The greatest teacher is by doing and this relates very well to gardening. Yeah, I have all the basic how-to books, special super interesting articles by those who know, and many hours of training while in the classroom. However, learning by doing seems to be the best way to actually learn how things are done in the garden.
I recall a little life story when my dad took me to Big Bear Lake in California to fish for trout. Well, about an hour before we were to set sail, I found him in the cabin reading a book on how to fish in fresh water. When I asked him how long it would take, he told me that he wasn’t about to begin fishing in new waters until he was up to speed on the abc’
s of freshwater fishing. My heart sunk because I wanted to simply wet a line. About two hours later he was still immersed in his book, so my brother and I gathered up our gear and went to the shoreline to test the waters. Shortly after arriving to our spot my dad came down to tell us that he was going to take the boat out and give it a test run before packing all the gear. We said our yes sirs and simply kept on fishing. Well, while watching my dad and uncle go back and forth on the lake attempting to correct an engine problem, we caught our limit of trout. They never fished that day, but they did drink a lot of cold beer. That night at the dinner table my brother and I told our fishing stories.
This season, I have had to re-learn or better yet, learn for the first time, how certain plants behave when planted too early and too late. For instance, I planted a crop of bak-choi in very early spring only to learn that by doing so results in plants that bolt as the days lengthen. Well, maybe this is something one could have learned in a book but, for me, it remains memorable through actual experience.
Another example pertains to pruning (removing suckers) tomatoes. During the past many years, I have played around with aggressive pruning versus only pruning plants which demonstrate excessive vegetative growth. However, the results have been mixed. What I’ve learned from this experience is to let the plant tell you what it needs. For instance, when a tomato plant is growing slow and does not develop a robust canopy, I will not prune it. Rather, I allow the plant every opportunity to produce a crop. However, if it grows vigorously and has numerous branches, I’ll prune it. Yet, I never prune so much that the plant won’t have sufficient leaf area to sustain good fruit production while also providing sufficient shade to developing fruit. Shade helps to reduce sun scald on this tender fruit.
I believe what I’m trying to tell you is do some reading, and dream by way of colorful seed catalogues, but don’t forget to get dirty in the garden. It’s an awesome journey!