Life lessons in the garden

It was 10 a.m. on a summer day around this time last year.

I am standing in the tomato patch at Cumberland Crossings, a Diakon senior living community in Carlisle, Pa. Next to me are Denzel, a student from Diakon’s Center Point Day Treatment Program, and Elena, an intern from Dickinson College.

I reach my hand into the tomato plant in front of me to grab a ripe cherry tomato hidden under some branches, but my hand encounters something along the stem soft and squishy. I pull the branch down to take a better look and find a tomato horn worm.

The green worm measures about six inches; it obviously has been nibbling on the tomato plant.

Denzel leans forward to look and asks, “What should we do?”

I respond: “Look at the white bumps on his back. Those are parasitic wasps. They will kill him and help protect the tomato patch against any others. We should let him be. This is a sign of a healthy garden.”

We then go about our harvest, gathering four quarts of cherry tomatoes, eleven quarts of grape tomatoes, a dozen bell peppers, and nearly 20 large slicing tomatoes.

Several days a week students from Diakon Youth Services had gone to the vegetable garden to work the soil, harvest produce, sort and package it, and deliver it to the kitchens at Cumberland Crossings. Learning-moments such as the one afforded us by the horn worm are part of each day, as are hot weather, dirty hands, and sense of satisfaction after completing a task. There are a variety of things to learn out here and more of it has to do with building good character than perfecting gardening techniques.

As a counselor and gardener, I feel a sense of pride in teaching about the tomato horn worm. I certainly find things every day that I cannot identify, but we often encounter things in life that we can only wonder about. I hope I can help teach these students to look beyond the moment when faced with such challenging choices in their lives.

“I still think you should let me get rid of it,” says Denzel.

Elena makes a sour face.

I pick up the yellow crate holding today’s harvest. “Not today,” I say, and walk out of the garden.


By Chris Edenbo
Greenhouse Gardener
Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse

Check out photos of the Wilderness Greenhouse here on Instagram!

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  • Mother nature’s classroom can sometimes be the best place to reach a child who is struggling with life.

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