Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

The metaphor in the garden

There’s gotta be a metaphor here somewhere among the kale and cucumbers. The strawberry plants are ones I planted in the beginning of winter, and they limped along through the cold wet weather. Then, as soon as strawberry season passed, they started to grow. I left them in place, planting summer vegetables around them. A handful – not even a basket’s-worth – of perfectly-formed berries appeared, white seeded with tiny black dots. I’ve been going out every day to check, in anticipation of that first ultra-sweet bite of home-grown strawberry. Yesterday, the first one had turned a pale pink. This morning, as I turn the corner around the raised bed, I saw a hint of red.

own work

The strawberry thief covered his tracks (I assume it’s a “he”), leaving only a large bite-mark, nary a footprint or trace of fur. Sure, I’m mad. But what am I going to do about it?

The elderflowers I planted several years ago, on the other hand, to fill in a space near the back of the front garden, have become weeds. Sure, they shade the back room in summer and I’ve now spent hours picking flowers off stems to make fragrant elderflower syrup. But there are currently way more flower heads than I can ever use. And they’re crowding out the buddleia on one side and the louisa on the other. I cut them back every year and they grow back in late winter, larger than ever.

own work

My answer is to grow chilies. Try to bite them, they’ll bite back.

Everyone who knows me knows my chili garden has expanded from a few plants in a bathtub to plantings covering the length of the back. And chilis are what I share with others – both my love of chilis and the various chili vinegars and hot sauces that I sell to my fellow kibbutz members for the cost of the bottles. (I identify with so much I added a photo of them as background on my blog.) I’ve learned to love harif – in Hebrew, the word “spicy” has overtones of outspokenness or insolence – in all meanings of the word.

own work

My garden is only partly planned. But no matter how I plan, no matter how I tend it, weed and fertilize, some things will always be beyond my control. The tiny ecosystem will always evolve; some pests are not fazed by my organic sprays and the bees might prefer my neighbors’ flowers. If I plant strawberries, I do so in the belief I will eventually get edible fruit. The elderflowers were an experiment gone wild. And my chilis? I’m already counting the bottles I’ll need for this year’s first batch of hot sauce.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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