09 September, 2010

A Gardening Manifesto

Patience may well be a virtue for the general populace, but for a gardener, it is essential.

I have been a successful organic gardener in Southern California for the last twenty five years with a good deal of success on the mid-West plains before that. 

I have evolved a style of gardening that works well in Southern California and is 100% wholly organic and sustainable. I am writing what will be the only book written for Southern California organic food growing. This is important because there is no other climate in the United States like Southern California's and any information you gain from one of the books written for elsewhere has to be translated to work here.  Or you can find a book written for our climate that is not truly organic or sustainable. I intend to write the book that is both and as such, fill a vacuum becoming an essential addition to the libraries of Southern California gardeners who wish to grow organic food.

The principles that I use as my guide in gardening, and the basis for this forth coming book, are quite simple. 
My Manifesto
1.  No fertilizers. In fact, I maintain, the fewer things you buy for your garden, the better off you will usually be. Our system of capitalism rests heavily on people buying things, whether or not they need them. It is the task of advertising, with which we are constantly bombarded, to create the desire for a thing. I am here to tell you that a few packets of seed, a couple of really well made tools and patience are all you need to grow good, nutritious, uncontaminated food. The scientific community, as far back as 1936 was aware that fertilizers, organic and chemical, were harmful to soil biota. This understanding was deliberately not popularized because you won't buy something if you've already got it. No, you don't need fertilizer – you DO need compost and lots of it, but you don't need fertilizer. (When a plant is in a pot, you must use fertilizer because it is an unnatural habitat for most food plants.
2. No pesticides. In many ways, chemical pesticides are better for the world than organic ones because the chemical pesticides at least target the species that we wish to deal with while most organic pesticides kill everything they come in contact with while they are active. The key to a healthy, pest free garden, however, is not through war of any kind, but through cooperation with nature. The entire key is to attract more insects to your garden – not less.  
3.  Continuous cropping. Our gardens are small and the idea of crop rotation can be a little ludicrous. We need to have as much diversity in our gardens as we possibly can have – this means interplanting species and using legumes and other plants to keep the soil fertile for continued cropping. 
4.  Composting. Compost everything that can be composted. Everything rots and ends up somewhere; if it will break down, compost it. If you lack space, vermicompost.  
5.  Mulch. Three inches (at least!) in planting season, twice a year. This is the key to the soil's fertility and vitality, pest control, water conservation and an armful of other benefits. 
6.  Garden for yourself. Plant the foods you will eat or the foods you eat that are expensive or unobtainable in the market. Do not plant what the books tell you to plant if you don't like it. Exception: you must plant some kind of legume –  a member of the bean family and their allies.  
7.  Insure the survival of pollinators. In this world of uncertainty, the roll played by pollinators will become more and more critical – plant your garden intending to provide for their well-being. And provide a source of water. 
8.  Diversity in your garden. No matter how small your garden, you have room to plant a variety of species: take advantage of that!  
9.  Saving seed to plant next year. Which necessarily means allowing some of your harvest to go to 'waste' in that some of your cabbages will flower, some of your lettuce will bolt and some of your tomatoes will rot. These are investments in your future. This also means eschewing hybrid varieties.  
10.  Grow your own plants from seeds. Don't buy transplants from the nursery. Buy seeds and plant them yourself – there are substantial reasons to do this and the fact that it saves you money is just one.  
11.  Don't stop learning . After you read this book, go buy my next book. Better yet, write your own book! Join a club, find a website, subscribe to a magazine. 
In this book, I will flesh out these concepts and make them usable. 
Remember that gardening is an old art – an old science, too, but an old art first and foremost. There is no one holy way to do everything. I will show you what I do, and often will present alternatives. Keep trying different things until you find what works for you. Do not become sucked into any program that is THE way to garden – there are several out there that believe they are. All in all, find what you need and what is useful and leave the rest. Make sure you adopt the gardening ideas that work for you – if the plan calls for lots of radishes and you hate radishes, move on. 
This is my manifesto, at 2:00 AM on Thursday the 9th, 2010.  Do you have some ideas to add to this?  As a member of a twelve step program, I'm somewhat annoyed to have only eleven points; can you help me come up with another so I will have an even dozen?  I'd be even happier with the 'bakers' dozen' of thirteen.  
Thanks for your input!



  1. How about Give Back - to nature, to your garden, to your community? It's composting on a larger scale.

  2. Oh, I LIKE that Mary! Thanks! david

  3. Try this: 1.
    11, Preserve and share your harvest and your knowledge - help someone else grow. Nature is lusciously abundant, emulate Her!
    12. Don't stop learning . After you read this book, go buy my next book. Better yet, write your own book! Join a club, find a website, subscribe to a magazine.