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King: Learning to love the weeds
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I’ve just discovered gardening!

It’s a little late in life because at my age, an hour of turning over dirt and pulling weeds requires several hours of recovery time. But each day, I take more and more delight in the good earth and all it has to offer.

I’m not exactly a city girl, but the New Jersey suburbs didn’t offer much hands-on farm experience. We had a lawn that required cutting now and then — my father’s job, and that was about it. During World War II, the community had a Victory Garden, but I don’t remember taking part in any digging and planting. In short, I knew vegetables grew in the ground, but kids don’t like vegetables very much so ... who cares?

When my husband and I moved to North Georgia, we planted a few tomato bushes and one or two squash plants. The bugs got ’em. Being older now, we liked vegetables well enough but I bought mine in the grocery store. Then things began to change.

There was more emphasis on organic food. Buying locally grown produce was encouraged for environmental reasons: less fuel used in transportation. Plants and animals adapted to the local soil and climate require less artificial pesticides and fertilizer.

Then came the realization that in an unsure world, people had best develop a degree of self-sufficiency. We need to relearn how to grow enough food to feed ourselves in an emergency. My daughter is a member of this generation, and she has taught herself now to grow and preserve all kinds of produce.

While her garden is impressive, her motivation is decidedly gloomy. And though she might produce enough potatoes, greens and okra to get by in a pinch, my garden wasn’t going to feed anybody for very long. In fact, when it comes to time, money, and energy it was and still is, a drain on our resources rather than a move toward sustainability.

Nevertheless, our garden grew in size. With the help of a young man in our community, I now have two levels of growing beds with enough cleared space between them to use a wheelbarrow or hand plow from either side.

I’ve grown okra and green beans, but my tomatoes, squash and almost everything else has been a bust. I planted potatoes; they were invaded by moles. I planted Knock Out roses, the kind everybody grows everywhere. The moles got them, too.

I planted castor bushes to fight the moles. Castor bushes have a very pretty reddish leaf but they’re poisonous. The moles simply kept their distance and continued tunneling. Eventually most of the space was given over to weeds.

I decided to appreciate the weeds for what they are; hearty, often colorful, and in some cases even edible. Black-eyed Susans can be counted upon to shoot up on their own, as can the Queen Anne’s Lace and daisies. Mint has spread everywhere and smells wonderful when trampled upon. Lamb’s quarters will thrive if given any encouragement at all. Cooked it makes a great substitute for spinach.

The clippings my young friend put in the ground are a mixed bag. He planted two very dead looking twigs at either end of the garden. He said there were raspberries. One has taken over and is producing berries and sending out new shoots. The other is puny and barren.

Then I made my big discovery: I enjoyed tending the weeds. Pull this; leave that. The clover is blooming. Leave it. I recognize the Daisies and Black-Eyed Susans when their leaves first appear. Leave them, but clear the area around them. Encourage the Lamb’s Quarters.

Each morning I hunt for ripe raspberries and eat them joyfully, thanking the earth, sun and soil for its bounty. It becomes a communion. I dig, and I sweat. My perspiration falls to the ground moistening the soil. I no longer expect anything. I’m at peace.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.

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