TEN GARDENING TIPS I WILL NEVER WRITE ABOUT

Fair warning – you may want to read this post first before you decide to vote this week for this blog as your most fav gardening blog in the pink dot on the right hand side ad column – Surely, I shall piss people off.

Really, I am not being negative.

I’m being honest. I feel that this all must be said annually.

Gardening advice today has morphed into the realm wives tale-wonders, trivialness or hypernovelty – the”Magic hair growth tonic” and “Snake Oil cures” from the 19th century hold nothing against todays fears of chemical fertilzers and GMO seed. Few trust science over home remedies, and most default to advice offered not from experts, but from amatuers tapping away on their laptop who raise crops in a 4 8 raised bed. All this, thanks to the rise of garden blogs and social media thank you very much- and, you’re welcome. But the outcome is not all good.
Infographics on Facebook and Pinterest say things like ‘AMAZING HOME MADE FERTILIZER FROM YOUR PANTRY!” or “Lasagna Gardening will improve your crops!” or Upside down Tomatoes!! Yay! – It seems the most pinned gardening advice as more to do with crafty nonsense than real science.

Look. Some home remedies do work, but most don’t. When it comes to listening to advice, please try to do your research first before following a blogger or a gardenwriter who is not an expert. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts out there too, so it will take some work on your part to weed out the others. Just like anything else, from junk mail to direct mail to cold call phone calls. Maybe the first time I thought that I really did inherit 2 million dollars from a lost uncle in Africa, but the second time, I didn’t fall for it. I am so smart, I can’t stand myself.

I hate saying this, but I feel that in some ways, social media has pushed gardening back 100 years, while at the same time has turned gardening into temporary arts and crafts project doomed to fail. It’s done a lot of good for gardening too, maybe more good than it has bad, but only once one has experience, to be able to edit all of the bad information. Gardening is an art – sure, but first and foremost, it’s a science. Most of all, it should not be treated as a novelty craft. Sure one could plant a lettuce seedling in a wine crate, but is that the best way to raise lettuce ( or to upcycle a wine crate for that matter?). That’s really the information that you need to know.
As a gardener, you are responsible for the heath and well being of the plants you are raising, and although it may make you really feel good to not waste those coffee grounds by tossing them away every day, do you really know if they are good for your geraniums? Come on – really? Wouldn’t it be more helpful for you to know the facts like does lettuce seed germinate better at 38ºF outdoors in the garden, or under lights in an eggshell pot at 75º before you decide if egg shells are the best container?. ( the answer is 38º, outdoors, but cabbage is best germinated at 85º indoors, and then planted outdoors at 50º ). What is the most helpful tip here? The soil temperature or the container?
Not to mention that you really do need to know what container is best for the seed you are starting. Some plants need black light- emitting containers ( like Scabiosa seed and Salpiglossis ) while others benefit from a clear cover which will retain moisture – strawberry containers are perfect for this for rhododendron seed and ferns. Garden advice rarely generalized. Often, it is specific, for a reason.
I don’t know if you remember this, but a couple of years ago, ‘Martha Stewart got herself into a bit of trouble in an interview on Bloomberg, do you remember the news reports? ‘Martha Stewart Speaks Out: Bloggers are not Experts”. I will say that the entire blogging world would probably not exist today, if it wasn’t for Martha Stewart – but I will also say that she was somewhat correct. Sadly, blogs along with perhaps the rise of the Internet has killed her brand, but it’s also killed most magazines and books for that matter. Some survive, while others are still morphing – Here is where I agree with Martha- those considered experts will survive in the long run. I hope that I am one of them.

As a consumer of garden writing myself, I am craving great original ideas and amazing tips that will improve how I garden. I want inspiration, but what I don’t really want to read is one more post about how I can use yogurt cups as seed starting containers. Call me a genius, but I don’t know, for some reason, I kind of can figure those things out for myself.

There are others out there (OK – countless others) who are beginners whoa re just blogging about how they are starting a garden, and I love reading about their discoveries or mistakes even. There are plenty too, who still imagine themselves as the next Martha – but I imagine that in the long run, there is less need for 15 Martha’s than there was before. Today, information is so easy to find. Too easy, actually. I need someone to filter it, or to edit or curate it for me. That’s what I would hope the real Martha brand will do for me in the future. I fear however, that someday – without Martha in the picture, it will morph into what many lifestyle magazines have become – a generic, sterile sameness – over-simplified, shallow and containing recipes with only 5 ingredients that I can prepare after a long day at work.

This is a shame, because I can search Google for anything. If I want to make Banana bread, I know from experience that I will need to filter through the easier recipes on MyRecipes.com and FoodNetwork.com. I then will need to edit out the brand name sites like Kingarthurflour and Bettycrocker, ( I know, you experienced cooks do this too). I may end up at a small micro bakery site from Belgium that a good foodblogger was able to finagle a recipe from – or something like that, but my point is that today it’s more about editing and curating, than it is about anything else. Some of us will look for the easy way out, others, for excellence or the ‘wow factor’. The last place I seem to look anymore, is in my bookcase or through old magazines, I am sorry to admit.

I think the same is happening with gardening, and raising plants. There was a times when even for rare seed, I would search through some literature trying to find the perfect stratification outlined for a rare alpine plant – today, I am more likely going to find that on a website, or a plant society forum, or if all else fails, from someone I know on Facebook in a group created about that genus.

