Where I’m Coming From – Sort Of

Welcome Gardening Fans,

The Net is such a dynamic medium of information exchange and it is HUGE!  There are over 280,000 blogs right now.  Some are informative, written by thoughtful, well-informed writers.  Some are a total waste of time.  You as the reader get to decide which category THIS blog will fall into.  I hope the former, but if the later, then good riddance.  And I don’t intend to be mean or flippant by that remark.  If what I am interested in is not your cup of tea, then there are over 280,000 other blogs for you to peruse.  Good luck in finding what you are looking for.

So, who would be interested in what I have to say?

First a little background on me and my experiences.  I was reared on a farm just north of Meridian, Mississippi.  By farm I don’t mean a big commercial operation with million dollar combines and tractors that practically drive themselves.  No, the farm I’m referring to was around 400 acres of mixed use land.  The land was owned by my grandfather, a farmer by trade and vocation, who farmed because that’s what he did.  When he was younger he had truck farmed, selling produce to discerning consumers from Meridian and the surrounding areas.  He was a locavore before it was cool.  I lived across the road from his home with my parents (fancy that) in a home my father built.  Since I was so close, I practically lived with my grandfather who if you haven’t figured out yet, was instrumental in shaping the man I have become. He was a firm believer that hard work would not kill you.  At the time I was not sure he was correct, but as time proved, he was correct.  We all worked and I mean all of us.  My first memory of “gardening” was picking beans when I was maybe 4 1/2 years old.  I don’t recall being “made” to work, it is just what we did.  And that work ethic has served we well oh these many years.

The type of farming my grandfather practiced would best be called “mixed use” farming.  We used chicken manure and ashes for tomatoes and cow manure for watermelons.  First a point of clarification, since many of you might not understand how chicken manure and ashes get together.  Most of the people in the area heated with wood, either in a fireplace or a wood heater.  The wood ashes were a great source of potassium (K on your standard fertilizer bag) and since they are from ashes, hence the name “pot ash”.  But what do you do with the ashes that accumulate all winter long?  They were spread in the chicken house.  It was only later that I learned they (ashes) also kept down the odor from the manure.

From this brief description of using obvious “organic” fertility methods you might think my grandfather was a proponent of total organic farming techniques.  If you were to think that you would be WRONG!  He figured that anything growing would benefit from a good, healthy dose of Triple-13 or ammonia nitrate.  It was only much later that I came to realize that it was the overuse of these fertilizers that caused many of the insect and disease problems we experienced on the farm.

Case in point.  One year we planted about 30 acres of field corn for cattle feed.  My grandfather kept about 25 head of cattle and he would grow and feed his own corn.  This particular year the corn had ear worms.  So, the reason the corn had worms OBVIOUSLY, what that it was suffering from a deficiency of SEVIN, a powdered form of insecticide. So, we dutifully (myself and my older twin cousins) walked along and “dusted” EACH AND EVERY STALK of corn with Sevin.  Guess what?  It didn’t work.  The corn still had worms.  As it turns out, and I only discovered this MUCH later through diligent study, that the corn was suffering from a deficiency all right, but it wasn’t a Sevin deficiency.  In retrospect it probably needed boron, plus a good, balanced fertilizer.

How you may ask did I figure this out?  This past year in my own garden I experienced the same thing.  The details can wait till a later post, but suffice to say I planted corn on some VERY poor ground.  Poor is a local expression to describe soil that has virtually NO nutrients in it.  Two weeks after the corn was up I noticed the telltale signs of corn worms.  Having learned that the corn wasn’t deficient in Sevin, I immediately applied some Triple-13.  Within a week, the worms were gone, the corn was growing well, and as it turned out, I made a nice crop.

Many pure organic gardeners will recoil in horror at this practice.  But, this is a very important point, so pay attention.  Not ALL synthetic fertilizers are evil.  Sure, Triple-13 is NOT the best fertilizer to use, despite my grandfather’s instruction, but it did make a crop.  My general rule of thumb when applying ANY fertilizer to my garden is to never use anything that “will kill an earthworm.”  So, even highly concentrated synthetic fertilizers can have a place in a sustainable garden.  Also, in my defense, the land I was using for a garden had been a pine thicket just the previous year and was adjacent to a home I was leasing.  So, I knew I would not be around for the upcoming gardening season and that in all likelihood; no one that came after me would even have a garden there.  My primary purpose for the garden was to grow veggies of ANY sort just to eat.  In a later post I will lay out my personal fertility program.

So, getting back to my opening narrative, let me just say that I grew up on a farm where I learned a LOT of stuff that I later had to unlearn.  What I did take away from the experience that I have NEVER lost, is the fascination that seeds put into the ground miraculously grow up to provide food.  It is at the same time simple and incredible complex. I think it is kind of like playing golf, something I am REALLY not good at.  But from what I understand about the “sport” you are essentially playing against yourself.  There is a “perfect game” somewhere out there that you as a golfer are trying to achieve.

Gardening is the same thing.  There is this hypothetical IDEAL of a garden with “perfect” soil that has abundant fertility and all the trace minerals any plant could hope for.  There are no pests or diseases, the plants flourish with vibrant colors and smells.  The vegetables taste like the “used to taste, back in the day” and your garden is the envy of all who see it.  This is the goal of every gardener on the planet.  But it is a goal that is both elusive yet right there at hand.  And the good thing about this goal you get to eat your successes and BURY your mistakes, because even a mistake will show up later as a potential source for success.

I have SEVERAL topics in mind for future posts, but in the meantime, if you have any specific questions, I will try to answer them on this blog.  I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you in the near future.

Michael

“when the chips are down, that’s when the garden grows the best”

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5 Responses to “Where I’m Coming From – Sort Of”

  1. Anne Says:

    I’m sure your grandfather would be proud to know that he had such an impact on you. I really enjoyed reading your blog!

  2. Amelia Linde Says:

    I LOVE this, Michael. Please, please keep it up. This is awesome. It makes me feel like ya’ll haven’t gone too far away!

  3. Doc G Says:

    Michael,
    You are a good man, my friend, and you have great wisdom to share. Thank you for starting this. I shall be a regular reader. I will be starting a garden with my, well, for lack of a better term girl friend this spring. Land that hasn’t been anything but the “grasshopper field”. As a suggestion, you might take us through the steps to start with raw ground and end up with dinner?

    Again, thanks my friend, I look forward to your teaching me.

    Doc

  4. Angela Says:

    Michael,
    This is great! I am so proud of you and all you have and will accomplish.
    I love you. Your Favorite sister!

  5. 2010 in review « Good Food From Your Own Back Yard Says:

    […] Where I’m Coming From – Sort Of January 20104 comments 5 […]

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