DIRT NERD

A black and white illustration of a collage of mouths, money, and flowers. The mouths are all open and have flowers and leaves coming out of them to varying degrees. There’s a 100 dollar bill, a 20 dollar bill, a one dollar bill, and a quarter floating and falling. Illustration by Rachel Speck.

A REVOLUTIONARY NEW GARDENING METHOD

If there is a common thread that ties my gardening advice columns together, albeit loosely, it is that gardening buzzwords, cure-alls, singular methodologies, and fundamentalist philosophies in all forms are antithetical to good growing practices. And I stand by that stance resolutely, only now with a monodeistic addendum that all such ideas are a waste of time, except for mine, which I present before you now in all its practical glory: The Revolutionary New Gardening Method (RNGM).

You can adhere to my gardening methodology without contradicting my belief system that rote gardening methodologies are unrealistic and harmful to the gardener’s wallet and psyche because the method itself is anti-methodical. Sort of.

Sounds like I’m just going to talk in circles about how you shouldn’t adhere to anything and that that in itself is the lesson, doesn’t it? Well, yes. That’s part of it. But there’s also a practical component, I promise. However, before embarking on this new path of enlightenment, you must do your best to purge your mind of rigid food-growing belief systems. I am not your guru. I am barely your teacher. I am at best your guide, and a volunteer one who works every other weekend for free at that. The kingdom of your garden is within you. Always has been.

Alright. No thoughts? Head empty? Great. Here’s the pitch.

Firstly, I call it the Revolutionary New Gardening Method because it’s an anti-philosophy philosophy grounded within a critical interpretation of the home gardening establishment, but it’s also about gardening within your means and turning something small into a movement that grows ever onward and occasionally outward. It is about sustainable growth that moves quickly when the wind is at your back, but at a snail’s pace when it’s not your week, your month, or even your year.

Secondly, it’s about spending the time and money that you have and managing your expectations outside of the capitalist mindset which holds that the most is always best and everything new all the time is the only way.

RNGM is also literally about growing in a circle, as in it revolves around, in a revolution. The practical premise of RNGM is that you begin your garden in one place, with a small to moderate amount of raised bed, dirt, plants, seeds, pots, and so on. You start with a reasonable amount of things that you are confident you will be able to manage, and that you can afford, and that is enough for you to get excited about. This could be a handful of little pots filled with fresh potting soil, each with some delectable greens in it; or it could be a 4×4 raised bed you just built yourself, filled with dirt, and are excited to get down with; or it could be a 30-foot-long bed that you decided you were going to grow in, but that’s going to cost hundreds of dollars to put good dirt in, so you start at one end, lay down some fresh compost and plant in the first ten feet or so. If you want to be really awesome about it, you could aspire to grow in a literal circle. That’s how mine works (technically it’s a rectangle with empty space in the middle, but conceptually, it revolves quite nicely).

Now look at you. You’re gardening! And you are feeling confident and good about where you started with things, and you didn’t throw your whole stimulus pittance away in the process. Here’s where it gets juicy. A week or a month later, you get an itch to do some serious gardening and you’ve got some extra funds to put into the project, or perhaps your homegrown compost has finally matured into precious black gold. Great. Now you build outward from the space you have already started, perhaps with just as much stuff and space as you did the first time, maybe more, maybe less. The plants you plant and seed this time around might be a little or a lot different, depending on how much the seasons change. And if they are all the same, they may grow a little differently this time around because the days are perhaps a little bit longer, or the caterpillars that came around and ravaged your cabbage have since mothed up and flown away. Or maybe you’ve just learned a thing or two with the first bit of your garden, a thing or two you wouldn’t have learned if you’d gone whole hog into your massive dream farm from the get-go, because you would’ve been overwhelmed with weeding and watering and the stress demons telling you this was all a horrible mistake.

Now you just do the same thing over and over. Expand incrementally, outwards but curving—metaphorically or physically—slowly back towards the place where you started.

Once the starting point of your RNGM garden has begun looking a little sad, it is time to start a new revolution. Revisit the foundation of your garden, and get rid of the plants that have fulfilled  their role in your sustainable food movement. Put down fresh soil and/or compost, lay new seasonally appropriate seed and plant starts, and begin the revolution anew.

You may get back to the beginning—where your first pot or patch of garden was planted—in a few months, or it may take you a year. The size of your garden may be limited by the space your yard (or porch, or whatever) affords, or you may reach the beginning simply because you’ve fulfilled your longterm wishes, size-wise, of what you’d like to garden. If you get back to the beginning space but you still want to grow more and most everything that you initially planted there is still happy, healthy, and producing—great! Turn your circle into a spiral and start growing outward like a snail’s shell until, once again, your starting place looks like it could use a fresh start. You can keep expanding once you’ve reworked the portions of your garden that were ready for a new beginning.

I believe this Revolutionary New Gardening Method (RNGM) can be used in most regions, but is especially useful in the Southeast where there are no clear-cut seasons and myriad practical plants can be grown throughout the year. It is more than just a way to make gardening manageable for you. It is a realistic way to work with nature a little more harmoniously that helps mitigate pest issues, problematic microcosmic monocropping, and weed pressure. And that’s just the beginning of what RNGM can do for you! Take charge of your garden, take charge of your life! Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end! There is a season, turn turn turn your life around today!


If you’ve got questions for the Dirt Nerd, feel free to email ian@hotplantsnursery.com or visit @hotplantsnursery.

illustrations Rachel Speck