Good gardeners kill plants.
There’s no way to have beauty or food or both and allow every plant to fulfill its natural life cycle. I’m not talking about pruning or pinching back; I’m talking about ripping plants out of the ground roots and all. I’m talking about obliteration.
I’m trying to be strong and resolute, now that I’ve clear cut the lettuce.
This year’s first lettuce crop started out fulfilling my fantasy of “a patchwork quilt of salad greens” to quote Carolyn Herriot’s book The Zero Mile Diet. Contrasting the red-leaf lettuce with the bright chartreuse lettuce created a charming effect…for a few weeks. Then, as the lettuce began to get bitter and white goop began to ooze from the stems when it was cut, I suspected it was getting ready to bolt. Already? Sure enough, creepy florets started to form. So I cut it down.
I’ve improved since last year. This year I’ve already started new lettuce seeds for a second round of salads. Last year I watched the lettuce go to flower and to seed, with weird fascination. Flowering lettuce is a surreal sight. Carolyn Herriot’s book focuses on seed saving, and I respect her for showing the hideous after photo of the “patchwork quilt” gone to seed. I should also thank her for the after photo of peas gone to seed, because this year’s glorious moment of snow pea harvest quickly turned brown and rubbery, and I lamented over what I could possibly have done wrong while I yanked the vines out of the ground. Seeing her photo, I didn’t do anything wrong; the peas just decided it was time to make seeds.
I’ve been ruthless with the spinach, rapini, and mustard. And I’ve been rewarded with more space to plant in, more food to harvest, and more varieties of crops. None of the plants have shrieked like a mandrake when torn from the ground, driving me to madness and death. New seeds have been started, and we’ve eaten some of our own food almost every day this month.
Oh, but it’s hard to start a bed of seeds, water and nurture and weed them each day, watch happily as they grow and flourish, eat their leaves with a sense of companionship, and then – kill them. Saving seeds seems politically important in the shadow of corporate agriculture, and it may help give me a sense of atonement, but I’ll have to work out a plan for seed saving in my small space. This year’s focus is production and timing, for which I must remain steely and resolute. I mustn’t waiver with sentimentality. If a plant can’t feed me, it must die.
I’m not a gardener, I’m a warrior.