Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gardening: Not Rocket Science, Part 1

Gardening seems so mysterious, doesn't it? I mean, you put a seed in some moist dirt and in a week or two, Voila!, you've got a baby plant. I suppose part of it is that humans don't exactly understand Mother Nature. I mean, sure, we can explain some things, but others? Complete mystery despite spending centuries of research.

So, of course, it's a bit daunting for the average person to go out there and try to tame Mother Nature in their own little patch of Earth/windowsill/patio/deck. There's the unexpectedness that is always a bit scary, as well as the "OMG, What If I Kill It!" fear and a dash of "This Seems Like Science & That is Not My Forte." At least, that's what I was feeling last year when I decided to give gardening, both edible and ornamental, a "go" after my container tomato and pepper plants didn't die (but also didn't exactly thrive). I guess you could say, after tasting my first backyard tomato, I longed for more.

I fully admit, I am still very much learning. I read magazines, blogs and books on gardening. I watch TV shows on gardening. I ask advanced gardeners lots and lots of questions. I volunteer at a greenhouse. I've taken free classes and attended lectures on various topics. And then, of course, I've done a bit of gardening myself.

After a yearish of all this, I think I can definitively state: Gardening is not as scary as it first seems.

I have learned that there does seem to be some basic "rules" to gardening. These rules almost guarantee success. And, much like anything else, after you have mastered this rules you can break them. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I am still very much in the "rule-learning" stage. As far as I can tell, light and soil are the two most important things you need to know about your garden. Conveniently, you can find almost all you need to know about them in one weekend. I'm serious. The following text is very long and talks about a bit of science-y stuff, but I pinkie-swear it's not hard. And I double-dog dare you to try it. It's unfamiliar, maybe, but not hard. Just take a lazy Saturday at home and observe, every hour, how the sun hits your garden area. Write it down. As in:

8am: Full Sun everywhere
9am: Full Sun everywhere
1pm: Right hand corner starting to get shaded by tree. Dappled light there
3pm: Right half totally getting dappled light, left half getting shaded by neighbor's house.
8pm: Totally dark

I've even heard of using an organic soil amendment like blood meal (although used coffee grounds would work too) to trace where you're getting shade in the garden as the day wears on. It's useful to note if it's a tree or building that is shading the garden area because in the winter, that area will get full sun if it's shaded by a deciduous (leave-losing) tree. If you want to be thorough, you could perform this exercise every season to see how the light changes in your space. This is probably particularly important if you have either lots of trees or buildings very close to your garden space. If you've just got a wide open field, it is likely less of an issue, you lucky bastard.

If you're indoor gardening, pay attention to weather your windowsill/garden area is getting DIRECT light or indirect light. Generally, direct light will make your hand cast a definite shadow whereas indirect light won't.

With this knowledge, you can determine which parts of your garden are full sun, part-sun or shade. And, yes, your garden area might have all three of those situations in one "space."

Remember that you can't change your light situation unless you knock down buildings or cut down trees. This is really the one thing about gardening that is permanent.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Gardening, Not Rocket Science tomorrow!

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