The law of harvest is to reap more than you sow. Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny. James Allen
Late autumn has me in the garden bringing in the last of the vegetable harvest, clearing out the profligate remains of annuals and the overflowing growth from perennials. I reap several garden carts of dried stalks, soggy leaves and sprawling roots. The tiny seedlings I planted became full spheres of blossoms and now return to the soil via my compost bin. This is the way of the universe–grow, mature, die and be reborn in the spring.
Take the zinnia. I plant seeds late spring–small, feathery, chaff-like seeds. I cover them with a smattering of soil, a row edging the vegetable patch. The seeds are so light that on a windy day they blow right out of my open hand. A third of a package is all I need for the street side of the garden. Delicate shoots pop up ten days later, coaxed into life by the moist, warm earth. When they reach four inches tall I thin them, leaving enough space between for each seedling to flourish. The extras I move to open spaces or share with neighbors. I plant bountifully since not all the seeds germinate. Planting season is no time to be stingy or fearful.
August and September see bright red, yellow, orange multi-petal blossoms attracting bees, butterflies and the eyes of passers-by. By now they are 40 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter, overflowing with 3 inch blossoms. I pick bouquets, filling my home with color. They keep blooming, encouraged by my enthusiastic picking, oriented toward abundance. The first freeze of October stops the action. Death is quick and complete. I pull out the dead stalks that are now entwined with sprawling volunteer tomato plants and vining cucumbers. The remains from my small handful of seeds fill six recycling boxes, overflowing the compost bin. I tear apart one of the mature blooms and find at the end of each petal a seed, numbering close to 100 per flower. Each plant must have borne 40 blossoms. That makes about 4,000 seeds from each seed that germinated. What an amazing return on such a small investment! Nature is eager to live, expand and fill the earth.
Not all seeds are as welcome and nurtured as my zinnia seeds. Morning Glories sprout each growing season from seeds of plants long banned from my garden. Elm seeds blow in to take root everywhere! Dandelions have no sense of shame and need no tending to thrive. I even have to curtail and cull my favorite plants less I fall victim to their aggressive expansion plans. Pruning is part of growing. No matter how splendid, too much is too much! I can hold unwelcome and aggressive cultivars at bay by keeping my lawn thick, my gardens well-boundaried and a weeding tool nearby.
As I reflect on the bounty of the late garden I wonder what else I sow–seeds of kindness, compassion, patience or seeds of criticism, discouragement and fear. Some are like my zinnia seeds, planted intentionally and encouraged to grow, yielding a great harvest. They are the seeds that grow into good habits–gratitude, faithfulness and honesty. Others are more like the dandelions– I carelessly toss them about and let the wind carry them where it will as they take root in unexpected places. Some of those seeds are like words that others echo back to me. I knew I needed to do a little word weeding when my 3-year-old daughter said, “I screwed that up!” It can be startling to hear our words volleyed back with just the right tempo and emphasis.
We are not only sowers, we are also the soil that accepts both random and intentional seeds. Which seeds do we want to grow and expand and encourage to fruition? Which do we deny the necessary nutrients to grow?
We just finished a very contentious election season. Seeds of fear, resentment and distrust were scattered far and wide. I took care to not let too many of those noxious seeds take root in my soil. At the same time I invited seeds of beauty, friendship and self-care. I did this by minimizing the amount of political frenzy I was willing to allow entry to my psyche. I balanced it with trusted friends, time for silence and nature’s splendor. I find pulling out those dead garden plants to be a cathartic way to fight seeds of cynicism.
Gardening gurus recommend I know my soil and climate as a first step to a healthy, sustainable garden. I test my soil pH to learn if it is acidic or alkaline. Then I select plants that grow easily or I adjust the soil to make it hospitable to the plant types I want to grow. I also need to know my hardiness zone.
My personal temperament is like my garden soil. If I am angry, resentful or short-tempered it will be hard for me to welcome gratitude, graciousness and understanding. My hardiness zone might reflect my resilience–do I foster relationships that help me withstand dry spells, cold snaps, wild storms. Like my soil, I can make adjustments to broaden my receptivity to a variety of feelings and educate myself on how to withstand the possibilities and probabilities of life’s challenges.
Each fall I take an inventory of the garden. What worked, what needs adjusting, what do I want to eliminate? I can do the same thing with other areas of my life. What new habits or attitudes do I want to nurture? What can I let die? How do I want to balance worry or resentment or fear? Where do I need to build better boundaries? What flourishes easily and what needs to be encouraged?
We are entering a fallow season with more time for quiet and reflection. Maybe it is a time to review the garden that we are growing. I reap what I sow. How is the harvest? What acts and habits will I be ready to sow come spring?
Mary Lou Logsdon provides Spiritual Direction and leads retreats in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Spiritual Direction training program at Sacred Ground, St Paul. She can be reached at logsdon. firstname.lastname@example.org