Cut it Down

By MK Martin

Life. For humans, it’s full of lessons. In every life, a little rain must fall. The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. To grow, you must be cut down to size. You would think, with lessons like these, all humans would resonate with the plant life around us. Our folk words are their commandments. The truest, most barbaric and most necessary, is that of the cutting.

If you want bunchy blackcurrants, the wafting, floral scent of sun warmed raspberries in summer and fall, blackberry stained fingers and faces and shirts, gruesome with nutrition, you’ve got to cut those plants down to the quick. This counts too, for roses, if you like to line your shelves with ruby kissed shotglasses of vitamin C and sugar.

So, you’ve put in a few raspberry canes, and they shocked you with fruit on your first try. If they are summer bearing, your only job is to mow them down to the quick. Doing so will allow light and air to move through the plant, stimulating its growth. To minimize your raspberries taking over the world, as they ought, bury some wood planks under the dirt, in the space you’d like them to occupy.

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Blackberry bushes require a little more attention to achieve robust growth, but the steps are easy to remember after the first year: prune once, to encourage growth, and then again in fall. In spring, once the snow has melted at least once and exposed slumbering dandelions to sun, cut your canes to 24 inches. If smaller than that, just cut the first inch or so of each cane. Remove any diseased or dead canes. After fruiting, blackberry canes are spent. Cut any canes down to the ground that have fruited, and it will encourage the plant to send up more canes next year.

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We inherited a dog rose with our house, and it produces tart little blushing globes easily, ever year. I pruned it for the first time last year, being previously unaware that gardening requires a little savagery. With this rose bush, you can cut the whole thing down in spring, after enjoying its thorny stalks and a few left behind hips, in winter. There’s an old saying, ‘prune your roses when the forsythia bloom’. Forsythia is a flowering shrub, that flowers before pretty much anything else. You can loosely translate the adage to whatever first true signs of spring come your way. This could be when the robins return, when the redbuds bud, when the snowdrops slowly uncurl. Either way, do it before it gets too warm.

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To decapitate your fruit-bearing friends, you’ll want to invest in a strong pair of gardening gloves. I’ve tried a number of branded gardening gloves over the years, but the best I’ve found for most tasks is a small, streamlined work glove. They can be found at hardware stores in a variety of styles and are far more durable than traditional gloves.

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Once you’ve got your gloves on, you can wield your shears. Choose a pair of hand held ‘secateurs’, which will have an extremely sharp, curved edge and matching top shear. Make sure you can close the ones you choose easily.
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“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”

– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery

Cherishing Food as Sacred

By Catherine Winter

How diligent are you about not letting any food go to waste? Do you find yourself throwing out wilted greens or furry fruit on a regular basis? Or letting leftovers go bad at the back of the fridge because you didn’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row? If you have, you’re not alone. Most of us have allowed this to happen on more than one occasion, and although we might have felt a pang of guilt, we may not have felt the solid gut-kick of irresponsibility and remorse that we should have felt at the time.

Why is that? Well, it’s likely because the average person is so far removed from the process of growing food from seed to harvest that they really aren’t capable of appreciating just how much work goes into growing everything they buy. They don’t consider how soil (black gold, really) is made from organic matter breaking down, and how the nutrients in that soil are sucked up by little seeds to grow into edible plants.
They don’t think about the diligence needed to keep little seedlings alive with regular waterings, or how vital pollinators like bees and butterflies are in order for these plants to develop and go to seed.

Plums

Growing one’s own food cultivates an appreciation that just buying pre-packaged items at the grocery store doesn’t provide. It can’t. There’s too much of a disconnect between the plastic-wrapped, pre-made items bought at the supermarket and the plant or animal from which it originated. It’s not until a person has taken part in the process of coaxing life from a seed and nurturing it to maturity, or drawn an egg out from beneath a clucking hen, that they can really comprehend how sacred food really is, and how devastating it is to let any of it go to waste, ever.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer touches upon the “Honourable Harvest”: the idea of only taking what is given (and not more than what is needed), to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate it in kind. When we pick wild berries, we only take our share, and leave the rest for our forest cousins. Similarly, when we purchase food from the grocery store, we should ensure that we’re not depleting the shelves for our own selfish whims, but leave enough for others. When we harvest items from our garden, we need to make sure that we let a portion go to seed: both so we can re-sow the following year, and to allow wild creatures to take their fair share as well, in exchange for having helped to pollinate and fertilise our gardens.

Children Gardening

There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that occurs when one takes an active role in cultivating and raising food, and the awareness that food is a gift, and not to be taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get children involved in food gardening from a very young age: if reverence is nurtured from day one, they’re far less likely to be wasteful and irresponsible about food later in life. Hell, they might even become avid gardeners themselves, but we can only hope and pray that’ll happen.

It’s time that we re-learn what it is to treat our food as sacred, and revere it as such; to take a moment before eating to acknowledge all the work that was poured into growing every morsel on our plates, and have sincere appreciation for the sun, soil, rain, and toil required to feed us. It is with these small gestures that we can start to move beyond our consumerist leanings and connect more deeply with the world around us, and the life-sustaining gifts that we receive from it.