Welcome to the Steward’s Garden

     The Steward’s Garden seeks to equip Believers (and any who are interested) with the knowledge and tools necessary to carry out what was Mankind’s original mission, to work in and take care of Creation (Genesis 2:15). In fact, Man’s work was (and still is) so integral to God’s plan for the earth that trees and shrubs did not reproduce until man was placed in the garden. (A comparison of Genesis 1:11-13 and Genesis 2:4-15 indicates that the initial trees, shrubs, and plants that God created were fully mature, but none had naturally reproduced because He wanted Man to play a role cultivation). What a noble calling!
     When Man chose himself over God, however (Genesis 3), our mandate quickly became more toilsome. (Yes, we have Adam to thank for weeds, powdery mildew, and aphids). The toil now associated with our first task has not necessarily deprived it of all its pleasure, however. Ask anyone who gardens and they’ll tell you that sweet peas off the vine, a carrot right from the ground, or a bowl full of ripe cherry tomatoes is worth every minute of toil.
     Why is that? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, gardening is one of the few activities in modern times that still offers a tangible (and tasty) reward for work. Which is more rewarding, sitting at a computer for eight hours responding to faceless emails, or spending a few hours in the garden to reap a harvest that feeds your family and neighbors? More than this tangible reward, however, I believe that we derive pleasure from the toil of gardening because we innately know it is why we were created.
     Now, as strange as it may seem to us, some people hate to work in the garden! (I know, crazy, right?). They hate the smell and feel of dirt, they hate pulling weeds, dealing with bugs, and sweating in the summer sun. Does that mean that these folks aren’t fulfilling their Divine purpose? Nope. Notice I said “hate to work in the garden.” It’s not gardening (our first, pre-sin task) they hate, it’s the work (post-sin effect) associated with it. I would argue (though I have no proof) that everyone derives pleasure from a garden, whether it’s working in one or enjoy its fruits. Even the most ardent anti-garden activist out there (I guess that’s a thing) would be hard-pressed not to find a dahlia beautiful or a fresh picked peach the most delicious summer treat.
     So what’s the point to all this? Is everyone supposed to quit their job and start homesteading? What about people in urban areas? How are they supposed to garden? While homesteading and urban gardening will be the subjects of future posts, suffice it say, for the time being, that I’m  not advocating for an all-in homesteader mentality here. For some people that may work, but for the vast majority of us, it’s just not an option. What I am saying, is that if God has entrusted you with even a little land (or even a few pots), you have a responsibility to make the most of it and I hope that this site will serve as a means to help you take care of your patch of Creation.

Gardeners Giving Back

Gardeners are a special breed. We like dirt, being dirty, working hard, and are fascinated by things that most folks wouldn’t even notice. I think it’s also fair to say that gardeners are a pretty generous bunch; always eager to share spare bulbs or divisions or the excesses of a bountiful harvest.

As a gardener and a Christian, I was thrilled when I came across a unique opportunity to give back through Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is headed by Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son) and its stated mission is to “provide spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world,” in the name of Jesus Christ. The manner in which SP accomplishes this task is exciting, I think. Instead of simply writing a check to the organization for it to distribute as it sees fit, SP has developed a giving catalog, in which donors can choose to donate to various projects or causes that it oversees. Imagine my joy when I discovered that some of these projects fall under the category of “Animals and Agriculture.”

That’s right, SP allows you to donate to projects ranging from beekeeping to buying draft animals. Other items include fishing boats, fruit trees, and training, tools, and equipment. For a complete list of items check out this link. You can also view some videos about this particular aspect of SP’s ministry here.

A secular organization, called Heifer International, does something similar. Founded by Dan West, a member of the Church of the Brethren, Heifer International seeks to “turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity.” In essence, Heifer’s model is based on the “teach a man to fish” principle, in which people in poor regions receive the donations, along with training, with the expectation that they will pass along the resources and knowledge they have received.

Like Samaritan’s Purse, Heifer utilizes a catalog model for its donations. Donors can give to projects that include providing goats or water buffaloes to those that encourage sustainable farming. For a full list of donation items, click here.

In sum, both Samaritan’s Purse and Heifer International offer some great opportunities for steward gardeners to give back. While I think Heifer International has good options and it clearly seeks to address some of the same physical needs as Samaritan’s Purse, it fails to address deeper spiritual needs; namely, the need for a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ. For that reason, I’ll be sticking with Samaritan’s Purse.

Are you aware of any similar causes? Let me know!

Add Some Color to Your Garden

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Iris and Blue Bells

This year I’ve decided to try some flowers in my vegetable garden. Why not? While I usually include some marigolds here and there to add a bit of color to an otherwise green palette, I’ll be trying a few other varieties this time around; Cosmos, Calendula, Bachelor’s Buttons, and Zinnias (all from Ferry-Morse).

Aside from adding interest to the vegetable garden, some flowers are excellent for attracting beneficial insects and pollinators. Pollinators (like bees) are essential for the development of fruit in zucchini, squash, and cucumbers. And who wouldn’t like some help in fending off Aphids, Mexican Bean Beetles, and Colorado Potato Beetles?

I’m also hoping to use this experiment to get some experience with cut flowers. Why only harvest fruits and veggies? Wouldn’t it be nice to bring some of the outdoors in, and fill your home with fresh, summer flowers, without having to pay an arm and a leg? (This should also go over well with the missus).

The varieties that I chose are considered beginner-friendly, I think. They can be direct sown outdoors at about the same time you would sow zucchini, squash, and cucumbers or transplant tomatoes and peppers. All, but the Cosmos (which will about 36″), should be about 12-24″ at maturity, so they probably won’t need much additional support. I don’t anticipate many major problems with these, aside from possible foliar diseases, if moisture isn’t properly controlled.

