By Dianna Kasprzak
If you're a perfectionist and have trouble achieving your "perfect" garden, this post might be for you!
There are many who achieve the "picture perfect garden." My maternal grandparents were both gardeners. Perfectionist gardeners. They could not share a garden -- they each had their own -- because of specific ideas on how gardening should be done.
My mother was a good gardener but was more practical in her approach. With 8 children, you don't have time for fussy.
And then there is me. I did not grow up learning how to garden. Mom quickly chased us out of the garden when she saw we were pulling up plants along with the weeds!
When finally I tried my hand at gardening, I took a perfectionist's approach and it looked somewhat like this:
· Visualize garden on paper with all plants assigned to their specific location
· The outside borders have perfect symmetry
· Rows are neatly lined up in perfect parallels
· There is never a speck of a weed between rows!
I tried this kind of gardening, but it led only to stress and frustration. Here's why. When you till up your garden space, it is impossible to get "perfect lines," or a "perfect rectangle." Without perfectly squared off angles, the best-laid plans go downhill from that point onward. For example, you can create rows by pounding in two stakes and connecting those stakes with twine or string, but because your garden wasn't perfectly squared off, your rows might begin to take on more of an uneven parallelogram -- or worse!
Next, with the row marked, you begin to create a furrow for seeds or holes for the seedlings. However, to keep the row straight, everything must go directly under the string. I just can't do it! It gets off at some point or another and then I wonder what was the value of spending all day, just marking rows, only to end up with less-than-straight rows? To a non-perfectionist, this sounds way too complicated -- even silly. But there are people who really do get caught up in the weeds of perfectionism.
A few years' ago, I learned of sustainable growing. It was revolutionary for me! Not only was it good for the soil, it was much easier. Thus began to form what I call the "haphazard method of gardening." It pairs very well with the sustainable gardening concepts I teach at this organic gardening class.
By way of explanation, organic or sustainable gardening aims to preserve the permaculture and microbiome of the soil. It utilizes intensive composting, which enriches the soil, controls weeds, and nourishes the plants. It also utilizes the spacing of plants closely together to protect the moisture of the soil and control weeds. This method is so logical and makes complete sense to me. I've been converted!
Here are the particulars of "haphazard gardening." You will not need a tape measure, stakes, nor string. Instead, you will mark "rows" or "sections" by using a 2" x 2" pieces of lumber in 6' or 8' lengths. You can create your rows or sections by using this lumber. It's instant, it's quick! To make a planting row, simply turn the lumber on one of its long edges and slide the lumber back and forth a few times into the soil, quickly making a perfect furrow. (Oops....did I say "perfect?") It's helpful to put two of these pieces of lumber parallel to one another to quickly eyeball a section that will result in "good enough" evenly spaced rows. The only time I use stakes and string, is to rope off a section to guard from little feet that wander into the garden.
Another way to do quick measuring is to use your trowel or other hand garden tool and measure the distance between plants by laying your trowel on the ground at the center of the seedling you just planted and measuring to the center of the next seeding. If you need a larger spacing, you can measure at the edge of the hole, to the edge of the next hole, etc. It really works and again....it's super quick!
When planting potatoes, instead of planting them in rows, plant them in a patch. Simply eyeball the space that has been sectioned off with your lumber and randomly dig the holes approximately 18" apart. You will be surprised how quick and easy this is! When the potatoes come up and the foliage expands, the leaves shade the ground, preserving ground moisture and eliminating weed growth, since the sunlight does not reach under this heavy foliage. If you space your potato plants closely together, you can plant a wide area, since these plants will need little attention other than hilling, until harvest time. By then, the leaves have all withered and died and the base of the plant is now visible for harvesting.
This is the same concept for most planting, i.e., patches of pepper plants, greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc. If there is going to be progressive harvesting during the growing season, then make sure your "patch" is reachable from both sides, by creating a path on each side of the row or patch.
The best part of haphazard gardening is mulching between the plants and rows! You spend very little time weeding and the soil is being enriched via the mulching.
The goal of gardening is to experience joy during the process and an eventual harvesting of quality produce that you and your family will enjoy.