"It's Our Garden"

By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

Understanding The Nature Of Gardening

Gardening is as much an art as a science. You can stuff yourself full of plant lists, insect-identification guides and weather statistics, but that won't make you a great gardener. Good gardening, especially organic gardening, consists of knowing, down deep, a few basic principles, and there details. It is the relationships between the plants on those lists and the insects in those guides that make the garden what it is. If you understand those connections, then the details make sense and the proper actions in a given situation seem obvious. It's why some of the best gardeners, when asked how they know something, will say, "Oh it' , s just common sense."

Great gardening is, in part, a matter of timing., and garden time is critical time. Every cycle has a consistent sequence of developments in when specific events unfold.

The key to good garden timing, then, is to watch each of the cycles and time your planting, cultivation and pest-control activities to coincide with the natural developments of the season. Even harvesting is affected by the progress of the year. We all know that melons taste best if they haven't, been watered in the last 3 weeks of ripening.

The importance of the annual cycle of light and dark can be seen in the staggering of succession crops. In the spring, the days are getting longer and the soil, air and water temperatures are rising. Two rows of carrots, planted 2 weeks apart in late April, will mature only one week apart because the later-planted crop has better conditions and will grow faster. So stretch the time between plantings in the spring to get the right timing for succession harvests. Fall crops act the opposite way' just a few days between plantings will cause a harvest delay of a week or more because the days are becoming shorter as the crop matures.

Try to use the timing of different plants to your advantage. Thinning carrots was one of the more tedious jobs in the garden. But, plants can work together, so we've stopped thinning. Now we mix radish and carrot seed together, 1/3 radish by volume, and sow them both in the same row.

The radishes break ground almost immediately, allowing us to cultivate between the rows and stop early sprouting weeds before the carrots are up, When the radishes mature a few weeks later, the harvest thins the carrots automatically. The relationship of these 2 plants makes the garden more productive.

This kind of thinking is hard to do from the seat of a tractor. the kind of garden that will put you in touch with the quiet rhymes of growth is by definition a garden of human, not industrial scale. A personal garden need to be small enough that you can do any major garden task in a day.

Spring soil preparation; seeding and setting of transplants; fall cleanup, none of these should take more than a single Saturday of pleasant work for the family. How big a garden is that ?

If you start too, big, it may get out of hand. Don't think of vegetable gardening as a chore; cultivating and weeding give as much pleasure as harvesting if you keep it manageable. It can be a quite moment of observant , of close interaction with the whole community of your garden.

Tools and techniques determine each other; if both are kept in mind during the planning process, the whole project benefits. We had been planting 6 rows of carrots side by side in a 3-foot wide bed. It was very space efficient; but, when the carrots reached a decent size, we couldn't fit a hoe between the rows anymore and had to weed by hand. By matching the row to the hoe we cut the labor required in half.

If you really want to know how your garden is doing, get down on your hands and knees and look at it; run your hand through the soil and smell it; check the undersides of plant leaves for insect egg instead of just walking by and dousing them with spray. You might find that the time you spend taking care of your garden is a whole lot more satisfying and a lot less like work.


CROW MILLER is available for a limited number of lectures and speaking engagements from Jan. to April on "Organic Growing" the film. Call 862-6665


Copyright o 1994 The Garden