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Just Dive In

Gardening, like parenting, is largely intuitive.


At this time of year, when juggling too many seeds with too little seed starting space, with too little time, too many firsts, too many timelines, too much advice, and too many rules, I am reminded of the challenges and victories of early parenthood. I am reminded to not take it all too seriously.

Seed starting in organic compost defies the soil-less sterile starting mix rule, but works beautifully for me

When our children were very tiny, and one of them was ill, I would dive through advice blogs and parenting books until I became paralyzed with uncertainty and insecurity. My exhausted-parent thinking at the time was that, given the many thousands of parenting books and blogs offered by the all-knowing, surely I knew nothing and required enlightenment.


I would bundle up all three babies and drive us downtown to see our family doctor, and, despite interrupting the beautiful rhythm of synchronized nap and feeding schedule perfection, the visits prescribed essential, unremarkable wisdom. Our doctor would diagnose the malady, real or implied, and then ask what I thought the problem was and what should be done. I would tell her what I thought, and then nine times out of 10, she would say something like, "Then that's what you should do. You are his (her) mum and I am confident that you know best. This is not a life threatening situation, so follow your heart and your head, and listen to your children. Watch how they respond or don't, and call me if things get worse."


Indeterminate tomatoes planted 12" apart defy the 2'-3' apart rule yet produce prolifically through November

That advice stayed with me always, and it helped make me a confident, informed, attentive mum to my children, and in general. I like to say that we raised our children organically, which we more or less did, and they are so much the better for it. Conservative, common sense non-pharmaceutical treatment of most ailments, within reason of course, and rather old-fashioned thinking that playing outside nearly every damn day rain or shine, playing in the wormy dirt, and going to bed early were how things should be done. There were times of course, when we were truly grateful for the miracles of modern medicine, but for the most part we deferred happily, though by no means not blindly, to nature's logic.


I am not old, but indeed old enough to remember when things were much simpler, when self-sufficiency and homemaking skills were valued to a much greater degree than they are today. The race for economic well-being and global domination left much in its wake, not the least of which is generations of inherited and traditional knowledge; moreover authentic value of that knowledge. Thankfully, we are waking up once again to the intrinsic worth of self sufficiency, sustainability, intuition, and life skills like growing, cooking and preserving food.


Fuyu persimmons harvested long past the advised deadline and many hard frosts; gorgeous and delicious

We are questioning the economic model that relies for its survival, on our collective belief that we are inadequate, unaccomplished and incapable, and that we need commercial products and expertise-by-subscription to fulfill our inadequacies and to make us happy. That our children need sleep meds and teething meds, and sniffly nose meds, and sit-still meds; that our lawns need weed killer and chemical fertilizer; that our potting mix must be sterile; that our tomatoes must be unblemished, and that seed starting requires a shallow dive into our line of credit.


How did we get by, do you suppose, before the post-war boom brought us better and best ways to do absolutely everything? Observation, intuition, and the passing down of traditional knowledge - that's how.


Observation, reflection and gratitude are fundamental to regaining our happiness; to unlocking the latent and untapped intuition that we have more of than we know. My gardening journey has taught me to trust my intuition. I am by no means always right, but I'd say that most of the time, my assumptions are spot on. Becoming a permaculture designer gave me the tools and language to defend my intuitive hypotheses. Ironically, I knew intuitively that I needed certification in order to develop a plausible framework for urban permaculture design, and, to explain permaculture ethics and principles to others.


Spring sown arugula in January, rule breaking under ultra-light row cover, no sun, many hard frosts, endless rain.

First and foremost, I would like to share that food gardening is not hard, and it most certainly need not be expensive. On the contrary, it is joyful, cheap and delicious. The recipe is simple, varying by degrees for geography, weather, and site suitability. The ingredients are few: seeds/plants, soil, water, sunshine, food. The methodology is as easy or as hard as you want to make it, but my advice is to start small with very little capital investment, and see how it goes. Watch, adapt, watch some more, adapt more or don't, watch, enjoy, harvest, share.


Big box brand radish seeds in a dented thrift store bucket with holes drilled through the bottom for drainage, can bring the same quality and quantity of joy as does the most spectacularly ordered half-acre organic market garden. I know from experience that in gardening as in love, getting bogged down in things to remember to do or not to do perfectly, takes all the fun out of it. If gardening is not unconditional, why bother, I say.

Fall sown peas happy in November; breaking the March-May sowing rule. Beets under frost cloth, snow on mountains

Indeed there are very sound basic rules for success, and indeed I encourage you to follow them, but they are not cast in stone and they are not definitive. Every garden, like every gardener, is unique. I encourage you then to just dive right in. Write your own rules and create your own truths; defer to nature's logic and following your awesome, inherent intuition.


Imagine that you are stranded at a lakeside cabin with nothing but basic provisions, and an assortment of seeds. You know what to do. The worst thing that could happen is that you learn what not to do next. A good tip to know going in, is to sow a half-pack or less of any seed variety at any one time, so if (when) you screw up, or nature does, you can have another go.


So follow your heart and your head, and listen to your plant babies. Watch how they respond or don't to the love that you give them, and message me if you need help.

To learn about urban permaculture and permaculture principles, such as those relating to traditional environmental knowledge, and adherence to nature's logic, watch Modern Farmer Magazine's Urban Permaculture video series in which publisher Frank Giustra and I introduce the basics.


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