Always a Beginner in the Garden

 

Image result for bristlecone pine methuselah Bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest trees

As someone who has spent thousands of hours growing, observing, and researching plants, I feel entitled to say a few words about them.

Other than G-d, nothing is as ever-present as plants. Wherever you go, you see them. Even swimming in the ocean, seaweed is there. What most people don’t know is that the vast majority of the atmosphere’s oxygen comes from ocean phytoplankton, not terrestrial plants or rain forests.

Other than G-d, nothing is as sustaining as plants. Plants provide our food, shelter, clothing and, of course, the oxygen we breathe. Even computers depend on plants. Beeswax, used in honeycomb construction, is secreted by worker bees, whose two food sources, pollen and nectar, come from flowers. Beeswax, harvested from honeycombs, is used to insulate computers’ electronic components.

Plants are incredibly resilient. They can grow up through asphalt and sprout in the tiniest cracks of a stone wall. Some can live without water for years and viability of seeds can last for millennia. Seeds discovered in the Arctic Circle, determined through carbon dating to be more than 30,000 years old, germinated successfully and grew into robust plants. A clonal colony of quaking aspens that covers 100 acres in Utah has a root system that is 80,000 years old.

The oldest individual plant in the world lives in conditions that are generally hostile to plants. This ancient specimen is a bristlecone pine tree, living at an elevation of 9,000 feet in the White Mountains above Death Valley. It is over 5,000 years old and, from fears that it would be vandalized, its location is known to only a few select botanists just as the location of another ancient bristlecone pine, previously thought to be the oldest, and dubbed Methuselah, is not publicly known.

The most important consideration when planting is sun exposure. Some plants love the sun, some need sun protection.

A properly sited plant can overcome adverse soil conditions and a less than ideal water supply.

By the same token, plants that are sited imperfectly in terms of sun exposure may still thrive if they are planted in good soil and are properly mulched.

Mulch is any material, layered on the soil surface, that minimizes evaporative moisture loss, keeping the moisture level of the soil constant. Mulch should be kept at a two to three inch depth but not allowed to touch tree trunks or stems of shrubs or roses angling up from the ground since such contact can lead to fungus problems.

Classic and easily available mulch consists of ground up wood, bark, and leaves produced by the chipper of a tree trimmer, who will gladly empty a truckload of this material on your property at no cost since you save him the expense of taking it to the dump. You can also use compost, partially or completely decomposed, as mulch. Compost — which means mixture — is made from lawn grass, fallen leaves, annual weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, corn cobs, apple cores, and shredded newspapers. Or you can make it exclusively from yard waste: grass, leaves, weeds, and hedge prunings. You can also use straw or pine needles for mulch.

Plants have a love-hate relationship with water. While plants cannot survive without it, too much of it is lethal, especially in the root zone. Good soil drainage is essential to healthy roots. Where it is lacking, soil pores fill with water and anaerobic conditions develop, activating soil fungi that enter roots and plug water-conducting vessels, causing plants to wilt and die. Before planting, you want to build a soft, fast-draining soil. Spread a two-inch layer of compost, homemade or available by the bag at any plant nursery, on the soil surface and incorporate it into the earth with the help of a spading fork. With especially heavy or poorly draining soil, you may need to add more compost.

A plant is as healthy as its roots and will produce abundant flowers or fruit at full capacity only when its roots are taken into account throughout a plant’s development and growth. That’s why raised beds — whose soil is enriched and made porous from the compost added to it — and planter boxes, where designer soil is brought in, are the best guarantee for growing plants with robust root systems and overall health.

There is a lesson for us here. Only those who value their roots — their heritage and their traditions — reach their full potential.

When planting annuals or vegetables from containers, mix Dr. Earth fertilizer with Osmocote slow release fertilizer pellets into each hole. Spread Osmocote over the soil surface as well. When planting perennials, shrubs, or trees, let the backfill contain 1/3 compost and 2/3 native soil. However, shrubs or trees planted from 15-gallon size or larger containers acclimate better when the backfill does not contain compost.

A planting hole should resemble a satellite dish. The depth of the hole should equal the depth of the container in which the plant grew, while the diameter of the hole at the top should be four times the container diameter.

There is a misconception that deep roots are essential to plant health when the opposite is true. The most important roots on any plant are in the top two inches of soil. These are the roots that absorb most of the water and minerals that plants, including the tallest trees, require. Deep roots are vital for plant support and will mine for water when plants are under water stress but, on a daily basis and especially under cultivated conditions, roots in the top two inches of soil are your concern. This is why mulch is so vital, since it protects these roots, keeping them insulated from heat and cold.

