by Jan Ten Bruggencate
In martial arts training, you learn that there are life lessons even in things as simple as sweeping a floor. But there are lots of places where the lessons are clearer.
In gardens, for instance.
Here are eight things I learned in the garden.
1. Mom was right. If you hang with a bad crowd, you will disappoint her. Let your tender veggies get overrun with weeds, and they will disappoint you. There are lots of ways to control weeds. You can pull them by hand. You can use various designs of weed hoes. You can mulch heavily. Permaculture argues for using carpet remnants and old cardboard to cover the soil between your crop plants, preventing weed profusion.
2. Entropy thrives on benign neglect: if you plant it, it will grow, but if you don’t care for it, it will then die, or at least wither, especially in a dry summer. Pay attention!
3. Diversity is a good thing. If you plant only one thing in one location, time after time, your insistence on monotony will come back to bite you. Monocrops multiply bugs. Plant a variety, and rotate crops to prevent pest overload. Mix it up!
4. Preparation pays off, as every one of last month’s London Olympians can tell you. It’s also true in the garden. A little extra time spent preparing the soil makes life so much easier later. Plants grow better. Weeds pull easier, water soaks in better and deeper.
5. Every plant in the garden doesn’t need to be something you’ll actually eat. Flowers are good, and some flowers, like marigolds, have the additional benefit of repelling pests. But while marigolds are the most famous for this, lots of other plants do, too–some in a general way and some specifically targeting certain species. And many of those have the additional benefit of edibility. Nasturtiums are supposed to repel whiteflies (and you can also eat the flowers in a salad). And basil keeps certain pests away from tomatoes.
6. Have fun. Some stuff I like to grow just because it looks so great. I came across a pepper with gorgeous shape and color. Its shape is like an upside-down witch’s hat, and it ripens to a glorious glossy red. Its flavor is a little too hot for my family. But I love it—and grow it—purely because it’s so good-looking. Looks great there among the beans and cabbages.
7. Do the things you’re good at. Indulge in what works. Do you have a knack for growing basil, or mint? Do it. Your success in one area will make the inevitable failures less painful.
8. Take some time to sit and think. Stop and smell the flowers. Bring a chair into the garden and observe. What’s working? What’s not? Who’s pollinating which flowers? What will you plant next year in which locations?
You might even get a good garden book and read it in the garden.
Jan TenBruggencate is a beekeeper, an author and the former science writer for The Honolulu Advertiser. He operates a communications company, Island Strategy LLC. He serves on the board of the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative and on the County Charter Review Commission.