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The Wild Garden

Think of the typical picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are lounging around somewhere, conveniently behind some foliage. They are enjoying the uncorrupted paradise of Eden watching the leaves and plants whirl in the wind. They do not seem to have a care in the world. They simply sit back, petting some of the plentiful animals around them in this wonderful wilderness.

Wilderness? Why is it portrayed as a wilderness? It was the Garden of Eden. “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8 ESV) And why are they not working? After all the Bible says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15 ESV) This manner of portraying paradise as a jungle and sinless Adam and Eve as leisurely consumers has much to say about the way our culture understands work.

Our culture has been influenced by a humanism that does not want to be constrained by the Law of God, and instead wants to be autonomous and unrestrained. In general it sees unkept nature as a paradise that has been uncorrupted by the law, order, and civilization of mankind. The innocent, the natural, and the wild are sought out as supposed remnants of our original harmony with the environment. As Ralph W. Emerson said, “Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise.” In art we see a pattern of nakedness and naturalism starting with the Greeks and Romans, and being carried along and modified by the Renaissance, the Romantics and Transcendentalists of the 1800s, and the Hippies of the 1960s. These various philosophies have influenced our own culture where a kind of pantheistic environmentalism has found its way in.

This is contrary to a biblical understanding of work and dominion. When God created man, He created him to work and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Man cannot escape his responsibility to exercise dominion over the earth. He will either use it in a wrong way, by abusing it or by ignoring it, or he will use it in a right and godly way. Because man is now corrupted and evil, his dominion is corrupted and evil as well. Thus we are to be cautions with the productions of men. This corruption of man is what makes the glorification of wilderness so appealing, as it does have a ring of truth. But becoming one with nature in noble barbarism is not the way to solve this problem. Nature has also been cursed and put into bondage to corruption. To exercise a right relation with our surroundings, we need a right relation with the Creator of those surroundings, and as redeemed Christians we are enabled to fulfill this dominion mandate by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Our personal redemption and relationship with God flows out into the renewal of our relationships throughout life with both humans and the natural environment. While we should be humble, as we are still sinners and are dealing with God’s creation, we ought to work for ways to put creation into order and improved productivity.

A good picture of Eden would be where Adam and Eve work to learn about their surroundings, to order them, to make them produce, and to create a civilization. You would see crops planted, fruit trees being pruned, and boats being built for transportation. Perhaps they could be building beds and furniture. They would have time for rest as well, and the work would be more enjoyable than it is in our sin-corrupted world, but working would play an essential part in their life.

A lot more can be said on the subject of dominion and proper stewardship. But without going into the ditch of industrialism and materialism, we should not see primitivism and wildness as the perfect ideal. May we remember this when we are working in our own gardens, farms, or wherever we work. We are fulfilling part of our God given role when we work and take care of His world. The land will be blessed with good produce (and good food) when we work the right way to make it produce. May we remember to regard work as a blessing whereby we worship God and carefully keep His garden, making it even more productive and beautiful.

 

If you liked this post, you may be interested in the 3-part series reviewing Joel Salatin’s speech on Food and Christian Credibility.

Winter Greenhouse Gardening – Planning and Resources

Eliot Coleman's greenhouse

Yes, it is that awful time of year when we step out after the first hard frost and see the tomato vines and other susceptible plants all dark green and shriveled under a crystalline layer of new frost.  Winter has begun the slow occupation of our gardens, and we have nothing to look forward to but our canned vegetables and the beautiful pictures of growing plants in the seed catalogues.

Maybe.  I recently had the fortune (misfortune due to the amount of work I went through?) of coming across a Craigslist find of an attached greenhouse.  The overly wealthy purchaser of a home did not like the attached greenhouse, with all of it’s automatic fans and heater and posted it for a song on Craigslist.  I just happened to call, and after paying less than 1/10th the retail price, and subsequently drilling out 100 or so rivets over 2 days, it is sitting in my yard unassembled, but marked and ready for installation.  It was relatively new, so I could order the few new parts I needed from the manufacturer. 

