Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

This Must Be Just Like Gardening in Paradise

By Cam Mather

Back in about 1988 when David Lee Roth left Van Halen (this is a homesteading blog, honestly!) he had this great video for his song “This must be just like livin’ in paradise” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4qh_9vH1Ww I always loved this video, mostly because of my long-time fantasy to wear spandex, have long blond hair and be able to do great roundhouse jump kicks. I think I also associated with this video because much of it shows David rock climbing, which he clearly seems to relish doing. The footage of him running and rappelling off those great rock walls has always stuck with me.

But like all goods things, the next line of the song is “…and I don’t want to go home.” For most of us, those moments of elation we experience at the cottage, or mall, or exotic foreign location are fleeting because we have to return to the reality of our jobs, and our homes, which are generally in urban areas close to those jobs. I think I’m getting pretty close to being totally content to never leave my house and be at peace with my life as it is.

This realization came to me early one morning recently weeding in the garden. It was probably 7 a.m. and still cool. The work is tedious and mindless and one of my favorite things about gardening is taking a chaotic row of vegetable seedlings crowded with weeds and restoring it to order so that I can appreciate the beauty of the plants that will eventually nourish my body.

One recent morning the loons were particularly boisterous. There was one on West Lake, which is south of us, and one on Sixth Depot Lake just north of us and they were engaged in a heavy-duty conversation. I think it was one of those “No, you come to my lake…” sort of discussions, because eventually one flew directly overhead making that hauntingly beautiful loon call in 3D surround sound. And I was probably the only human on earth that heard this little discussion because my nearest neighbor is 3 miles away. Birds singing, loons calling, surrounded by a billion colors of green, growing my own food. Really, could there by anything else I’d rather be doing that I could enjoy more? I now know the answer is “NO.” This is as good as it gets, and it’s pretty great.

But I need to bring reality into this idyllic image I’ve created, because there is always something in paradise trying to upset the balance of things. Early in the morning in the garden it’s mosquitoes. The price for being surrounded by thousands of acres of trees and lakes and ponds are these noisy pests. If they are brutal I wear a bug hat. Once the sun is out and the dragonflies wake up they provide me with air cover and the mosquitoes are dispensed with until dusk.

Once the sun is up, out come the deer flies. They are brutal this year. Deer flies love to land on the back of your head and work through your hair to bite you. I guess this is how they behave around “deer.” I use a product called “Tanglefoot” which is a sticky tree resin. I duct tape a piece of box board to the back of my hat, smear it with Tanglefoot and it gets filled up with about 50 deer flies in about an hour. If my options are suburbia or deer flies, I can handle the deer flies, no problem.

I blogged about the scarab problem we had where all my wonderful berry plants were being attacked by these leaf devouring pests. And early in the spring cutworms were waging war with my small vegetable seedlings, looping them off as quickly as I could replant them.

This year was the best year ever for strawberries here. I have nurtured this patch for 3 years now and really worked on it last year in terms of weeding and watering. After an amazing harvest a deer found them and ate 1/3 of the leaves off, which will stunt that section for next year.

I often fantasize about growing food “somewhere else.” Surely there is a place, perhaps surrounded by other farms where I wouldn’t have the bugs and pests and deer problems I have now. Well maybe, but I have no doubt I’d have unique issues to deal with there. Different pests. Or no pests, the results of chemical warfare being waged by neighbors with toxins that I try to avoid, which would be worse than the waves of insects I have to deal with here.

A lot this just comes down to my state of mind. I can honestly say black flies and mosquitoes and deer flies don’t bother me. I was miserable in suburbia, and that feeling with being out of step with my surroundings never went away. None of these pests last forever. We might have a few brutal days, or even a week but by the end of July most of the bugs are gone and then peace and order is restored to the garden.

There is no place on earth to garden that consistently has the perfect growing conditions. Just the right combination of sun and rain and no pests. When people ask me to sign their copy of my book “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” I often write, “May your days be sunny and nights be rainy,” which is my definition of climatic perfection for a gardener. I have experienced this a few times in my life, a stretch of sunny days with rain in the evening. But it was short-lived and is as rare of hen’s teeth around here. (Now that we have chickens I can say with certainty that I’ve yet to notice any teeth in their mouths).

So for now I do my best to focus on the positive. I am working to build up my soil to make it healthy and resilient. I am working to maximize how much water I can store and pump to nurture my vegetables when nature won’t cooperate with rain. And when I’m in this very special place that radiates positive energy, weeding and nurturing those vegetables that will feed my body, I will ignore anything extraneous like the buzz of deer flies, and focus on the call of the loons. It’s not always easy to tell, “but this must be just like gardening in paradise, and I don’t have to go home.” I’m there!

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