Growing these flowers is just the beginning, however. While you can simply leave them in the garden and enjoy them while you work, you can also harvest them for use in arrangements, but there are a few things to consider:

1.) Each flower has an ideal harvest time. Some should be harvested at the bud stage, while others should be harvested just before they fully open.

2.) Flowers should be cut early in the morning or in late afternoon/evening and immediately placed in a bucket of warm water.

3.) After you bring them inside, re-cut the stems at an angle, under water, and add some floral preservative. Let them sit and soak up the mixture for a while before arranging them.

These are just the basics. If you want a more detailed guide to harvesting cut flowers, check out this article.

I’ll be providing some updates and pictures throughout the summer on this little project. Let me know if you decide to experiment with flowers this year and what your results are!

Warm Weather Winter

Things may be a bit different wherever you live in this great country of ours, but here, in central Virginia, it is unseasonably warm for the middle of February. While atypical temperatures are great for the heating bill and afford an opportunity to avoid cabin fever, a warm weather Winter can cause some problems and concerns for gardeners and fruit growers. So, here’s my advice:

1.) Get ready for Spring – While the weather’s nice, head out to the garden or flower beds and do some clean-up, pruning, and preparation. Were there any tasks that you didn’t finish in the Fall? Are there some tasks that you generally wait until the busy Spring season to tackle that you can work on now? This would also be a great time to prune trees and shrubs (which I did this weekend) and cut back any perennials you may have left go. Also, while it’s generally best to amend soils in the Fall, you may take advantage of this time to work some organic matter or compost into your beds.

2.) Experiment – Why not try planting some cool season crops? This weekend, I stuck a few kale seeds in the ground (Blue Scotch Curled from Baker Creek) just to see what will happen. It’s certainly warm enough, and looks like it will remain that way for the next couple of weeks. If nothing happens, I lose a few seeds. If they germinate, I may get an early season treat.

3.) Try not to fret – This may be harder for those of us who grow vegetables and fruits. If you check out my recent Instagram post, you’ll see that the flower buds on my Santa Rosa Plum look like their about ready to pop. While it’s nice to see (and smell) budding trees in late Winter, it’s basically every fruit grower’s nightmare. Those tender buds and flowers can easily be decimated by the next freeze, spelling the end of any tasty Summer fruit. In reality, for a small-scale grower, there’s not a lot that can be done, so try not to worry about it too much. (If anyone has some advice related to this topic, however, feel free to let me know).

4.) Enjoy it – I mean, how can you not enjoy 70 degree weather in the middle of February!?

There you have it. Let me know if you have any gardening activities that you like to do during warm winter spells.

Advice for Beginning Gardeners

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Developing Corn

So, you’ve decided to pick up the spade and take part in the steward’s mission of making the most out of the land and resources you’ve been given? Great, welcome to the movement!

Deciding to the take the step has probably already taken some major brain time, huh? Can I afford it? Do I have the time? What if I fail? What if I kill everything? (Don’t worry, these are questions that seasoned gardeners ask themselves every year). These thoughts definitely went through my mind when I first started, and to a certain extent, still do each season. If you think about them too much, you’ll likely talk yourself out of a garden and end up missing out on a fulfilling experience that allows you to play a role in being a steward. In fact, I would argue that those questions have more to do with the post-sin effect, not the pre-sin purpose, as we discussed in the first post.

The real question to ask goes something like this, “Which is better stewardship, mowing that 10′ X 10′ patch of grass in your backyard week in and week out, or turning that same space into a garden that provides food for your family and neighbors?”

If you’ve answered that the garden is a better stewardship choice, then you’ve made the right decision to start a garden! But, those nagging questions have some legitimacy, so let me see if I can offer some advice.

1.) Have a plan – Planning well can save a lot of time, effort, and money. For example, take some time to lay out your garden over the winter months. You can just sketch it out or even use an Excel spreadsheet, like I’m trying this year. Get to know the frost dates for your area (contact your local extension office, if you’re not sure) and the corresponding planting times for the crops you’ve chosen (usually, these are listed on the seed packets). Equally important is to have a plan for harvesting. What will you do if you have an abundant crop of zucchini or tomatoes? Will you freeze them? If so, do you have enough space in your freezer (speaking from experience here)? Will you can them, or give them away? Trust me, it’s disheartening (and I must admit, poor stewardship) to see pints of tomatoes and pounds of perfectly good zucchini go to waste.

2.) Start small – If you’ve caught the stewardship-through-gardening bug, then you probably have images of a sprawling, lush garden of vines and bushes laden with fruit racing through your mind. Trust me, there’s nothing to dampen the spirit of a beginning gardener like starting with an unreasonably large plot. If time and money are major concerns, start small.

3.) Don’t read too many books, articles, and blogs – What? Yep, that’s right. Research is a good thing, but I’ve found that too much research and knowledge becomes overwhelming and discouraging. Gardening is a learning process, and while it’s good to get some basic knowledge, it’s impossible to anticipate everything you may face in a growing season. Experience is the best teacher.

4.) Expect to fail – Sounds weird, right? But it’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from it (otherwise, it’s just insanity). Like I said in #3, gardening is a learning process. Trust me, something you plant will not perform well and may even die (there’s that post-sin thing, again). It just happens, and when it does, take some notes, do some research, ask around, and resolve to try again next year. In the words of the great Winston Churchill, “Never give up! Never give in!”

Well, there you have it. That’s my advice to beginning gardeners (and myself). I hope that these morsels of knowledge give you the confidence you need to start your journey as a steward.