A Treatise and a Sales Pitch: Why Southobund Gardens Plant Starts are Small, and Other Reasons our Plants are so Exceptional
When placed side by side to other similar contained foodstuffs in the garden center, the plants that we grow here at Southbound Gardens can seem pitiably small. The uninformed consumer of plant starts and many an informed consumer as well will automatically reach for the bigger thing that costs the same amount of money or less. This is what we do, for are we are not Americans? Even discounting the fact of our unfortunate cultural predilections, the intuitive inclination towards larger vegetable starts is understandable. The internal argument basically assumes that bigger means older and therefore closer to maturity and edibility, and bigger also means stronger and better able to handle the rigors of climate, insect and whatever other hardships life in the ground may present.
This is wrong. Our small plants are better. Way better. let me explain the myriad ways in which this is irrefutably and without exception true.
Let us begin by exploring what it is that makes other vegetable plants so much larger and greener than ours. There are two primary factors lending the plants such apparently incredible prowess over our little local starts; these catalysts are fertilizer and painfully artificial environments.
The fertilizer used by most plant growers is inorganic and derived from petroleum. You may or may not have druthers regarding this fact, but it is not my crunchy worldview that accounts for the inferiority that I claim these vegetables to have. Petroleum based fertilizers are powerful beasts that offer insanely huge amounts of nitrogen, the primary ingredient in leaf growth for plants of all stripes. A plant that is fed an extreme diet of petroleum-based fertilizer will grow rapidly and will flush deep green, to all appearances seeming a most beneficent plant to put in one’s garden.
Here’s the kicker though: that plant is going to collapse immediately in your care if you are not willing to feed it a rigorous diet on a regular basis. It has become unreasonably dependent on huge amounts of fertilizer and has very little capacity to grow on its own terms, as it has only known unregulated gorging on artificial nutrients its entire life. This is not the plant you want to eat.
Our plants are certainly fed nutrients, but of a different sort, and at a different pace. They are given a steady but somewhat meager diet of fish emulsion to help with their general growth in a healthy way and at a reasonable pace. They are also fed every couple of weeks with a booster shot of liquid kelp and bat guano, which is loaded with the micronutrients that will be coursing through them for the rest of their lives, giving them a strong immune system able to withstand many a pest and disease. Additionally, our plants are grown in a soil that is loaded with mycohhrizal fungi and other probiotic bacteria that will help enhance the soil ecosystem surrounding the plant’s root system in the short term and provide inoculation to your dirt that will last in the long term and thrive so long as your garden shall live.
You are supposing likely that I am going to argue for the ‘localness’ of our plants in regards to environment, and if you are supposing this, you are a little bit right. And you should support your local businesses. And plants that are born and bred locally are going to do way better round these parts, especially if they are grown from saved seed and are many generations deep in this climate. The thing is, even plants that are grown here in New Orleans or in the surrounding area are often grown in horrifically artificial climates.
Ours are not. We shelter our plants in non-acclimatized hoop houses that do serve to protect our young plants from the crueler tribulations of the world, such as wind, driving rain, wild cats and wild caterpillars. Our greenhouses provide controlled water and help ensure that the plants receive plenty of sunlight. We have ourselves a controlled environment designed to optimize our plants’ chances of success not just as they grow with us but also as they leave us.
Many, if not most commercial growing operations work their magic indoors where climate is controlled and lighting is artificial. Plants grown under these conditions are not ready for the sun’s heat nor brilliance and will often falter soon after they are let loose from their childhood homes.
Finally, let us revisit the issue of size in a different light. Potted plants that appear to be thriving in their small pots because of their gargantuan size often will not grow the least bit once introduced to your garden because they have become rootbound in their tiny potted, overly long-lived homes. If a plant lives too long in a pot its root system will overtake every tiny corner of space allowed in that pot, begin to grow thick roots, and essentially lose its ability to ever become anything more.
We get our plants to market at a time in their lives when their roots are strong in number and fierce in will, but have not nearly grown to the point where they have been forced to fight one another for space in their pots. They are primed to continue growing outwards (as opposed to inwards) when they make it into a larger dirt-filled ecosystem. The plants that we sell to garden centers are of such an age as well, so that if they do not fly off the shelves in their first days on display they will not quickly degrade into a lesser product unfit for the world you want to bring them into.