When planting a garden, start slow. Grow a few plants well. Sit back and enjoy them before moving on to bolder and bigger schemes. Remember that the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow and, generally speaking, the more you watch your plants — since, in watching, you will be sure to provide them what they need — the better they grow.

Besides, you are always a beginner in the garden. Each foray into the garden is an experiment and sometimes the experiment fails. Don’t be discouraged. Failure is part of the process just as compost, which consists of dead plant debris, engenders life.

If anyone has a general question about gardening or a specific plant they would like to know more about, especially concerning its garden worthiness, message me for assistance.

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  1. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu: Bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest trees…

    Don’t ever set foot on their lawn if you know what’s good for you.

    • #1
  2. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Wonderful post!

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu: Plants are incredibly resilient. They can grow up through asphalt and sprout in the tiniest cracks of a stone wall.

    Yes they can.  The frustrating thing is the difference between “can” and “will,” and that when you want them to, they won’t, and when you don’t want them to, they do.  Clever little guys and girls, those plants.

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu: When planting a garden, start slow. Grow a few plants well. Sit back and enjoy them before moving on to bolder and bigger schemes. Remember that the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow and, generally speaking, the more you watch your plants — since, in watching, you will be sure to provide them what they need — the better they grow.

    Splendid advice, learned at cost, but I got there in the end.  I’d also suggest paying attention to locality and nativity (in the non-religious sense), or maybe the right word is “nativism.”  Look at what grows in your area, and don’t try to force plants that don’t do well in your environment to bloom and flourish just because you want them to.  

    • #2
  3. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    She (View Comment):
    nativity (in the non-religious sense), or maybe the right word is “nativism.”

    The one area of endeavor where SJW’s are virulently anti-immigrant is when it comes to plants.  While I also advocate for planting natives, I am open to planting anything beautiful, whether it comes from China, Pakistan, or Mexico.  The green bigots, however, are zealous about only planting natives and not at all multi-cultural when it comes to garden fare.  When it comes to horticulture, their motto is “foreigners and immigrants keep out!”

    • #3
  4. DonG Coolidge
    DonG
    @DonG

    The bristlecone pine can also be used to construct an inaccurate proxy for temperatures and when joined with another source of data can create a misleading diagram called the “hockey stick graph”.  That can be used to jumpstart a global warming hoax.  It is unknown how many bristlecone pines died in the making of this hoax.

    That said, great post on gardening.  Thanks!

    • #4
  5. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    nativity (in the non-religious sense), or maybe the right word is “nativism.”

    The one area of endeavor where SJW’s are virulently anti-immigrant is when it comes to plants. While I also advocate for planting natives, I am open to planting anything beautiful, whether it comes from China, Pakistan, or Mexico. The green bigots, however, are zealous about only planting natives: immigrants keep out!

    Yes, I do have some “hardy immigrants” in my garden and I don’t mind them at all. I’m open to “beautiful” as long as it works with my climate.  It’s folks who insist on working against what they’ve been given that I can’t understand.  (As I always say, there’s a reason that the nearest little town is called “Claysville,” not “Siltsville,” “Sandsville,” or “Loamsville.”  It was actually named for Henry Clay, but that’s neither here nor there; the name is quite apt.)  With very poor soil, and winter temperatures that regularly dip below zero Fahrenheit, and with so many lovely plants that actually do work in those conditions, I don’t know why people try so hard to overcome them.  (Particularly the temperatures.  The soil can, in small doses, and over time, be amended quite well.  The climate is more problematic.)

    • #5
  6. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    She (View Comment):
    with so many lovely plants that actually do work in those conditions, I don’t know why people try so hard to overcome them

    What knocks me out is that nurseries stock the same climate inappropriate plants year after year, even though those plants are doomed to a very short garden life.  If a nursery knows that people will buy a certain plant, they will stock it no matter what.

    • #6
  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Just don’t plant any of that kudzu or Himalayan blackberry.  Blackberries grow here in the Northwest, but they are a horrible, thorny pest and should never be encouraged.

    • #7
  8. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    DonG (View Comment):
    The bristlecone pine can also be used to construct an inaccurate proxy for temperatures and when joined with another source of data can create a misleading diagram called the “hockey stick graph”. That can be used to jumpstart a global warming hoax.

    Not surprising when you consider that the bristlecone pines live in California!

    • #8
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu: Even computers depend on plants. Beeswax, used in honeycomb construction, is secreted by worker bees, whose two food sources — pollen and nectar — come from flowers. Beeswax, harvested from honeycombs, is used to insulate computers’ electronic components.

    Well, if you want to take it back all the way, plastics are made from oil, which in turn is composed of heated and pressurized organic material — mostly dead plants. 

