Gardening is lifelong learning

Gardening is lifelong learning.

Just as some people have a yoga or meditation practice, I have a gardening practice.

Like yoga or meditation, gardening is a discipline that one can never truly master. With years of consistent practice, you can become well-versed in gardening methods — sowing times and techniques, plant and disease knowledge, crop planning — but your form will never be perfect, because you’re dealing with living systems that respond in ways your ego can’t control. Your garden is a reflection of you, your physical space, and the global climate, and all of these things are in constant flux.

The real work of being a gardener, at least for me, isn’t just about knowing about crops or soil or plant diseases. It’s about being able to read the relationships between these things, and about learning how to respond and guide the garden towards its abundance.

Knowledge can easily get in the way of learning. In the same way that an enthusiastic new yoga practitioner can injure herself by contorting into an overly ambitious pose, new gardeners, after reading a few books, can sometimes try to plant things in an overly complicated way. Eventually, they can lose track of their garden’s overall form, get poor results, and even give up. This happened to me years ago when I first completed my Permaculture Design Certificate: I immediately tried to apply every permaculture technique possible in my small space, ending up with a mess of companion plantings and an herb spiral that sank into the ground. Now, I grow things in a simpler way, introduce elements slowly, and allow the garden to mature over time.

Gardening is truly lifelong learning. No matter how much success you have, there are always new observations and adjustments to be made. And no matter how much success you have one year, you might not be able to replicate it the next year by using the exact same approach. In our increasingly unpredictable climate, it’s more important to be able to respond in the moment, with a flexible and adaptable design, than it is to follow a rigid formula.

In a society that values youth over experience, gardening is still one of the few places where true expertise takes many years to cultivate. I look forward to the day when I become an elder. Until then, I’ll keep learning everything I can — from books, online, and, mostly, from observing the garden and taking consistent notes.

When something goes wrong in your garden, don’t get upset with yourself. Instead, try to analyse what caused the problem, ask others for advice, and devise a plan to avoid the problem next time. When something goes well, take a moment to analyse your success, make notes, and ask yourself how to can replicate it.

Gardening is not a simple matter of following techniques by rote, because each person’s garden is unique, just as each person’s body and mind are unique, and because these things change over time. Gardening forces us to develop an intimate knowledge with the land and seasons, and to cultivate the development of our growing spaces over a timeline that cannot be rushed.

What’s growing this week:
I gave the garden some well-deserved rest this week and didn’t pick anything. Our fridge was full enough.

Remember last week’s giant emergency kale harvest? We blanched and froze about two garbage bags worth of the stuff (it shrank down to a reasonable size), but it didn’t last in the freezer very long, because Jason made three giant pans his amazing spanakopita.  I also had lots of fun chopping frozen kale into ribbons and throwing them into pretty much any dish we had going (soups, beans, rice, anything) just before serving. The pre-cooked kale defrosts almost instantly once it’s chopped and keeps its deep emerald colour. Now that’s my idea of convenience food.

I also made some nice soup with one of our pumpkins, which I roasted and then pureed with a couple of cans of coconut milk, onions and leftover thai curry paste. We’ve been heating it up with cubed tofu, leftover rice and kale ribbons for easy dinners this week.

Jason’s spanakopita doesn’t use an actual recipe, but this one from Hollyhock is pretty similar and would probably be equally good with chard, kale, leeks or onions.


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