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Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

New Article by Guest Author: Michael “Green”wood

The most important element of a garden is the plan.  Without a good plan the would-be gardener is inviting disaster. Everything the gardener plants is out for itself.  Your sweet potatoes won’t hesitate to invade . . . well, everything.  The same goes for squash and pole beans.  Your tomatoes have no reservations about toppling over their trellis and smothering whatever is in their way.  Despite thousands of years of selective breeding the law of the jungle still rules.  In other words, your cucumbers don’t give a damn about their community (the garden); they just want to set fruit and spread their seed.

The wise gardener takes this into account in his plan;  He uses this selfish vigor to his advantage without being drawn into the futile exercise of actually fighting it.  If you fight against these natural impulses you will loose.

Someone I can’t remember once compared a garden to a contest between Apollonian order and Dionysian chaos.  At the beginning of the season order reigns, but as the months pass chaos comes increasingly to dominate.  The gardener must accept this.  We are never in complete control.  Without a good plan we have little or no control at all.

I usually start planning my garden in late January. You cannot plan it too early. The more time you have to get supplies together and do all of the necessary preparatory work the better.

One of the most important elements of the plan is soil preparation.  This includes any amendments to the soil to improve texture or add nutrients, as well as building raised beds or grading the soil.  You don’t want to rent a tiller with the plan of preparing the soil and getting everything planted in one day.  Getting the soil ready a few months ahead of time, if possible, will make your life easier.  Unlike planting itself, soil preparation can be done any time the ground is warm and dry enough to work.  Sometimes this is preferable, as some soil amendments are more effective if they are allowed to interact with the soil for a period before planting.  I will go into more depth on the subject in a future post.

Something else that needs to be considered is weather or not you want to buy “starts” or seedlings, or buy and start your own seeds.  For a small garden the extra cost of buying starts is negligible and can save a lot of effort.  For a larger garden the cost can add up quite a bit.  Buying your own seeds not only saves you money, it gives you orders of magnitude more options;  Only a small fraction of the most popular varieties are available at local nurseries.  Occasionally you will get lucky.  If you have access to a local nursery that offers unusual varieties of vegetable, all the better!  Also, while I prefer trying out unusual heirloom varieties or less well known vegetables, there is nothing wrong with the common varieties offered at most local nurseries.  The point is to figure this out ahead of time so that you can plan accordingly.

Seeds and other supplies can be bought locally or through catalogues or online.  I prefer to get my seeds online, as this gives me the greatest variety to choose from.  To save costs I try to get my seeds from as few places as possible; I also try to support companies that are working to preserve older varieties.  Here are some of my favorites:

Terroir Seeds at http://www.underwoodgardens.com/ . An amazing selection of heirloom seeds.

Territorial Seed Company at http://www.territorialseed.com/. Also a great selection of heirloom seeds and supplies.

Outsidepride at https://www.outsidepride.com/. A great selection of cover crops and green manures.

Gurney’s at http://gurneys.com/. A good source for more conventional varieties of both seed and plant, as well as a few heirlooms.

I prefer to get as much of my supplies as possible locally.  Unfortunately, many of the tools and amendments I need simply aren’t available locally.  Some of the best tools for the small-scale horticulturalist aren’t even available in the country.  This is the inevitable result of a food system centered on large machinery and synthetic chemicals.  Fortunately, things are changing, and more and more products for the organic grower are available all the time.

Next month my daughter will turn four…just in time for spring! To honor this special day, she is allowed to share treats with her classmates at preschool. After much thought I’ve decide to green up her birthday by providing each of her classmates with a seedling starter kit!

Each goody bag will contain a starter pot (cowpots.com has ingenious and affordable biodegradable poo pots), potting soil, radish seeds (small radishes will germinate in 3-5 days and can mature in 3 weeks) and instructions for getting those little hands dirty!

I am so excited to be “giving” spring a head start this year! Why not give it a try yourself?

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The following article was written for TheEcoDivas by a guest blogger and my friend, Mike “Green”wood.

The holidays are over. Snow blankets the ground and the frigid mid-January air is more ruthless chomp than nip. Just as I have for the last several years, I am spending much of my free time working on my garden.

Well, I’m not in my garden – not much anyway. I am sitting in my living room making calculations, drawing up plans, ordering seeds and supplies on-line and taking time to visit the local horticulture supply or hardware store. Having a garden changes your relationship to time and the seasons. Some believe that it brings us into a closer relationship with the natural world. Compared to a typical urban or sub-urban life, I have to agree. But the horticultural revolution that happened thousands of years ago presaged something far different – it was the first step on humanities’ long path to subjugating nature. Well, attempting to subjugate nature.

The hunter-gatherer moves from place to place, using the resources available and then moving on. The gardener takes a piece of the natural world and separates it, declaring it his own kingdom even building fences to keep others out or domesticate predators like wolves and cats to patrol his realm. I doubt our hunter-gatherer ancestors had ranges which they claimed as their own. It was the gardener who first built permanent settlements and walls. The gardener laid the foundation for civilization.

Many of us yearn to bridge that very divide. While few wish to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we sense that something has been lost. We romanticize nature. We think dualistically about it: Nature is everything pure and innocent, while we are everything corrupt and debased. Alternatively, we view the natural world as brutal and unpredictable, and see our world as both reliable and just. We are alienated, not only from the natural world, but from a part of ourselves. In our psychosis we both glorify and vilify nature.

In the garden we confront the divide between humanity and nature at its foundation, a divide that extends even into our own being as “mind-body dualism.”  Gardening is a kind of time travel. We walk to the edge of that great divide and find that while it exists in our culture and psyches, nature does not recognize it. We can come to the beginning, when man was at the mercy of nature, seeming capricious and cruel yet beneficial and kind. But we bring to this place a power our ancestors lacked; we are in many ways only at natures’ mercy to the extent that we hold back this power. We can bring in great machines, chemicals, even enclosures of plastic, glass and steel while taking little notice of the seasons. We bring with us our modern mentality. Many of us do not often fear nature – and perhaps this is a good thing; but we often hold nature in contempt, an attitude I believe to be unjustified and even dangerous. Above all we survey nature and we believe we can do better.

Can we? Across the wide spectrum of gardening philosophy and practices there is a universal assumption that we can do better, from accelerating and augmenting natural processes to replacing those processes entirely with synthetic chemicals and machines. To assume we cannot improve on nature, at least for our own selfish benefit, is to abandon gardening entirely and become foragers. Even planting food bearing crops in the wilderness and then leaving them to themselves is an attempt at an “improvement.” Can we make such “improvements” respectfully, without contempt? Perhaps more important for our survival, can we make such improvements without being idiots?

How each of us negotiates the relationship between our world of artifice and the natural world determines how we garden – and gardening is an incredible opportunity for constant re-negotiation of that relationship. We encounter nature directly, which incurs choice between antagonism and partnership.

From year to year my gardening values don’t change much. On one hand, I want to grow the most productive, nutritious and flavorful crops as sustainably as possible, while being as cheap and lazy as I can get away with. On a more subtle level, I seek an honest communion with the natural world without the need or desire to pretend that it’s any more or less than what it is.

In a few weeks, I will be starting my habaneros, followed by peppers, tomatoes, then on to sprouting sweet potatoes . . . The frenzy of spring feels as if it’s almost upon me.  I couldn’t be happier!

The above photos are of Mike’s lovely garden.

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