A strange thing happened this summer with my inaugural efforts to grow a garden: Woeful failure has mutated into obsession and redoubled commitment.

Maybe it was the humility that I brought to the venture. Late in the planting season — early May — I decided I was going to grow something as a modest step towards self-sufficiency in the unfolding apocalypse. I didn’t expect much, but I was determined to give it my best shot as I yanked the English ivy off the dormant raised bed behind my garage. I sent soil samples to Raleigh for testing and consulted the NC Cooperative Extension for information about what nutrients I needed to remediate the soil.

Planting tomatoes, squash, bell peppers and Anaheim chili peppers, I quickly came to appreciate the exquisite science of soil quality, sunlight exposure, access to water, disease resistance and protection against critters that goes into successful food production.

Over the past two months, I’ve watched the squash wither and die, while the tomato plants soared into the air with gangly limbs that have flowered but failed to yield any fruit. Similarly, the bell peppers have flowered, but the dried buds have fallen away instead of developing fruit. The two Anaheims have each produced little elongated peppers that have eventually ripened to full maturity at about two inches.

On Sunday morning, I plucked the second chili pepper, sprayed it with olive oil and popped it in the oven. I peeled the skin off the flaccid specimen, chopped it up and threw it in some scrambled egg batter with cheddar cheese. Divvied up between my child, wife and I, the chili was hardly discernible. Yet my satisfaction at eating something I grew myself was scarcely diminished.

By no stretch will this garden ever come close to feeding my family, much less allow us to survive the apocalypse. But I’m not in the least discouraged. When I encounter another gardener, I never miss the opportunity to collect pointers on composting, irrigation systems, plant varieties or any of the other endless factors that might influence the output. And every morning, when I go out to water the plants and pull weeds, it’s a centering prayer for the wisdom and expertise to figure out how to keep doing it better.

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