We have Martha to thank for this when it comes to food, and eventually, those who find that they are serious about gardening, will too edit through the sameness and weak or just bad, crafty information, finding just the right advice and curated content that will inspire you to have success, since I want to have success too. I want you to enjoy gardening, and hope that you don’t get caught up with ‘tips and tricks’ or novelty ideas.

That said …..

I promise to never write about:

1. Home made Fertilizer – Epsom salts, molasses, vinegar, human pee, etc. I will write about unique mixes, or formulas specific to particular species or plants, but never generalized nonsense like this.

2. Coffee Grounds –as a good choice for compost pile – yes. For just adding to your garden? Why? I give you permission to just throw them out, for I am certain that you are wasting far better composting materials from your kitchen, but I also want you to be conscious about your soil acidity and pH before using any home remedy that will raise the ;acid or reduce it. I’ve seen people say “This is great! It will raise the acid in my soil!”, but do they need to? If you cannot explain to someone what your soil analysis test has revealed to you then why are you adding chemicals? Just be smarter. OK, Coffee ground wont hurt your plants, but they probably aren’t doing all that you think that they are either.

3a. Egg shells for starting seeds – Nothing against egg shells at all – but they are just about the worst thing to start any seeds in. Start wheat grass in them for the Easter table, but you are doing a disservice to your seedlings if you are starting vegetable seeds in them. Too small, and you risk damaging the roots.

3b. Eggshells for anything else too for that matter. Sure, they are shown to reduce blossom end-rot by adding calcium to the soil in some studies – but do know how often you need to add powdered shells to each plant and how much you need to achieve such results? Do you know how long it takes to extract the calcium from egg shells? Do you know if that Epsom salt drench affects how your eggshells decompose? Do your homework first. There are better ways. Just toss them in the compost and move on to watering your plants consistently while they are forming fruit. Boom. Solved.

4. No airplant ANYTHING People – they will die. I even started a Pinterest board entitled ” Best ways to kill Airplants – and people repinned them with notes like ‘Great idea!’ . Airplants are good in the ideal location, perhaps a steamy shower with a window? Sadly, airplants have become the goldfish-in-a-goldfish-bowl of todays generation. Most, if not all, will die. There are ways to successfully grow airplants, and none of them include a hot glue gun. Try some fresh sphagnum on an orchid mount and place them outdoors on a shady wall on your deck where you can mist them daily – you know – so that they will actually live?
5. Fairie gardens – unless your 4 year old daughter wants to make on. And BTW – if you are over 40 and a dude? I wouldn’t.( I know Mr. Nursery owner that Fairie gardens are very profitable).

6. Succulents in a terrarium or orchids in a terrarium (unless it’s an orchid that belongs in a terrarium – and sorry to tell you this, but no succulent belongs in a terrarium. It will rot, and then it will die.
7. Home-made seed tape
(OK – – this trend just confounds me – really? Saving money? At $1.50 for 15 feet at most seed catalogs – you’re welcome.
8. Chalkboard plant labels – there is a really good reason why one cleans a chalk board with water.

Paint markers on black? Love it. Chalk board paint and chalk? Good luck with that.

9. Lasagna Gardening. If you really need to mulch you can use most anything – because mulching is a good thing (Thank you Ruth Stout!), but corrugate b-flute cardboard and newspaper with grass clippings is just asking for trouble. Stick to thick layers of straw or hay, and leave the sheets of board and newspaper along with grass clippings to the compost pile. The same goes for wood bark mulch in the veg garden. Slugs, over-heating, mold, chemicals from the paper and inks, it has not place in good horticulture for so many reasons – It’s a bad idea with a good name. I do encourage mulching however, for plant that appreciate mulch but remember, not all plants do. Some prefer that the soil is left alone to breath naturally, other plants do better wit gravel or stone, some do best with just leaves or pine duff. Know what your plants need first, and then, either learn to week, or much consciously with what works best for the plant – it may be fresh compost, or fresh or well rotted manure, straw or salt marsh hay for the best results. Best mulch ever? In the fall, save your leaves and shred them in a shredder. Make long piles along the edge of your garden, add manure if you can get it, and then add this after you perform a soil test in the spring. Stand back and let your tomatoes rejoice.

9. Wine Crate vegetable gardens – Look, I ‘get it’ – I love the look of many wine crates, but most will just fall apart in a few weeks once wet. There is a reason why most photos on Pinterest look as if they were just planted with a few 6 packs of lettuce. If you’ve ever tried to do this yourself, you know what will happen. Manufactuers are not making good- quality wine crates, and most are just too small to do any good. I can’t remember that name of the blogger who had the guts to show what really happens to these containers after a couple on months, but believe me, it was anything by pretty.

If you feel that you really want to try this, either make a cover for your plastic tomato crate or container from the panels, or have someone make larger wooden boxes and then attach the panels to them with brass screws. Otherwise, unless you are just planning to write a post about what great idea this is and just photographing your project expecting it to last for a few weeks, I advise you to move on.

10. Companion Planting – I know, it seems so nice and friendly, but there is no proof that Marigolds planted between tomatoes or cabbage will deter pests. I do it, because it looks good. Period. The same goes for those Pelargoniums (Scented Geraniums) sold as ‘Mosquito Repellant plants” – (you it’s coming – great name, bad idea.

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