"Not all treasure's silver and gold, mate."
- Captain Jack Sparrow
"A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them."
- Liberty Hyde Bailey
Yesterday's work in the greenhouse made me wholeheartedly agree with this quote. We were working on the outside beds again. Although the majority of the weeds were cleared and they looked much better, there was still a bit of work to do. Unfortunately, these beds were riddled with quackgrass (if you're curious about my feelings regarding that, check out this blog post). The abundance of quackgrass meant that, although we had cleared all the tall weeds down to the soil, the entire bed was a mess of complicated root systems. Another fun fact about quackgrass: if you don't get the entire root, more and more will just keep growing. Needless to say, it was pretty difficult and time-consuming, not to mention hot, to wiggle our fingers into the soil and carefully pull up each complete length of root. Not only that, but because we were working with roots and not above-ground plants, it was impossible to see any progress. Typically, the redeeming factor of weeding for me is that I'm able to see my progress as the soil appears from under the weeds. Not so much with our lovely extensive root systems.
Still, it's work that has to be done if we want anything we plant in those beds to grow and thrive instead of being choked out by quackgrass. Yes, it certainly does require "patient labor and attention." And definitely effort. But it's worth it. Like most things in life that require effort, the hard work pays off. It's often the things that require the most effort and persistence that are the sweetest to watch come to fruition. Even if we can't see much progress now, it will be worth the effort when those beds are filled with more fresh greenhouse produce.
"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
- Edward Everett Hale
There's that saying that misery loves company. But I think it's also true that happiness loves company. Contentment loves company. Hard work loves company. And I love company when I'm working in the greenhouse. This week I had a second worker join me at the greenhouse, and it's so much better working with someone alongside you. Not only does it provide an extra set of hands to work with, but also someone to talk to (besides myself) and a sense of companionship that makes the hours pass faster. That's especially important when dealing with a particularly rough section that makes you want to just call it a day.
That was the case this morning when the two of us were weeding a couple of garden beds outside the greenhouse. These beds were in particularly poor condition, with tomatoes, peppers, and basil already planted in beds that had, for whatever reason, not been weeded properly beforehand. The beds were a tangled mess of extensive root systems, which sometimes meant that pulling on one weed led to holding a massive chunk of dirt and roots in your hands. The plan was to finish weeding the beds and then fill them in with compost. As the sun got higher and hotter, that goal was seeming less plausible, and the alternative of just leaving the work for tomorrow was seeming awfully tempting. Thankfully, with another person there for support (and a healthy dose of stubbornness), we were able to resist that temptation. The sun was hot, but the conversation was good as we exchanged comments and encouragement. And the perseverance was worth it when we looked down at the fresh, weed-free beds at the end. So I guess what I'm trying to say here is it's nice to work with someone, especially when things are tough. And thanks, Mazzy, for joining me in the greenhouse!
"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality."
~ Walt Disney
Last week, I returned to the greenhouse for the first time since last summer and, oh boy, was it different! This year the kids taking part in the CROP program at ACS had been working in the greenhouse for weeks before I even got back from college. I arrived to a greenhouse with plastic on, beds prepared and planted, vegetables ready to harvest, and (thank goodness) significantly less weeding to be done than last year. It was incredible, and it reminded me of an idea at the core of the Andes Greenhouse.
The beauty of our greenhouse is that it is a community greenhouse. It doesn't belong to or depend on only one person or even just the school. It is tied to the community as a whole, and everyone can have a part in it. If one person were to try and make something special out of the greenhouse, it would be a failure, and a lonely one at that. But when multiple people come together to help and lend their company and support, it blossoms and moves closer to what it's intended to be. Andes has always been about coming together, at least in my experience. We're so small, as a town and as a school, that there's really not many good excuses to not come together as a community. We're better together anyways.