    • #9
  10. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Well, if you want to take it back all the way, plastics are made from oil, which in turn is composed of heated and pressurized organic material — mostly dead plants.

    That’s why the word “organic” is such a fraud.  Plastic is as organic as free range chickens and pesticide free produce.  And many organic pesticides are more toxic than inorganic or synthetic ones.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Just don’t plant any of that kudzu or Himalayan blackberry. Blackberries grow here in the Northwest, but they are a horrible, thorny pest and should never be encouraged.

    RushBabe, don’t be so mean to Himalayan blackberry bushes.  I feast on their blackberries everywhere, all summer long.

    • #11
  12. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Nice post to read.  I just came in from working in my garden to see it.

    • #12
  13. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I feast on their blackberries everywhere, all summer long.

    A weed, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

    • #13
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    nativity (in the non-religious sense), or maybe the right word is “nativism.”

    The one area of endeavor where SJW’s are virulently anti-immigrant is when it comes to plants. While I also advocate for planting natives, I am open to planting anything beautiful, whether it comes from China, Pakistan, or Mexico. The green bigots, however, are zealous about only planting natives and not at all multi-cultural when it comes to garden fare. When it comes to horticulture, their motto is “foreigners and immigrants keep out!”

    Yes. And.

    The Desert Southwest faces more devastating wildfires because of the importation of non-native grasses, which germinate first, flourish at the expense of native grasses, then turn into fuel as they wither in the desert heat.

    People moved here on the advice of doctors, to manage respiratory ailments, then decided they wanted here to look like their old home, so planted water-intensive trees and plants that drove the pollen levels out the roof, negating the very reason they were advised to move here.

    • #14
  15. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    I especially like:

    Remember that the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow and, generally speaking, the more you watch your plants — since, in watching, you will be sure to provide them what they need — the better they grow.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the May 2019 Group Writing Theme: Blooming Ideas. We still have a couple open days. Please stop by and sign up!

    Also, June’s theme is posted now, sign up to write about “Hot Stuff!”

    • #15
  16. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    My husband is a gardener. He once retold a gardening joke he heard somewhere: “How to tell a weed from a flower: If it is really hard to pull it up, it’s a weed. If it’s really easy to pull up, it’s a fine flower.” :-)

    Great post. I enjoyed it very much. I love plants.

     

    • #16
  17. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Great post! I’ll be pming for advice! 

    • #17
  18. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    People moved here on the advice of doctors, to manage respiratory ailments, then decided they wanted here to look like their old home, so planted water-intensive trees and plants that drove the pollen levels out the roof, negating the very reason they were advised to move here.

    It reminds me of Californians who move to Nevada because of lower taxes but then vote for Democrats who raise taxes!

    • #18
  19. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    MarciN (View Comment):
    “How to tell a weed from a flower: If it is really hard to pull it up, it’s a weed. If it’s really easy to pull up, it’s a fine flower.”

    That’s why some ground covers — ivy, for instance — are considered weeds.

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I wonder what makes that line of trees or brushf along the horizon to the left of the bristlecone pine. It looks like a fence row along the edge of a field, but I don’t think there would be any fence rows in that country around Death Valley. And it doesn’t look like they’re following the line of a watercourse, though I suppose it can’t be ruled out.

    • #20
  21. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Weeds often have very pretty flowers. They are weeds because they take over, not for being ugly. 

    Banana trees are the biggest weeds I know. They don’t stab you like blackberry vines either.

    • #21
  22. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I wonder what makes that line of trees or brushf along the horizon to the left of the bristlecone pine. It looks like a fence row along the edge of a field, but I don’t think there would be any fence rows in that country around Death Valley. And it doesn’t look like they’re following the line of a watercourse, though I suppose it can’t be ruled out.

    In that area, there are groupings of pine trees, even significant stretches of them, part of Inyo National Forest.

    • #22
  23. Mim526 Member
    Mim526
    @Mim526

    This post made horticulture/botany read like a novel (very appreciated by scientifically challenged folks such as I :-).  Very enjoyable.  Makes me want to grow more than houseplants and fruit trees..

    There’s something very basic and therapeutic about tending plants, getting your hands in the earth.  Good for all ages, too.

    • #23
  24. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    iWe (View Comment):

    Great post! I’ll be pming for advice!

    Please do.

    • #24
  25. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I wish we could keep this post pinned somewhere permanently so we could discuss plants on an ongoing basis. There are many gardeners on Ricochet–one of the things I treasure about Ricochet. :-) 

    We are mostly amateurs here. It’s wonderful to have a true plantsman among us. :-) 

    • #25
  26. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I wish we could keep this post pinned somewhere permanently so we could discuss plants on an ongoing basis. There are many gardeners on Ricochet–one of the things I treasure about Ricochet. :-)

    We are mostly amateurs here. It’s wonderful to have a true plantsman among us. :-)

    Message me any time, Marci. 

