By Fatima Roohi Pervaiz
Gardening is about learning.
This last summer was hard on me, physically, spiritually and in my career. And my 91 tomato plants lacked the nitrogen they needed to produce as bountifully as way they had the summer before.
In my anti-oppression and social justice work, I teach about privilege daily. Privilege is a headache that you don’t know that you don’t have. I didn’t know that my garden bed was so fruitful the year before because the soil had not been utilized in over two years. It was dense with nutrients from decomposing leaves, weeds, grass, mulch, etc. It produced insurmountable harvests for a first time full-time urban farmer.
Days in the garden with my small dog Oatis Maple-Walnut were everything. I learned that the occupational hazards include: spiders in your hair, the inevitable bee sting, and mystery itches, scratches and bruises. However, you learn to partner and coexist with spiders, bees and even worms. You want them to have the best life. You pack them a lunch and send them off to school.
You even become intoxicated by the possibilities. You see seed packets are on sale, and you buy 40 of them at Rite Aid, and even when the cash register won’t ring them up at 75% off like they are advertised, you apologize profusely and wait patiently as the cashier manually deducts the discount from every packet. But you don’t abandon a single packet because one day you will have a half whiskey barrel full of zinnias. Maybe tomorrow.
But this year, it was colder and summer started later. I was working full-time as the Director of the Women’s Center and could only water my plants when I got home in the evening. I could also only tend to pruning and other care on the weekends. My chronic pain didn’t help and had me in bed on some of the sunniest summer days.
I also went out of control and bought 91 tomato plants because I didn’t think crop rotation was important (it is). I miscounted and thought I had 57 plants, but still, 91? OMG. Also, I bought them way too early. We spent two months bringing them outside during sunny spring days and back indoors at night when temperatures plummeted.
I also ONLY planted tomatoes in the bed. Last year I had: 24 tomato plants, four strawberry plants, 10 banana pepper plants, two cucumber plants (wildly productive), and four bell pepper plants; pollination utopia. I would sit and watch the bees as they visited the cucumber owers the most.
Except, the bees were scarce this year. I decided to plant zucchini on top of a hill next to two hydrangea plants which, surprisingly, I’ve never seen bees near before. The zucchini plant offered huge yellow owers to the earth--yet not a single zucchini to be found.
I made the decision to not have them near the bees. I made the decision to not invite the bees. I was too busy nurturing my Feminist Hive at the Women’s Center. I didn’t nurture my garden bees at home.
It took six full days off work to realize that the lesson of this year’s garden is: balance. This includes work/life balance, ecological balance and radical love for my garden along with radical self-care for me in mind, body, spirit.
As summer began to fade and the days got shorter and chillier, my small dog Oatis Maple-Walnut and I welcomed his little sister Huckleberry Blue to our urban farming lifestyle. We visited a community garden where we lled our pockets to the seams with tomatoes, made peace with our mistakes and got ready to put our bed to sleep for the winter.