I hope that this summer is a continuation of the cooperative community mindset in the greenhouse. I hope that we use this strong start to make even more progress. I hope we will build upon the foundation that is already set to continue to make our greenhouse better. And I hope more people can experience the same satisfaction that the CROP kids did when they ate a salad made of the greens they planted themselves. Here's to another wonderful summer at the Andes Greenhouse!
~ Serena Bacon
A Few Final Thoughts
“I find that it's best to take one step at a time and cross each bridge as they come to you.”
~ Michael Stuhlbarg
This past Tuesday was my first day back to working in the greenhouse in a little over a week. As I put my gloves on and knelt to begin weeding our carrot beds, I realized that a part of me (a pretty large part, in fact) had missed working in the greenhouse. Now, for you to fully understand the impact of this realization, you have to know that I originally started working at the greenhouse because I needed some sort of summer job and there were very few options available. But, with the craziness of returning to college looming on the horizon, I found myself really appreciating the simplicity and sense of accomplishment I enjoyed while working in the greenhouse. Quite a bit of my time this summer was spent weeding, first to just clear the beds so they were ready to be planted, and then to maintain them. The beauty of weeding is that it’s kind of a mindless task. All I had to do was set myself up, spend a couple hours pulling up anything that didn’t belong, and voila! A beautifully manicured garden bed! Of course, it’s not exactly easy work, especially in the heat of the day, but it’s simple. And that simplicity is what I found myself thinking about as I pulled up weeds to reveal neat rows of carrot plants.
While I love the opportunities and experiences I’ve had and will continue to have in college, it can very quickly become an overload of responsibility. One day you’re enjoying yourself, coasting through college life, and the next, you suddenly have a major paper, project, and/or test due in the next week. And it’s not just college. It’s life in general. Life has a nasty tendency to become very overwhelming very fast. But as I knelt outside, calmly weeding the carrot beds, I had a thought. Why can’t I approach life the same way I approach weeding? Who says I can’t bring some of the simplicity of garden work into life outside of the garden? When I first started working at the greenhouse, it was overrun with weeds. There was clearly a LOT of work to do. Yet I didn’t feel overwhelmed. At all. I just got to work and watched the progress. As I went one weed at a time, the greenhouse began to appear from underneath the mess. Now, it’s flourishing, just as it’s supposed to. I can only hope that I remember that once I get back to college. All the assignments and responsibility and stress can easily become a tangle of weeds, strangling the fun out of life. But all I have to do is go one weed at a time, focus on what’s right in front of me, and slowly but surely, I will see my life reemerge from the mess. Imagine the simplicity we could all enjoy if we just realized that every task is accomplished one “weed” at a time!
Unfortunately, my enlightenment came a bit late in the summer. Today is my last day working in the greenhouse before I leave for college. I’ve enjoyed my time working here more than I thought I would, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. While the practical knowledge I’ve gained probably won’t come in handy at college, the experience and all the time I had to think certainly will. So I encourage you to find time to come and visit the greenhouse for yourself. Take a peek at the plants coming up (and maybe appreciate the lack of weeds as much as I do)! It’s set apart and peaceful, so it’s a nice, quiet place to think. Maybe you’ll even have some greenhouse revelations yourself! The greenhouse is a special place. It’s just one of the many things that make Andes, as a town and as a school, so wonderful.
~ Serena Bacon
Singing in the Rain
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
~ Berthold Auerbach
It was my last day of work for the week, and there I was, working alone in the greenhouse. Now, don’t get me wrong, being alone in the garden is very peaceful and actually quite enjoyable if you’re someone like me who enjoys the quiet. It’s set apart from all the business of town and the school, so it was just me and the plants. Unfortunately, the weeding I was doing was not the more active and satisfying weeding of big, tough weeds that ends in a beautifully empty bed. It was picking out tiny little weed sprouts from between the rows of lettuce and kale. About half an hour in, I have to admit that I was staring down into the soil wondering if those miniscule weeds would really do that much damage. Also, despite my optimism about the rain being gone for now, it was steadily sprinkling. But, I knew that those weeds needed to go if our plants were going to grow well. Still, I needed something to break the monotony. So I started to sing.
