Untended Strawberries


It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.

We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.


See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!

But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.

Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)

After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!

This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.

And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.

What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.

Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)

But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.

And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!

Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?

I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.

It’s hard to not do anything.

But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.

It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.


Full of Life

Seedling in fertilizerRecently, I was fascinated by poop.

(Yes, you read that correctly.)

Actually, it started in a public outhouse-style “restroom”. If you’ve never used an outhouse, or a “port-a-potty”, it’s just a big container collecting all the liquid and solid waste, rather than flushing it away down a nice, convenient pipe—out of sight, out of mind.

(And, if you’ve never used a toilet that doesn’t flush… well… that is also fascinating!)

At first, I was grossed out. And rightly so, I believe. It’s gross. I really don’t even like using public bathrooms with plumbing, let alone the variety that collects all of the waste for you to view while you’re adding your own.

But a secondary thought (thankfully) crossed my mind before I left.

Wow, what if we didn’t have toilets that flushed? We’d just have to find some place for all this gross stuff… but then… it does make really good fertilizer. Hmm…

And then I remembered that we use various animal waste products as fertilizers, to enhance the soil and to grow better food. (That’s oversimplified, but generally true.)

God is so full of life that even the waste from his living creations produces more life!

That is both amazing, and completely understandable.

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.1

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life… 2

For in him we live and move and exist.3

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.4

It’s obvious that the One who could, by a simple command, give life to all that is would be abundantly full of life itself. And that life being so fantastically complex that we’re still trying to understand it. We’re even looking for—and even finding—signs of it on other nearby planets, created by this Giver of Life.

That the waste generated by the Life he has breathed into his creation would also produce life is indeed astounding, and yet, it is as it should be.

God is life. Life beyond our wildest imagination. And he has breathed that same life into you and me.


Oh, the things you learn from a pile of poo!

Lessons From Our Garden

At this point, I’d have to say we are successful gardeners.

It’s kinda funny, because the last time we gave this a serious run, we were really pretty unsuccessful. We had many tomato plants that produced seven tomatoes. Total. All summer. And they were very tiny. (It really was sad.)

Then most everything else turned out even worse.

We discovered the likely cause of our pathetic “crop” was the presence (read: abundance) of walnut trees in our yard. The walnut tree roots make the soil too acidic for many plants? Something like that. Anyway, it definitely put a damper on our green thumbs.

But, several years later (I guess it was eight) we were determined to see a different outcome!

A potted tomato plant experiment (using the same soil from our yard, just removed from the walnut tree roots) produced a much healthier crop of cherry tomatoes. Delicious! (And beefsteak tomatoes as well, I believe.) So that was a good clue that the soil wasn’t really the issue.

Add to that decent soil our years of composting, and we had a pretty good place for some edible plants to grow.

And boy have they!

We’ve got tons of tomatoes, we have peppers, we have lettuce, we have carrots, we even have watermelon! AND, that squash you see is the first harvest of the season! The squash plants look great.

My favorite part are the four or five bonus tomato plants. We did not plant them, but they are growing very strong and look like they’re going to produce many tomatoes of their own. Fun!

As we’ve been watching the literal fruits of our labor growing, I’ve been noticing again that there are tons of great spiritual lessons one can glean from a garden. The one that has most often come to mind is what I wrote in this post from 2004. It’s really, really weird to me how the weeds mimic the good plants that they grow near. It’s happening again with this garden. Crazy.

Successes are fun. These successes are tasty. It really was a good amount of work getting to this point, but it’s also just astounding how much of it is not us. We just make sure it has a good place to grow and the programming takes over. God made it to grow in to a big health plant that yields much fruit, and it’s doing it! A lot! We’ve got lots of examples of his amazing design in our little 24 x 6 tilled plot of land in our back yard.

Definitely a fun thing to watch. We’re already looking forward to next year’s garden!

Project: Backyard Ice Rink (Part 4)

A few people have been asking, “So how’s that ice rink of yours doing?”

In that most of them live in the same region that we do, and have experienced this unusually warm winter along with us, I usually give them a wry smile and then gauge whether they are truly up for the full story, or not.

I usually gather that they are not able or interested in the full story, or, truthfully, usually I don’t have the time or energy at that moment to utter much more than, “Yeah… sure has been a crazy winter, eh?”

But here, I will close out the Winter of 2012 Campbell Family Backyard Ice Rink story.

As you know if you read parts 1, 2, and 3 of this story, we’ve had our share of difficulties besides the lack of freezing temperatures. (Since the two days of bitter cold days early this month when we filled the rink with water, there have been only 7 days where the high temperature was at or below freezing. And, there were highs in the 50s! In Rochester, NY!)

So clearly, that has been a problem.

But as was mentioned previously, the grade of our land being greater than we anticipated, along with the plastic not being large enough for the rink we made… and then, our attempts to bond two pieces of very un-equal plastic sheets together being thwarted by two ridiculous windstorms ripping apart the seam we had so tenuously bonded.

Ugh. It’s been one thing after another. Simply astonishing. Stymied at every turn, which does tend to get you down a bit… and nearly give up trying.

BUT. And that was a big BUT.

Our kids still love it.

They have been out on the half-rink of ice as many times as they could. Whether using skates or just boots, they play a few periods of hockey, work on their tight turns, or just have the winter fun we were hoping to have in our back yard!

We are really ready for next year!

Really! We’ve learned so much, we know exactly what to do to make the best ice rink (that we can afford!) in Wayne county! We’re excited to try it out. I think we might have the rink ready to go by Thanksgiving weekend next winter!

We have everything we need for our raised gardens in the spring!

We attempted to plant a garden with many great veggies in our back yard a few years back. Much to our chagrin, most of the plants did not do well at all. (I think we harvested seven tomatoes!) By a stroke of curious luck, I happened to see an article in a newspaper from my hometown of Springfield, OH that described all of the trouble we had been having, and attributed it directly to walnut trees. Bingo! We have (too) many walnut trees on our property and several adjacent ones!

So, in a subsequent summer we did cultivate a few self-contained tomato plants on our deck, which was fine, but we wanted to do more. Our best idea was to build raised gardens, but we needed to buy wood, and plastic to hold the dirt and compost and such (and keep it away from the walnut tree roots).

WELL, enter our “ice” rink! We were wondering where we’d store it all summer… and now we know!

When life deals you lemons …

So it’s not been the joy we thought it would be, but we really have no complaints. We’re glad we did it, and it’s fun to see the silver linings listed above. There are several.

There always are.