Roots and Shoots: Giving Thanks for the Harvest

By Pamela Doan

It’s a time for feasting and in cultures around the world, a time for giving thanks for the harvest. In that spirit, I asked a few gardeners what they were thankful for this season. Here’s what they said:

I am thankful for the worms in the garden. — Rich Dunne

I am thankful for the bounty of organically grown vegetables right outside my door. — Zshawn Sullivan Smith

I am thankful for the amazingly stalwart epimedium and helleborus, and the lovely flowers they give me. — Marjorie Shaner

Friends who share their perennial divisions. A garden legacy. — Jennifer Stengle

A great tomato season. — MJ Muggins

The awesome feeling of peace I get when I have my hands in the soil. — Dianne Olsen

What I love about these call-outs for appreciation are the bigger implications for the environment. Worms, for example, aerate the soil and move subsoil up into the topsoil. They can only live in soil that has nutrients, moisture and oxygen, though, so the soil must have been amended with organic matter to create a suitable habitat. Worms are good for plants and plants are good for worms; that’s balance.

Smith’s organically grown vegetables have multiple benefits, too, not just for her and the lucky folks she might share them with. Her growing methods support soil health, don’t require potentially hazardous chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and are more sustainable during extreme weather conditions like drought or heavy downpours.

Giving thanks for a plentiful harvest (File photo)

Giving thanks for a plentiful harvest (File photo)

Vegetables don’t get all the glory in the garden, though. Flowers, like the hardy and beautiful varieties that Shaner mentions, enrich our world and provide habitat and food for birds, insects and animals. Make those flowers native plants and be confident that your plant isn’t going to cause any consequences that you don’t intend.

Olsen’s point about the way that time slows down and stress falls away when your hands are in the soil has been supported by research. Studies show that gardening reduces stress and leads to better mental health overall, even improving symptoms of depression. Physically, gardening counts as exercise, too, keeping us limber, getting the blood pumping and moving us out into the sunshine and fresh air. The more garden tasks that you do manually bump up that boost, so leave the polluting gas-engine powered tools in the garage and live longer.

Sometimes gardening feels like it’s about luck, too. Luck pertains to weather, pests, decent growing conditions, and opportunity, like friends who share their perennials. I’m thankful for a lucky year with my efforts (except for that viburnum leaf beetle, that was very bad luck).

I’m thankful that my seedling trees grew bigger; the deer left my perennials alone until the end of the season; and my tomatoes came through without blight or pests. I was fortunate to have conservation measures like a rain barrel setup when we didn’t have rain for weeks and weeks.

I’m thankful for all the support and learning experiences I had this year; even writing this column gives me a reason to research and experiment more as a way to give myself new material.

As I’ve admitted, this year there wasn’t much of a garden and my family enjoyed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership, instead. Until we figure out a plan to clear some timber and open up the garden to get more sunlight, not much is going to grow. In the meantime, I trudged into the fields at Fishkill Farms and picked fruit and vegetables every week and took note of their techniques. I’d never seen tomatoes planted so thickly. That black plastic mulch made a big difference in keeping weeds down and moisture in. I always find ideas and inspiration in other people’s gardens and their operation didn’t cut any corners.

The more I learn about the natural world, the more concerned I become for our rapidly changing planet and conserving the resources we have left. The choices we make in our yards every day matter.

As the holiday season is upon us and moments spent with hands in the soil dwindle until spring, noting gratitude for the harvest, whatever that means personally, keeps us aware of what lies under that layer of snow and awaits the sun’s warmth again.

Thankful to live here, yes, and thankful for gardeners who share the sentiment. Climate change is bringing new challenges and making friends with the soil is our only choice.

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