This is the time of year when garden tasks start to get ahead of me. After Memorial Day, any un-mulched soil in my vegetable bed is suddenly full of weeds that I should pull out now before they smother my peas and lettuce and before I plant my tomatoes and green beans, another task I should have finished by now.
For weekend gardeners like me, time is the scarcest resource. I always have to triage how I’ll spend my gardening time. I never get everything done. As the weekend approaches, I keep a shifting tally of priority tasks. After walking by a neighbor’s vegetable garden and noticing that her tomatoes are already well established, I decide the vegetable garden should come first. Then I park my car next to the six-packs of annuals I left sitting in the driveway, and I think I should pot up my container plantings before the candidates die waiting. I sense a constant drumbeat: hurry, hurry, hurry! You’re late!
This shortage of time may be partly due to an outdated gardening paradigm, the one where arduous work is needed because I’m the boss and sole responsible party in my garden. Fortunately, one thing I’m learning from my transition to more sustainable gardening methods is that some of my old techniques and approaches weren’t worth the time and effort. For example, in spring I used to turn the vegetable bed with my spade to prepare for planting. I found out that it’s better not to till or turn the soil for a host of reasons.
Tilling brings weed seeds to the surface to germinate, it introduces oxygen that causes quicker decomposition of organic material, and it breaks up fungal networks that could be cooperating with soil bacteria and plant roots to provide plants with better nutrition. So I’ve crossed turning and raking the bed off my to-do list. Now I plant through the layer of compost I applied before the growing season started.
I’m slowly learning a new way to garden, one that doesn’t assume that I have to make a garden alone by the sweat of my brow. Instead, I’m recognizing that natural systems are effective and complex, more complex than we can probably know at this point in history—or ever. My goal is to learn to go with the flow. I hope that will mean spending less time spinning my wheels and more time understanding and appreciating how my garden ecosystem works.