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The Cracker Barrel: Consider the broccoli

A healthy garden, bursting with nourishing foods, is a wonderful hedge against economic uncertainties. For the person wary of chemical additives, it is a source of clean, uncontaminated food. Tending a garden gives you lots of fresh air and exercise, and provides you with plenty of sunshine. PineandLakes.com Illustration

It never ceases to astonish me.

For nearly half a century we've been burying little seeds in the ground in springtime, and most of the time they grow up to be plants!

How is this miracle possible? It seems, at times, so commonplace. And yet it is a miracle, a world-class wonder so incredible as to defy belief. Just think. You take a seed, stick it in the dirt, add water, and presto - a few months later you're munching on a big, juicy carrot.

Or corn, that master multiplier; from a single seed comes an entire ear or two, containing hundreds of duplicates of the original seed. The rate of return on your investment would make an inside trader blush.

Imagine putting a gold nugget in the ground and having it beget a whole pocketful of Krugerrands. That's what happens when you plant corn. Or peas, or beans or even tomatoes. Planted in good soil and with a modicum of maintenance, each seed gives you hundreds of times its weight in produce.

In order for this to happen, of course, the earth in which the seed is planted must be capable of supporting growth. I am no master gardener, but from talking with my wife and other knowledgeable people I have gradually come to understand that the secret of good crops is, more than anything else, good soil.

Ground that is barren of nutrients or incapable of holding water or sluggish with the residue of herb and pesticides is not capable of producing healthy plants.

This is a deceptively fundamental fact. We have all been led to believe in one form or other of the quick fix. Does your corn turn yellow? Zap it with nitrogen. Do your cucumbers languish? Add a shot of potassium. Are green worms marauding your cabbages? Try a bottle of Dr. Brownthumb's Green Worm Killer.

Remedies such as these do work - for a while. But they are no substitute for healthy, vital soil. Just as doctors are shifting their tactics from treatment to prevention of disease, so the wise gardener will concern himself first and forever with building up the soil. When the soil is healthy, plants will thrive. When plants thrive, they naturally repel invaders, whether those be weeds or viruses or bugs. And when you eat the fruits and leaves and tubers of healthy plants, you in turn grow healthier.

A healthy garden, bursting with nourishing foods, is a wonderful hedge against economic uncertainties. For the person wary of chemical additives, it is a source of clean, uncontaminated food. Tending a garden gives you lots of fresh air and exercise, and provides you with plenty of sunshine.

But the most important bounty it presents may well be food for the spirit. It offers you clear instruction in the relation of cause to effect. It connects you with the earth. And it gives you a chance to consider, if not the lilies, then certainly the broccoli or the beets.

It is the locus of miracles - right in your own back yard.

Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com

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