By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

The dictionary has it wrong. Gardening isn’t just about plants, it’s about everything else: the soil, the insects, the birds, mammals, reptiles and how you fit in the world. The plants are the final flourish, the gift of reciprocity from all the others. Thus says Alys Fowler. She has a gardening column in England. That seems a bit pretentious until you really think about it.

Gardening can be frustrating, it’s not for sissys. The garden will laugh at you, send you slugs, potato bugs, tomato worms and other assorted bugs to fight you for the plants. And then there are the deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and the neighbors’ unruly kids. But we still do it because gardening becomes less of an act and more of a relationship with your soil and the many things it supports.

People say I’m too busy to garden. Nuts! Gardening is our route back to having a meaningful relationship with the natural world. Gardening can be done anywhere, on a windowsill, in a pot on the deck, on a rooftop if you live in the city, in a community garden or in your own back or even, front yard. Gardening has been described as subversive because you get a chance to step outside the capitalist system for a moment. When you grow rather than buy, you alter the supply chain. You can barter a basket of fresh veggies with the neighbor, so his kid mows your yard. No money exchanges hands.

Growing your own feeds more than just your family. Every plant grown without chemicals feeds the soil food web- thousands of insects from aphids to butterflies and the bugs feed the birds. A chemical free soil is literally crawling with insects.

Compost. It takes all the trash left in the garden after the first freeze and turns it into garden gold.  Composted material feeds the millions of microbes in your soil. It also reduces your carbon footprint as you don’t put it in the garbage to be hauled away.   

Another way to be a good gardener is to save seeds, even seeds of hybrid plants. Gardeners hardly ever use all the seeds in a packet at one time. we are left with a box of partly filled seed packets. Some of them will no longer sprout, but here is a way to determine the percentage of viable seeds.

Start with a damp paper towel. Lay 10 seeds on it and roll it up. stick the damp roll in a plastic bag and put it someplace warm- Bunkey finds the top of his refrigerator works quite well. Check it in a week. If none of the seeds have sprouted, give it a few more days. If you do get sprouts, count them. if only 5 sprouted, you have 50% viability. Plant them thicker.

Some seeds will only be “good” for a year. Onions, parsley and parsnip seeds can be tossed. Corn and pepper seeds are good for 2 years. Beans and peas for 3. Tomato, turnip, beets, chard and watermelon are good for 5 years. Perennial flower seed can last from one to three years. Of course, there are always exceptions. 

One way to dispose of “dead” seeds is to feed them to the birds. Not the ones with a colored coating on them of course. Bunkey discovered several stalks of corn growing quite nicely in the middle of the flowerbed. Fertilized and planted by a bird. If you have a corner in the vegetable garden open, broadcast the apparently dead flower seeds in it. can’t hurt and you may end up with a cutting garden.