Informative horticultural discursions & arguments with practical advice
In part one I started writing on this same topic but as I looked into it there was too much to include in one issue. As I said it is not that I am especially credulous or gullible. It is simply that I believe we should investigate everything, no matter how apparently insignificant, that may affect the plants in our care and the crops they yield. The effect of the Earth's gravity on plants is obvious so why should it be unreasonable to ask whether any of them are influenced in any way by the moon's, the sun's, or the mass of the whole universe rotating about them?
Organic gardening was once labelled 'all muck and magic' but now as we start to understand the interactions of our soil's ecology it becomes more a matter of 'muck and management'. Practices once considered magic such as companion planting have now been shown to give yield increases of about a fifth in field trials. We now begin to appreciate the value of trace elements, the importance of humus and the role of mycorrhizal fungii; all of which would sound like magic to any gardener from before 1850, and quite a few of 1950 I suspect.
A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. A limiting factor is rather like that link. It is whatever is holding back our crops from fulfilling an even greater yield. It may vary from year to year or even day by day but at any given moment there is always something that is in shortest supply. If we can understand just whatever is in deficit when and increase it's availability then our harvests will become larger.
You know the sort of thing- there it is at the start of so many old gardening books. “For your garden choose an open sunny site with a gentle south facing slope and a deep rich loam….” Oh if only life was as simple. Few of us ever have the good fortune or large enough fortune to be able to choose a perfect site on which to make our ideal kitchen garden. Generally we take what we can get and have to make the best of it. But if we do have any choice at all which are the most important parameters -and what should we avoid at all costs?
As a child I was already interested in plants and browsed the gardening magazines and papers of the day not understanding the fascination with enormous dahlias and chrysanthemums. I was looking for those curiosities of nature and snippets of science that an inquisitive nature delights in. I remember reading an advert for a 'new wonder product' that combined neat fertiliser with a powerful soil steriliser that would 'rid your garden of all pests and diseases'. And probably everything else for that matter.........
Although gardening is about as green a thing to be doing as you can get we all can be greener in the way we do it. Most of us use some powered machinery at some time, these consume energy profligately. Although each of us may not consume much energy each time it can add up to a huge amount in total in a year. Even kitchen gardeners can still have grass paths to mow and hedges to trim.
People sometimes use the phrase 'the good old days'. I wonder which period they could be referring to in gardening and for what reason? The end of the Victorian era may have been the climax from the point of view of the range of plants grown and the size of the gardens. Though whether any time was in fact a 'good old day' from the point of view of the gardener is debatable.
I propose that kitchen gardening is so important and valuable to the individual, the family and to society at large that it should be a legal necessity to learn and practice this skill. I further argue that it should replace sport in the school curriculum and that the playing fields should be dug up and replaced with vegetable beds and fruit cages.
Now I don't want to ruffle too many feathers and I'm in danger of shooting myself in the foot but I do wonder whether we should actually take much notice of experts. I know I'm in an awkward spot here often being taken for an expert but in many ways I'm more of a Bob of all trades. You see I have spent my life querying expert advice and curiosity has led me to experimentally try and verify what I have been led to believe was so. And too often I have found the experts' advice to be, not so much wrong as, inappropriate.
There are strange plants in the world; have you ever heard of Laburno-cytisus adamsii? This is a rare and not very beautiful thing that was accidentally created in 1825 in the nursery of a Monsieur Adam near Paris. They were grafting (probably shield budding) a choice variety of Cytisus purpureus onto Laburnum anagyroides rootstocks when one of them went wrong.