My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plants point of view.
- H. Fred Dale
My passion, other than teaching and learning, is gardening (and learning about gardening). Today I was cleaning up my veggie plot, getting ready for planting the really early stuff like spring greens and checking out the shoots on the garlic bulbs I planted last fall. I started thinking about the cliched metaphors about gardening being like teaching or raising a child, the nuturing, blah, blah, blah…then I really started thinking about it.
When you grow something, like a carrot, you can read about what kind of soil carrots need, you can buy the right kind of fertilizer, ask other gardeners how they get rid of white flies and you learn to grow really good carrots. You can always grow really good carrots. Except sometimes it rains too much or not enough and your carrots aren’t quite as good as usual, but they’re still not bad.
Then one year you have just the right soil mix, add the best fertilizer at just the right time, the weather is perfect and your carrots don’t grow. You can’t figure out what ‘s wrong with your carrots because you did everything just right. Then you realize that the seed packet wasn’t labelled and you planted a handful of strawberries instead. Well, strawberries need different conditions than carrots, so even though you did everything just the way a carrot would want it, it didn’t work for strawberries. You’ve figured out the problem so now you can create a perfect little world for strawberries, the problem is a classroom’s not like that AT ALL!
The first day of school you get a handful of seeds, they’re all different and you don’t know what any of them are. You don’t know what kind of soil they like, how much to water them, when to fertilize them, how much room to give them. You have no idea what they’re going to turn into.
What you find out, as you water and fertilize, is that they all have different needs. What makes one thrive kills another. So what do you do? Do you do what’s best for some and sacrifice the others? As you start figuring out which seedlings are what do you separate them so you can care for each group differently? That seems logical, but experienced gardeners know that even though it hasn’t been proven scientifically, companion planting yields the best produce. Plant tomatoes and basil together and they both taste better. Plant peas and lettuce together and the peas provide the nitrogen that the lettuce needs to grow. Plant marigolds near broccoli and they keep flies away. But plant beans near garlic and neither do well. Plant small, early yield plants in amongst bigger, slower growing ones and you get more produce in the end.
Given the current political state of education it makes me think that the carrot growers are insisting that they know exactly what the garden needs and so are the broccoli farmers. They both have the studies to back them up. They’re just forgetting that not all vegetables are carrots…or broccoli.
Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise.
~Michael P. Garafalo
and so, I think, should we.
We start off doing what works most of the time and when we see that the shoots are coming up we feel great. Then we notice that some of the shoots aren’t doing as well, so we water them a little more, or a little less, than the others. We add a little fertilizer when things slow down a bit and then we leave things alone for a little while to see what happens. We constantly adjust to what is and we don’t assume that just because something worked last year it will work the same way again. After all, we have a whole different handful of seeds.