Growing food is a great and glorious hobby and/or half-assed trade. Anything that gets people shoving dirt around and eating better and is a fantastic boon to the general progression of human potential individually and societally. Except that’s not true even a little bit. There is this one thing that I disapprove of entirely, even if it does initiate a few into the cult of Soil. So many of the ridiculous words and ideas associated with progressive farming and gardening that get thrown around by would-be-farmers and peddlers of half-baked book-deal garnering nonsense ruin the whole thing for me. I deem this terrible and often counter-productive practice buzzword gardening. There are many dashes in this paragraph.
Once sentence later I am prepared to recant my prior statement. Anything, anything at all that gets people shoving dirt around and eating better truly is a wonderful and positive thing. The thing about buzzword gardening is the fact that it rarely gets people gardening. More often, it turns people into pompous know-it-all not really gardeners who have a lot of fancy words and ideas to throw around but have little to no idea how to put those words into practice. Before I go further, I would like to make it clear that many, if not most of these buzzword practices and principles are extremely useful and form the basis of a lot of contemporary farming and gardening knowledge. The disconnect is not in the words themselves exactly, but rather in the way the words are used and the way that their practices are myopically applied when application does come to pass.
Here is a short list of some of the things I speak of:
square foot gardening
french intensive gardening
permaculture (I’m going there)
I don’t believe in using any pesticides or amending my soil with anything ever gardening
Almost each and every one of these things have plenty of merit and usefulness and I am attacking nothing that has to do with any actual doing’s of things or philosophies contained within. The problem lies in the way these methodologies and activities are approached, in the weakness of the post-Victorian human psyche that is the desire to compartmentalize and categorize everything to the most minute least little.
Therein lies the essence of my gripe. It is important to inform oneself to the utmost in regards to any task one chooses to immerse their self in. It’s also important to avoid gurus and false gods and egos run astray with visions of the garden as the void or a world without meaning. It is equally important to listen however, and to listen to everything that you’re told.
It’s important to listen and then exponentially more important to synthesize everything you’ve heard, and to use what you have heard to synthesize for yourself a model that works for you and the place physical and mental that you are working in. I believe this is true in gardening or farming more-so than in most other pursuits you may take up in your lifetime, though if you’re not synthesizing in life in general, I don’t particularly want to know your brain. There are myriad opinions and ideas about how to make food grow best, and these opinions, ideas, and occasional facts are often just as confusing and contradictory on a scientific level as they are on a folk wisdom level. Nobody can be trusted all the way and nobody ought to be ignored. Only you can know exactly what is best for your plants, and you can only know what’s best for your plants if you listen to a variety of contradictory voices (such as mine), including the voices of the plants themselves. They’ll start talking if you look at them long enough (and forget to eat and sleep).
Don’t believe the hype but swallow all the propaganda you can fit in your mouth. Trust your gut to digest it properly. If you want to throw up a ton of trellises and grow yourself some giant melons and a ton of delicious beans that will help you grow more melons when you’ve eaten all the beans, do some vertical gardening. If you’ve only got one tiny little bed because you weren’t given the good graces of a bountiful backyard, try square foot gardening, you’ll get a bunch of food and feel really good about yourself. If you live in a city and believe you can grow whatever you want out of the ecosystem that nature and 200 plus years of urbanization have gifted you without doing anything to amend it, give it a whirl! You’ll fail, but give it a whirl! But really, do all of it!
Do some of all of it and find the tiny pieces that work and cut out the parts that have nothing to do with anything you will ever be able to do. Gardening is an experiment that never ends, even for the agronomists and botanists and plant neuro-biologists and everyone else that gets paid a lot more than I do to try to understand plants. They know so little and neither do you and that’s what makes all of this so rewarding and so much fun even when you fail entirely. Synthesize!
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.