As we ride into Earth Month, I spent the weekend in my garden... pretty typical for me on a chilly sunny day in early spring, and one of my favorite ways to start the sunnier times of the year. This year, I've been trying a new approach to my garden. This year, instead of ripping everything up and tilling the soil in January, I let the garden go until March. Then, the large dead plants that remained from last summer's garden were pulled up, cut into smaller portions, and tucked back into the earth. Some larger pieces went into our green compost bin, but I tried to disturb the land less than usual. After all, the leaves and dead plants are home to many insects that help keep the soil alive and doing its magic, even when it looks grayish brown and totally dead.
As I read Braiding Sweetgrass last summer, there was a chapter that struck me in its basicness, but also with a radical idea. It was one of those ideas that it so incredibly basic to human nature and our "fit" on this earth that I felt completely stupid for never having thought it before. The thought was from this lesson, which I'm summarizing in the interest of time:
The author, a teacher, asked her students if humans were a beneficial or destructive force to earth, and to name what good impact humans have on their environment. Most students say that humans are detrimental to the environment and they focus on the industrialized nations as an example of rampant pollution and excess. However, the author is quick to point out that as humans evolved in our ecosystems, we were a part of the world, and that humans have indeed played beneficial roles... and still can. Her point was that simply because we often DON'T play a beneficial role, that doesn't mean that humans cannot play that role, or that we weren't designed to benefit our ecosystems, or even that it would be impossible for us to do so. She goes on to point to numerous examples which prove her point - smart harvesting of plants can actually lead plant populations to thrive, growing "sister crops" together can actually boost the yields of all of the crops, recognizing and removing invasive plants, insects, or animals can help maintain balance of native ecosystems.
With that thought in mind, I set out try my hand at a Three Sisters Garden. Corn, Beans, and Squash are often called the Three Sisters because of the mutually beneficial role that they play to grow a well-rounded garden. As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I was able to get some corn from the Cherokee Seed Bank. My friend Anne-Marie Bonneau traded me some of her Cherokee Trail of Tears beans for some corn, too, so all I had left was to find some squash. Unfortunately, I missed out this year in getting real Cherokee seeds, so I chose some carriage pumpkin seeds that I have grown before and whose seeds I still had in the fridge.
As I went to plant, there were some old kale stalks still looming large in the garden. I left them, as the leafy greens will provide salads throughout the year. The purple potatoes are bright, vibrant green leaves poking up through the moist soil, and the biggest plot was full of lots and lots of tiny sprouts. It's too early to tell exactly what these sprouts are... they could be random birdseed from our winter feeders, or leftovers from prior compost amendments that have loved this winter's rain, or there is even a small chance that it's leftover carrot seeds that didn't come up last year. My carrot harvests were woefully small compared to how many seeds I planted that I actually thought a rodent must have come and eaten them... but maybe not!
So this evening, I marveled at my first Three Sisters garden, and I hope that I'll be able to enjoy some cornbread, pumpkin soup, and bean burgers later this year. As I was walking back, I noticed the telltale squishy mounds of our old friend Mr Gopher... so hopefully he won't enjoy all of my seeds before we do. I mean, I'm not going to kill him - he's part of this ecosystem, too. But I will definitely let my dogs out in the yard to hopefully scare him off of the garden a bit.