Late last spring, my husband and I created a raised bed garden. We filled a wood frame with fresh dark soil, stirred in bags of rich manure and mulch such as coffee grounds, grass clippings, and egg shells. We planted tomatoes, onions, herbs, squash, and flowers. We watered faithfully every day and kept the ground free of weeds.
In early June, the wildfire season started with a bang. Lightening started wildfires spread all over northern California and the smoke ominously snaked over the Sierra mountain range and settled in our valley. Smoke permeated everything. It seeped through the cracked open windows and into our homes. It was hard to breath. We felt suffocated by the heavy air and depressed by the prolonged exposure to haze and ashes. That annoying group of people who are optimistic in the most challenging of situations stated that sunrises and sunsets were more spectacular during those weeks of dark and greasy smoke. Pessimists such as I were not as perky. "This cannot be good for our health", I mumbled in despair. The fires started in June and lasted well into the last weeks of July.
Meanwhile, back in the garden, my tomatoes just didn't seem to take off. They stayed green and hard. The basil remained a stunted plant, and the squash plants bloomed half-heartedly but didn't produce fruit. I scratched my head, knowing that I nourished the soil and watered often. During harvest season, we picked a few tomatoes here and there, managed a good pesto sauce now and then, and didn't expect a thing from the squash plants. I had never had such a dismal garden in my life.
In early September, our school traveled to a large farm for a field trip. The students studied plant cycles, fed chickens, and were allowed to pick produce, including fresh red raspberries. The tour guide said something that stuck in my mind. She stated that the raspberried had ripened a good couple of weeks later than anticipated. When I asked about her theory for the delay, she answered that the farm crew determined it was due to the smoke that hung around for half of the summer. All of a sudden everything about my garden made sense! I provided everything that my garden needed for growth. I provided good soil, lots of water, mulch, loving care, but I could not provide what the garden needed most of all to thrive. I could not provide the sun. My plants were duped by a smokescreen. The smoke slid in and stole life from plants which would never grow to full maturity as a result. I might as well have purchased Emerill's tomatoes instead. So, will I attempt a garden next year? Of course! In some things in life, it pays to be an optimist.