At first, I was worried that the lifeguards at the pool would hear me. Or maybe one of the people working at the school would drive out on the lawn mower and see my lips moving with no one around. I didn’t want to be seen as the crazy girl who sings to the plants. But the thing was, I didn’t really want to stop singing. It made the time pass quicker and kept me from focusing on all the little sprouts that I had yet to pull up. Music has a way of doing that. It lifts your spirits and brightens your outlook. That’s why it’s been referred to so many times as medicine, or a universal language, or even something magical. Music is good for you, and you know what? So is not being overly concerned about what everyone else thinks of you. Singing to myself alone in the garden made me happy. It refocused me and made me enjoy the work instead of dreading it. So I sang every song that happened to come into my mind, and those two hours passed by quite enjoyably. And I would encourage you to do the same. Go ahead and sing in your garden, regardless of who might hear. Chances are, you’ll enjoy it… and I’m sure the plants will appreciate a few songs too.
~ Serena Bacon
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In case you’ve somehow missed it, we’ve had a lot of rain recently. Although I knew the rain was good for the plants in the greenhouse, I was not pleased with the amount of water coming out of the sky. Especially since I went out to weed in what I thought would be a window of clear skies, only to get rained on as soon as I made it out to the garden. It’s kind of a long walk back inside when the rain is coming down harder and harder as you go. The next day, I was ready for the rain. I brought my raincoat and resolved to put my hours in at the greenhouse, rain or no rain. Of course, it rained. But underneath my raincoat, I was dry (sort of) and able to continue weeding. Every plant I pulled up sent little bits of dirt flying up to stick to my semi-wet face, and the green on my gloves was barely visible through the mud, but it was better than doing nothing.
As I’ve said before, weeding gives you plenty of time to think. So I thought about the metaphoric kind of rain. We’ve all had rainy periods in life… times when you can’t seem to do what you need or want to do, when the outlook is dreary and bleak. Sometimes those rainy periods mean you get wet and weighed down by the rain, or you have to dig your hands down in the muck. Sometimes, all your accomplishments during those rainy times amount to grit under your fingernails and mud splattered on every inch of exposed skin. No matter how wonderful and waterproof your raincoat is, you can’t completely escape the rain. Not unless you stay inside and decide to just not even try, which, if you really want to get anywhere in life, isn’t an option.
There is good news, though. Just like the rain this past week or so was good for the plants, our metaphoric rainy patches of life are good for our growth. Real, positive growth doesn’t often happen when everything is sunny and there’s nothing to struggle with. It’s when you’re outside with your hood pulled up and there’s nothing to hear but the raindrops pounding away that you have to focus on what’s right in front of you and decide what you’re going to do about it. That’s when you determine just how hard you’re willing to work to get what you want. That’s when you grow. So the rain is good, even if it seems dark and disheartening in the moment. And if you don’t believe me… well, just head out to the garden and take a look at all the beautiful greenery coming up there.
~ Serena Bacon
“From the necks up... well, whoever said two heads are better than one never met a hydra.”
~ Tera Lynn Childs, Sweet Venom
In Ancient Greek mythology, the Hydra was a serpent-like monster with many heads. Here’s the real issue, though: every time one head was cut off, two more grew back in its place. According to the myths, the monster was slain after much struggle and strategizing by Hercules. Over the years, the meaning of the word has evolved and broadened, so hydra (uncapitalized) means, “a multifarious evil not to be overcome by a single effort” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the Hydra of the Andes Community Greenhouse. It’s called quackgrass.