Vegetable plants at garden centers that are derived from a nursery of a lesser caliber than ours often come onto the shelves looking incredible; they are lush, verdant, upright and eager to please, but within a couple of days they become leggy, pale and droopy. They hit their prime long before they ever got a chance to become somebody’s food, when they were still living in some greenhouse eating ungodly amounts of nitrogen on the daily, waiting for the week when they would look just perfect enough to sell to the uncanny consumer.
Our plants don’t do that. Our plants are fed well on a steady, but lean diet. Our plants find their place in the world as soon as they have the legs to carry them. Our plants have had youthful experiences that have prepared them for the world no matter what may come. Our plants can’t make it without you, but they don’t need you to hold their hand. Our plants are a little bit smaller on the outside, but what lies beneath their soil’s surface is infinitely more complex, resilient and ready to take on the world without fear or second thought. Buy local, buy organic, buy our babies.
No it is not an as yet unheard by you sub sub-category of metal. This is not a music blog. I could see how you would maybe think it was a sub sub-category of metal that deserves a reference in a plant blog given it’s name, and given that there is every day new crazy science alluding to how certain music makes plants happier, or not at all happy.
I see that now and I understand how you could have made this assumption. You were wrong though. This is a dwelling on the inevitable death of all things Brassicae in your garden, an article about letting go and accepting the cruel transgressions inevitable to the circle of life in plants as in all things. So this is not an article about metal, but it’s definitely fucking metal, okay?
So let’s get all up in it. Your kale has millions of holes in it. our broccoli is shooting up flowers faster than you can harvest them. Your bok choi turned purple and won’t get any bigger than your fist. They want to die. All of them want to die and it’s important that you know this and it’s even more important that you accept that just this once it’s not really your fault.
These plants were not built for the oppressive heat of our mid-Spring southern climate. They are doing everything they can to return to the earth and do some good where there is good to be done. The Brassicae want to be part of a less cruel world, immediately. You probably won’t want to be here come August either.
These plants let down their natural defenses and let the caterpillars at them. This is why there are a million holes in your greens. It is the same with Chard. You will not win. It is time to say goodbye. You have slowly torn the limbs from your baby, your captive and your provider for too many months and it can no longer take the strains and rigors of this kind of life, if it can even be called that. It begged for the caterpillars to come and take it. Your Brassicae has suffered at your hands long enough. It gave and gave and gave and now it just wants to go. Say a prayer and say your goodbyes, for this is the end.
Others will intelligently go to seed. It will feel premature to you, but they know their time is come and want the next generation to follow the dreams they never had the courage to pursue. They want their genes to conquer the future. For you this means the plant will taste bad and the leaves will wither away and there will soon be nothing but hundreds of blueprints for the future waiting for you to nurture them.
Perhaps some of your greens have not sent out their suicidal pheromones to the insects of their micro-climatic universe, but doubtless they do not look incredible now. Am I right? Perhaps they simply droop. You want to give them more water, you want to see them perk up. And if you give them more water they will, but this is not sustainable. If you forget them for more than a couple of days, you will see that. It is too late for them. Harvest what you can and let the rest die a peaceful death.
Some of your offspring may be discolored. Perhaps they are yellow, perhaps they are purple (and they weren’t born to be purple). Either way it is because they are no longer getting the nutrients they count on to survive. This is again because they’ve essentially lost the will to live. The are so sad they can’t even will themselves to go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter jelly sandwich. We’ve all been there, no? Again it is simply their time. You must let it be.
Now is a time for another breed. The Brassicae may reign again come September, but meantime you must let your beans, squash and melons rule the dirt piles. Also prepare for the billions of weeds that you will be violently murdering throughout the summer if you have any intention of continuing to garden in the same space in subsequent seasons.
New York was right, you will find no kale in New Orleans. Not now, not really. Go eat some Chee-Wees hippie.
So I just said all that stuff, but actually my Scotch Curled Kale is still ruling the universe. This stuff lives through everything all the time. Grow some.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.