    • #26
  27. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I once had a small collection of carnivorous plants of which I was very proud.  They occupied a small indoor greenhouse on a tabletop.

    In 1979, during the first visit of Pope John Paul II to the US, I was teaching at a Catholic school and watched some of his televised speeches from the faulty room.  When he went on about how God loves farmers, I remarked that drought, floods and locusts is a funny way to show that love.  I was quite the wit in my younger days.

    When I got home that day, I found that a gust of wind had blown a curtain into a lamp which crashed into my small greenhouse and fried my precious carnivores.  Then I had to laugh because God clearly loved me too, and cared enough to express that love ironically.  

    • #27
  28. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    I once had a small collection of carnivorous plants of which I was very proud. They occupied a small indoor greenhouse on a tabletop.

    In 1979, during the first visit of Pope John Paul II to the US, I was teaching at a Catholic school and watched some of his televised speeches from the faulty room. When he went on about how God loves farmers, I remarked that drought, floods and locusts is a funny way to show that love. I was quite the wit in my younger days.

    When I got home that day, I found that a gust of wind had blown a curtain into a lamp which crashed into my small greenhouse and fried my precious carnivores. Then I had to laugh because God clearly loved me too, and cared enough to express that love ironically.

    You mention that “G-d loves farmers,” yet the story of Cain and Abel is illuminating here.  The first murder in history was committed by a farmer.

    “Abel became a keeper of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil.  In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock.  The Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering he paid no heed.”  (Genesis 4: 3-5).

    G-d was upset with Cain because he only brought “from the fruit of the soil” whereas Abel brought “the choicest . . . of his flock.”  In other words, Cain did not single out the best fruits from his field whereas Abel selected his best sheep (for an offering).  Cain never recovered from G-d’s rejection of his offering, became jealous of his brother and killed him.

    It is much more difficult to be a farmer than a shepherd.  Farmers must face bad weather and pests.  They must demonstrate constant vigilance to bring crops from the earth and, even then, all their efforts may be undone by a sudden change in weather or a plague of insects or fungi.   We can thus sympathize with Cain for not wanting to give up his best fruits as an offering.

    (continued in next comment)

    • #28
  29. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    The problem with farming is one of pride.  A successful farmer, because of the work involved in cultivating the earth and making it fruitful, could fall victim to self-satisfaction and self-glorification,  forgetting that the beautiful fruits he grew ultimately came from G-d and that recognition of G-d and thanks to G-d are due.

    Shepherds, on the other hand, after leading their sheep to pasture, have time to contemplate the universe.  They have the luxury of delving into spiritual matters, of  deepening their realtionship to G-d.  It’s notable that the leaders of the Hebrew nation — Abraham, Isacc, Jacob, Moses, and David — were shepherds.

    Ultimately, I suspect, “G-d loves farmers” who reach out to Him, perhaps even on a higher level than he loves shepherds since it may well be more difficult for a farmer than for a shepherd to become intimate with G-d.

    • #29
  30. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    The problem with farming is one of pride. A successful farmer, because of the work involved in cultivating the earth and making it fruitful, could fall victim to self-satisfaction and self-glorification, forgetting that the beautiful fruits he grew ultimately came from G-d and that recognition of G-d and thanks to G-d are due.

    Shepherds, on the other hand, after leading their sheep to pasture, have time to contemplate the universe. They have the luxury of delving into spiritual matters, of deepening their realtionship to G-d. It’s notable that the leaders of the Hebrew nation — Abraham, Isacc, Jacob, Moses, and David — were shepherds.

    Ultimately, I suspect, “G-d loves farmers” who reach out to Him, perhaps even on a higher level than he loves shepherds since it may well be more difficult for a farmer than for a shepherd to become intimate with G-d.

    I have long harbored the suspicion that the author of the account of Cain and Abel was biased in favor of herder, semi-nomadic people (Israelites) as opposed to settled agricultural people (Canaanites).  In contrast, in old American Westerns, cattle barons were often the bad guy and the noble sodbuster almost always the good guy. 

    I have also always assumed that Cain cheaped up on his offering and got embarrassed for it by the acts of his more devout brother.  When we try to deny or conceal our selfish refusal to affirm the fullness of our spiritual lives, there is nothing worse or more irritating (or even threatening) than the good example of genuinely saintly people whose very existence feels like a threat to the false safety of the lie.

    • #30

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