This was a very blessed find, but after thinking about it, this small greenhouse would be great for starting seedlings, and if I really worked at it, I might be able to grow enough vegetables for a couple weeks of food for our family of 4, but only after spending a small fortune to heat it throughout the coldest days of the winter and maybe even using some supplemental lighting.

I realized the best option for this greenhouse is to use it to start my heat-loving plants early in the season, growing heirloom, non-GMO plants from seed, and thereby avoid the big box chains for my young plants for next year’s garden.  Still, it was not a bad investment overall.  I plan to start my seeds, and possibly work with some local friends by supplying them with heirloom seedlings in pots they can not get anywhere else for next year’s gardens.

But what about actual fresh vegetables in the winter?  For that, we need to reference the amazing work The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.  Coleman lives in Maine.  He uses unheated greenhouses.  In the winter.   He grows an amazing collection of vegetables.  The only veggies he really avoids are heat lovers like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.  Oh, and he does not mention it in the book as far as I’ve read, but in a closed greenhouse, you have to pollinate those by hand, with a paintbrush. 

Here is how his system works:  You pick your veggies appropriately (a lot more are available than you think).  A single coat of greenhouse plastic and the thinnest row covers.  By adding a covering of plastic over your hoop house, you move your zone 1.5 zones to the south.  By adding a row cover, you add another 1.5 zones.  That means in my area of Virginia, I can grow whatever they are growing in Florida or California during the winter.

Eliot Coleman's greenhouse with row covers

The row covers float over your veggies and allows the sunlight to pass through to the plants and soil.  At night, moisture condenses on the under side of the row covers reflecting the long wavelength heat radiation coming up from the soil and bouncing it back down.  No double walled plastic over your hoop house, no constant fans to keep the layers separate, and no supplemental heat.  The other “ah ha” moment this book suggested was that a cold winter greenhouse is not really for starting the harvest, but extending it.  Additionally, there was a time when this Maine greenhouse setup did more business in the winter than in the summer; not only in volume, but also probably from lack of competition.  More pictures and information can be found on his Four Seasons Farm website.

This is not a book review blog really, so let's get back to our self-sufficient family application.  You have a couple ways to look at this.  You can use it to produce food for your family and then additional food to sell / barter.  The greenhouse can remain and be used to start your heat loving vegetables, and then the plastic removed when it starts getting hot enough to sustain them.  You can then add the plastic back at the end of the growing season to maintain those peppers and tomatoes for a couple more weeks.   The hoops can be used to hang strings to keep your tomatoes and other vines vertical.  You can even wrap the base with chicken wire if you need to keep out certain pests.

Locally, Coleman sells a significant amount of cut and come again vegetables throughout the winter – spinach and lettuces, in addition to other veggies.  Using this setup, you could technically have a winter farmer’s market.  Your local restaurants could use your produce to continue to advertise that they use locally sourced vegetables (where do you think they normally get salad lettuce in the middle of winter?)  Apparently, winter-grown vegetables taste better.  Real or perceived, it was Coleman’s consistent feedback.

As soon as I finish my current attached greenhouse project, I’m going to look at erecting my hoophouse.   To get started, first look at www.craigslist.org or www.searchtempest.com to search your area for used greenhouses.  If there is nothing available, or you want to customize your options, you can check out Build It Solar's Sunspaces page for lots of resources, many of which are free.  In considering short and long term expenses and usability, my personal favorite was the bender on Lost Creek's website.  This site sells very affordable bending jigs to use chain link fence pipes as the frame for hoop houses.  Several folks have also used this bender to build semi-permanent outbuildings as well (check out the customer gallery).

My last thought was on the plastic.  Usually, regular polyethelyne plastic is not recommended for greenhouses due to its lack of UV protection.  However, I wonder if  used only for winter, would it last for more than one season?  Maybe.  However, I saw some pretty conservative prices on greenhouse plastic on Ebay.   Your best money spent though is on Coleman’s book.  It’s an easy read, well documented with the science behind his suggestions.  It contains lists of vegetables, planting times to maturity based on your zone and type of cold greenhouse, and lots of supplemental information.  Bon appétit!


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