In the book, John Philbrick “… talks about how each morning he was in the habit of visiting his garden at sunrise, meditating and communing, until, gradually, he realized that the important things at work were ‘the forces of life’—‘that life is the key to existence on this planet!’”
The Philbricks realized that most gardeners were concerned not with life and growing things, but with death, and getting rid of things—bugs, weeds, fungi—and that this focus was obscuring the fact that nature is a whole fabric, and that all the threads that make it are interconnected and vital to its (and our) functioning:
“…everything that is alive is dependent upon everything else that’s alive…which are constantly changing…To be healthy, this network of living things must be kept in balance. The gardener must become aware of the network of processes making up the garden and must become familiar with the particularities of the soil, the seasons, and the plants and animals there. Then on this foundation, working with nature, one can make one’s garden a living organism.”
While all the practices and techniques shared in this wonderful publication (it is a garden planning guide for beginners using the biodynamic method) are not the GROW BIOINTENSIVE ones we use, the feeling communicated is enlivening, and I think any farmer or gardener will benefit from reading it. The book is a treasure!