Category: Gardening

Potting-up, Burlap Bags, and a Dearth of Perfect Love

Notes from the Garden

Happy first birthday to my granddaughter, Edith (Stein . . . but she’s not Jewish). I’ll be growing pumpkins for the grandkids for however long my ghost breathes.

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The May Gardening Push continues. This unbelievable cold snap has pushed back growing and planting, forcing me to “pot-up” my tomato plants (a chore I enjoy “in the moment” but that seems like a waste of effort . . . if I could just “time” the initial planting with the passing of all frost).

For non-gardeners: The act of “potting-up” means taking plants from a smallish container and putting them into a bigger container, so you can later put them in yet a bigger container or the ground.

Like I said, a waste of time, but fairly important or the plants’ growth will be permanently stunted.

One thing I like about potting-up, though: I am occasionally able to salvage two or three plants from the same small plant, creating two or three large pots. Over the past few days, I have potted-up 30 tomato plants from about 20 small containers, and they all look vibrant and healthy.

I continue to plant potatoes like a mad-man, though I’m a bit concerned at how bad the (very) expensive seed potatoes look. They’re soft and the sprouts have black tips. Neither, apparently, are a cause of concern, though, based on what I could find on the Google Machine.

I planted ten seed potatoes in burlap bags last night. While at the coffee shop with Meg (of Hillsdale College), I saw they were selling their old coffee bean bags for $3. I searched the Internet and saw a lot of articles about growing vegetables, especially potatoes, in burlap bags, so I bought five.

The experience wasn’t as idyllic … Read the rest

Wild Gardening Notes

Note One: I need to come up with a better name than “Wild Gardening”

I’m greatly encouraged by my wild garden experimentation.

But I need a different name. “Wild gardening” is already being used, and it generally denotes something different (lots perennials, edible weeds, etc.). That’s not what I’m doing.

My concept: Allow greens to go to seed and blow all over the place. Leave vegetables like tomatoes on the ground to be reabsorbed by nature. Ruthlessly take out weeds before they go to seed. Eventually, the “good” plants will outnumber the weed plants and give me a great harvest every year with little effort.

The initial results are greatly encouraging. As of right now, I have at least 75 volunteer lettuce plants: 30 Jester, 30 Black Seeded Simpson, and 15 Salanova. The volunteers will probably produce about 50 pounds of lettuce, which translates to about $250 of produce . . . .with virtually no effort. I also have more cilantro plants than I can count. And that’s just after my first year in my  new garden that was entirely lawn at the end of 2019.

A few notes:

1. The cilantro thrives in the wild garden. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes over everything, but that’s alright. People love cilantro and it’s easy to yank out. If I see it crowding my lettuce, the cilantro gets yanked like a weed.

2. I use a lot of tarps during the winter to kill vegetation and preserve the soil. Tarps and wild gardening are, presumably, antithetical. You can’t do both. My plan is to keep about 1/3rd of my garden wintered with leaf mulch (which allows for volunteers); another 1/3rd covered until late May, in hopes that some volunteers will come up; and the other 1/3rd tarped … Read the rest

Garden Writing is About More than Plants

The biographical, philosophical, meditational, and countercultural world of American gardening literature

Riddle: What literary genre has historical roots that predate Socrates; features hundreds of American writers including Thoreau, Washington Irving, and Edith Wharton; and is a genre that you’ve probably never even heard of?

Answer: American gardening literature.

Don’t roll your eyes.

It’s a thing.

American gardening literature is a blend

In fact, American gardening literature is a big thing.

I have three volumes of gardening literature anthologies in my home library alone. Amazon has an entire department dedicated to “Gardening & Horticultural Essays.” Yes, just “essays.” It has two dozen other departments dedicated to gardening and horticulture in general.

The genre of American garden writing runs the gamut from technical to inspirational, from garden bed blueprints to meditations on weeding.

There are, for instance, seed catalogs that merely list seed specifications. They hardly qualify as literary endeavors. And then there are literary seed catalogs . . . those rare (and free!) publications that are informational, occasionally witty, and serious about their prose (one of my favorites is published by Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon).

Among contemporary books, you have The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, which is my standard “go-to” book but hardly qualifies as serious literature. And you have Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, by theologian-gardener Vigen Guroian, which might be lovely but scarcely talks about gardening techniques.

And then you have The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe, which is a beautiful hybrid: mostly how-to gardening advice, but laced with a meditational bent that, though rarely overt, informs the book as a whole.

Deppe’s book is what I mean by “American gardening literature.” It’s packed with gardening advice from a highly-educated and experienced gardener (Deppe holds a PhD in biology from Harvard), but it’s about (oh … Read the rest

How I Use the Gardening Blockchain Crypto-Johnson Rod Algorithm to Deal with the Modern World

Confused and Contented in the Garden

“I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.” The financier/philosopher Nassim Taleb starts one of his chapters with these words in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

Taleb goes to great lengths to point out that modernity (a thing he loathes) is a highly complicated world that, truth be recognized, nobody understands. The world is integrated, labyrinthine, complex, technological, speedy–all adjectives he employs. And he’s right.

It reminds me of a conversation that my wife and I had last spring. She was talking about a friend’s investments and his conviction that the United States economy is going to fall apart. In addition to gold and silver, he’s also buying guns. She asked what I thought, and I basically said, “Yeah, maybe. And definitely, at some point . . . like maybe in 500 years or maybe next week. Who can possibly know? You know what I know? I know that sickly spinach plant I re-planted two weeks ago is going to make it. That’s what I know.”

