Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Seed Exchange Garden

Yesterday was the first day of serious weeding in our Seed Exchange Garden, in its second year. The garden came to us through a gift of Pat Brodowski, the wonderful vegetable gardener of Monticello (her vegetables are full of wonder!). The seeds originate from the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, via Lewis and Clark scholar Clay Jenkinson, who has presented at Monticello during its Heritage Festival and who grows a garden of his own in the Dakotas. Virginia got North Dakotan seeds, and North Dakota got Monticello's seeds, and the seeds are spreading.

Pat also gave us a book to go along with the seeds: "Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden," an account of Hidatsa gardening. I read it once, before the garden, and once during. Having worked with the seeds, I understood the second reading much more, but want to go back for a third. The account went over my head the first time, and for the second my head had risen a I'm curious about what level I'm at now.

We have other seeds in the garden, besides the heritage Native American seeds. Last year we let tomatoes rot on the vine, and now we have many tomato volunteers. The Native American beans have also come up without our help, though we have since planted more. I was told to thin the ones that had already emerged. So far this hasn't happened. I am letting them grow up in a big clump together. They are flowering already.

The deer fence hasn't gone up yet, and we have our first deer tracks in the garden. I planted a seedling (not sure what it was...a gift from Monticello and I can't remember the herb, I think.) in one of the tracks, which I consider a sign of optimism. Besides, we are going to put up the fence soon. Last year we worried about mammals, but it was an insect that was our enemy: the squash borer worm.

A Girl Scout troop is partnering with us on the garden this year. They came and helped sprout and then plant seeds. So far we've had an elementary school class plant seeds, the Girl Scout troop, two Master Gardners from Arkansas, and the children of two families who visited us during open public hours. The garden is more randomly planted this year than it was last year, especially with the volunteer seeds.  Volunteer people and volunteer seeds have given us some surprises. The elementary school children spread out larger than I intended with the sunflowers seeds. Sunflowers may be everywhere within a month.

This year we enlarged the garden, pulling it longer with the tractor. Here is where I made my first mistake: I decided to plant it in rows going down the hill instead of going across like we did last year. I changed the pattern to better resemble the diagram in the book. The couple from Arkansas warned me after the fact that having rows running down the hill might cause runnels. After our heavy rains, there is now a runnel in the middle of the garden. Last year we didn't have the same heavy rains or a runnel. Now I'm thinking I can try to plant some horizontal rows at the top of the hill.

The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center is about the Rivanna River and about the Missouri, since we have three replicas of the boats that made it to the Mandan villages. Highlighting the agriculture that fed Lewis and Clark in the Mandan villages seems right, but it also leads to questions. Is planting Native American crops appropriation? Are we using it for our own gain in a negative way, or is it a way of knowledge, to understand Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara cultures? Are we imitating without full consciousness, or are we following in footsteps to understand them, or both?

The experience is derived, no matter what. We obviously do not have the same social context. Our lives are not dependent on the crops, or entwined with the crops. We are far from the original experience. But we are learning from the seeds, and from meeting their needs, and we can taste the crops, and recount the history of the seeds as we know it.

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