Free Seeds : How I Rediscovered Nature’s Generosity

As we wrote in our recent green smoothie recipe, this time of the year is a great time to include more wild greens in our diet as the earth currently provides them in abundance. They cleanse our bodies from the holiday season and, at the same time, strengthen us to be ready for the busy gardening season ahead. An especially healthy one that we are blessed to be surrounded with here in Avidanja is stinging nettles. In order to stimulate their growth even more, we are also intentionally planting them to a spot which they seem to especially like. And as I am very keen to learn more about gardening, I volunteered to take responsibility of this little nettle bed.

“So, where do we buy nettle seeds?” I ask Jutta, to which she starts to laugh. I immediately sense that I somehow just exposed my background as a city-guy. As she explains to me, nettles are self-seeding, which means that — over time — the plants’ flowers turn into seedlings which will bring new nettle shoots again. Moreover, these specific seedlings are exactly the ones that we want for our new bed, since these nettles come from our own land and, thus, are accustomed and used to our specific soil. ‘Interventions’ such as these could be said to be fundamental to permaculture, as permaculture is all about closing the cycle of life — i.e., about re-using all the resources in our direct natural surroundings as much as possible so as to optimally support nature in sustaining itself.

Having recently moved from Amsterdam to Avidanja, I am increasingly becoming aware of my unfamiliarity with such permaculture principles as well as of my estrangement from this cycle. Whereas in the city my food leftovers, my pee and poo, and my dying houseplants are all considered as ‘waste’ to be somehow taken care of by the city’s infrastructure, here they are suddenly ‘treasures’ as their decomposing process is an immensely valuable part of nourishing the soil. Similarly, in order for one to bring some ‘nature’ to one’s apartment, it is nearly unavoidable to go to the shop and buy some seeds and/or plants, which may leave one fully unaware that these things are actually already freely provided by the earth. For me personally, realizations such as these are quite radically changing my perspective of what it means to live as part of the natural environment that I’m surrounded by. For even though I always had the idea that I made an effort to take care of the environment in whichever way I deemed possible in the city, I am now seeing more and more that most of the time I did not truly feel myself as part of any ecosystem. And, as a consequence of this sense of detachment, I have never truly been in touch with the fact that everything I do within this system matters 100%.

Such a realization for example came to me while preparing the nettle bed. Right above this new bed was our old compost, which we now slightly moved to build a new wall and stairs down to the bed and our washing line. As I dug up the earth from this old compost to make space for the stone construction, I could clearly see why decomposing is such an important ecological process, as what I found looked like highly precious fertile earth filled with worms and, here and there, some food rests. “Worms are the most amazing creatures to have in a garden”, Jutta tells me. As she explains, they create so-called humus, a dark type of earth commonly found in forests which contains important nutrients for plant growth. Besides, through their burrows, worms support a favourable soil structure in which water and air can move more freely.

Part of the dug-up humus I throw on the new nettle bed, yet most of it I transfer down to the garden where our main vegetable beds are located. I make a big pile of the compost next to the beds and, as Jutta instructed me to, quickly cover it with straw to protect the worms from daylight. And as I’m ‘tucking in’ our newest garden residents, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of bliss and immense gratitude. For deep within my being, I know that what I’m doing in this very moment is reconnecting with the cycle of life, with the source of all of Life, and, thus and thereby, with myself. It makes me become well aware that I never want to live in any other way anymore.

Then, just before leaving the garden, I notice an unharvested pepper hanging from an old plant in one of the beds. I walk over and pick it from the stem. The half rotten pepper is most certainly not good for consumption anymore. However, when I open it, it is still full of seeds which are fully intact. “Jackpot!!!”, I think.

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