Don’t let the somewhat comical name fool you… this plant is straight from the depths of Hades. The parts of quackgrass that are above ground look like slender, relatively fragile shoots of green grass. But underneath the surface, there is an unbelievably frustrating network of roots. The roots run along under the surface of the soil with multiple shoots of grass growing out of each root. Some gardeners try to kill it by roto-tilling the soil, but, as I learned this week, that is a terrible mistake. Roto-tilling only chops the roots into smaller pieces, allowing each segment to grow a whole new plant. Seeing the connection to our mythological friend the Hydra yet?
I’ve spent more time than I care to think about pulling up quackgrass this week. No matter how much I pull up, there seems to always be more. But rushing through it isn’t an option. Each plant must be carefully and deliberately pulled up, keeping the whole length of the root in one piece… unless you want to be pulling up more quackgrass for the rest of eternity. And so I kneel at the edge of the garden beds, tugging on a slender root with painstaking persistence, hoping that it will just let go already and come out whole. Next to me lies a pile of lengths of quackgrass roots… a pile that hopefully foreshadows a weed-free bed. Although it’s tedious work, I have to admit that pulling out a particularly long section of root without breaking it is immensely satisfying and brings a sense of accomplishment (or perhaps I’ve just been spending too much time around weeds). As of today, I am happy to say that I’m winning the battle against the quackgrass… at least until I come back next week and discover all of the plants that I missed.
~ Serena Bacon
Sowing and Reaping
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson
There is nothing to harvest in the greenhouse yet. In fact, there won’t be any substantial harvest until the summer is past and I’m away at college. But, we do have seeds planted. Last week, we planted lettuce and kale seeds. This week, we planted broccoli, cucumbers, and more kale. There’s nothing to show for that work yet, except tiny little sprouts in the beds planted last week.
I was thinking this week, though, (there’s a lot of time for that while you’re weeding) that planting seeds and helping them grow has some connections to life outside of the garden. And it goes beyond the obvious life cycle parallels. I was always told that any nice things I did were seeds planted in people’s hearts. Seeds of encouragement. Seeds of hope. Maybe just a seed of a thought that in today’s troubled world, people are still capable of showing kindness. Those seeds rarely ever produce something immediately. They require patience and persistence. You may only plant the seed, and another person may water it, and still another person may be the one to experience the harvest. But, nothing can grow without a seed. So every act of kindness, no matter how small, is important. It may take years to produce a harvest, but eventually, it will. Just like the seeds in the greenhouse will grow into full plants and produce food to be used in the ACS cafeteria, the seeds of kindness that we plant every day will grow and produce their own harvest. In both cases, it’s well worth the wait.
~ Serena Bacon
Serena Bacon (L) and Harli Mahon (R) reclaiming garden beds from a sea of weeds. Both teens are working in the garden
this summer through the CDO Workforce Summer Youth Employee Program.
“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus.”
~ Helen Hanson
I’ve been putting in quite a bit of hard work in the ACS greenhouse since I started working there. Working through the heat weeding, refilling beds, and watering. Coming home covered in dirt and sweat. It’s not exactly what I would call pleasant (or attractive). But, you know what I would call it? Inspiring.
My first day at the greenhouse, I was met with a list of tasks to be done this summer and the sight of garden beds overrun with weeds. I was not feeling incredibly confident or excited about the outcome of my time working there, but I started weeding anyways. And then my perspective changed. Little by little, I began to see more soil peeking through the weeds. Before I knew it, the entire bed was clear and I saw the results of my hard work. Looking around, I could see my fellow greenhouse teammates making similar progress. Although we were all tired and hot, it was well worth it to see the first few beds emerge from the tangle of weeds. And that was only the first day.
Since then, we’ve weeded almost all the beds in the greenhouse and started weeding some of the beds outside. We’ve added compost to a few weeded beds and planted lettuce and kale. The view has improved considerably since that first day, and, I’m happy to say, so has my perspective. I am truly inspired - both by the progress we’ve made and by the dedication of the people I work with. I’ve always been a hard worker, but I’ve found that I work even harder when I have the opportunity to work alongside other hard workers and see just how much we’ve accomplished every day.
~ Serena Bacon