I don’t understand this world. Heck, it goes beyond that: I don’t understand the world, trust the world, or even particularly like the world.

The World

Now, by “world” I mean the modern world, the cultural-economic milieu in which I find myself. I’m not referring to creation or other people in general. I’m not a Gnostic who thinks matter is evil and the world is run by an evil demiurge. The evil demiurge that most afflicts me is in Washington, DC, and that’s a political statement, not a metaphysical one, though the evil is getting so powerful I’ll soon need metaphysical analogies to capture the enormity of the problem.

The dichotomy between the two senses of the word “world” is instructive. There’s “the … Read the rest

Why Gardening = Freedom

From the Gardening Journals

Gardening is anti-government. The gardener is, in a little way, an anarchist. He doesn’t pay tax on his produce and no one tells him what to grow.

If you meditate on this, you begin to realize the immense importance of private property. Without private property, there is no freedom. That’s not rhetorical flourish or poetry or exaggeration. It’s naked reality.

If the State can take the position that all things come courtesy of government (“you didn’t build that”), then the State can even take away your garden, either directly (by seizure) or indirectly (by taxation). It reminds me of this quote from von Mises:… Read the rest

Sodomites and Gardenites

“[L]et us cultivate our garden.” That’s how Voltaire ends his novella, Candide. Great advice, that, though academics argue that, instead of a peaceful resignation, Voltaire was instead using “gardening” as a metaphor for improving the world.

That kind of interpretation strikes me as absurd, but I’m no Voltaire scholar, nor do I want to be. I mean, heck, the guy supposedly once engaged in anal intercourse with another guy in order to see what it was like. When his partner eagerly suggested later that they do it again, Voltaire declined, saying, “Once, a philosopher. Twice, a sodomite.”

That line is pretty funny, but the background disturbing, hence my lack of eagerness to study Voltaire and form an educated opinion about whether Candide suggested that people cultivate their garden literally or “cultivate the garden of the world” (metaphorically), though I would add that Voltaire was a gardener.

I’ve adopted the literal meaning of Candide’s words. The world hasn’t been cruel to me like it was to Candide. Far from it. But I’m increasingly living in a world that makes no sense to me, and I’m done trying to figure it out.… Read the rest

Rodriguez, Mother Teresa, and the Garden

Art, Charity, Simplicity, and Detachment

I frequently experience a soft yet unequivocal intuition that tells me gardening is a monastic-like pursuit.

Indeed, it’s even a bit stronger than that:  the intuition tells me that gardening is a holiness-like pursuit.

I don’t know where the intuition comes from. I’m not convinced the intuition is right, but the intuition strikes me for two reasons: it’s undeniably there, and the reasons it’s there are undeniably murky, at best.

That intuition first became conscious for me nine years ago over the same weekend when I watched the documentary Searching for Sugar Man and started reading Mother Teresa: A Simple Path. Neither has anything to do with gardening, but upon reflection, I concluded they have everything to do with gardening.


Searching for Sugar Man tells the story about Sixto Rodriquez, a folk singer (Bob Dylan knock-off) in the late 1960s.

He lived in downtown Detroit and spent his days doing manual labor and his nights performing in dives of dangerous neighborhoods. He got noticed and cut two albums, including one album in Los Angeles. The albums did nothing, and he went back to his life of manual labor.

He didn’t know that his music had caught fire in South Africa and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. When combined with bootleg sales, millions of copies proliferated through South Africa, where he was “Elvis popular.” In the 1990s, two “musicologist detectives” decided to track down information about the mysterious singer “Rodriquez,” who supposedly killed himself on stage twenty years earlier.

They found him in Detroit, living where he’d been living since the 1970s, in some run-down neighborhood of Detroit. Rodriguez then went on tour in South Africa. He appeared on Letterman; 60 Minutes did a special on him. The documentary about the story (Searching … Read the rest

The Full Agrarian Letter

Professor Michael Jordan’s Final Exam Letter to his Students

Professor Michael Jordan saw last week’s post. He graciously provided me the original, full letter, with this note:

I taught a course on “The Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization” back in 1999, and while students were taking the final, I wrote this letter to them, a letter that summarized some of the basic themes of the course.

The full letter is below

While it is unlikely that you will take up the plow after you graduate, you can still be a good Agrarian.  Here are a few Agrarian admonitions that direct us toward what is called the American Dream, what we might also call the Good Life.

Whenever possible, show loyalty and solidarity with your community by shopping at the small shops: at locally owned and locally managed businesses, places where you might encounter the same face behind the counter over a period of years.  Be a member of your community, not homo economicus, a mere consumer in the global economy.  In G. K. Chesterton’s The Outline of Sanity (section two on “Some Aspects of Big Business”), Chesterton argues (and demonstrates) that the small shops are often better than the large stores from both the moral and the mercantile points of view. 

Remember Wordsworth’s sonnet; avoid the fate of men devoted to utility and consumerism:

            The world is too much with us; late and soon,

            Getting and Spending, we lay waste our powers:

            Little we see in Nature that is ours;

            We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Put the interest of God, community, and family before self-interest.  This is perhaps more a Christian admonition than an Agrarian, though it is implicit (and sometimes explicit) in some of the “Agrarian” writings we’ve examined.  The … Read the rest