When to Change?

When to Change?

Published by Mark Schultz on May 7th 2021

Change is difficult—more difficult for some than for others (you flip-phone users know what I’m talking about). We get cozy with our routines, and it sometimes takes some pretty compelling results to get us to consider changing them. One example would be deciding when it is time to downgrade our go-to-town blue jeans to work jeans. This just happened to me today. I have one pair of very obviously work jeans, and another pair that— until this morning—was barely hanging in there as my go-to-town jeans. It was getting so close, in fact, that I found myself passing by the Wrangler rack at Menards a couple of days ago. But they weren’t on sale, so I felt no sense of urgency.

I thought I could be careful enough while staining the Bed Cap frame in my go-to-town jeans; and I didn’t spill a drop. I did, however, absent-mindedly wipe my stain-covered hands on my pants. At least this was a somewhat timely transition. Too many times the change occurred way too prematurely.

But it was not my wardrobe that I wanted to discuss. I wanted to talk about our big change in gardening. Back when we sold the roto-tiller, the big change was to move into container gardening. Back then, I saw self-watering planters as the ultimate gardening method. No tilling, no weeding, few pests, no watering, and we could grow plants anywhere we had a level surface in the sun. Wait, did I say “no watering”? That was actually the big hook that yanked us out of the ground and into containers. We soon learned, however, that this was only true before the plants matured. Then it was daily watering—sometimes twice daily-- watering.

The solution was our GardenStream™ automatic watering system. Now we COULD go for weeks without watering. To celebrate this discovery, I built two 12′x24′ hoop houses, and 8 or 9 8′x2′ wooden self-watering planters, for growing all of our heat-loving crops. The rest we grew outside, in more self-watering containers. It soon (OK, it took 10 years) became apparent that container gardening is not much different from hydroponics. The peat-based potting mix contained some fertilizer, but it was soon used up by the plants. Once the roots filled their confined space, it became necessary to add supplemental nutrition. The store-bought self-watering planters came with a pound of 10-10-10 inorganic fertilizer, which was spread on the surface in a strip. We opted to use our hydroponic solution, contained in large totes, which was then metered out to the roots confined in the containers via our GardenStream™ system. It was basically a nutrient-rich IV drip that maintained life. I called it “hybrid-hydroponics”; but hydroponics it was, none-the-less.

Potting mix is a virtually inert, dead material. It finally dawned on us that we were not all that different from the industrial farmers who are extracting the last of the remaining nutrition from the former prairies (think mining), and now must add fertilizer, as well as the whole arsenal of chemicals that heavy tillage of mostly dead soil requires, to produce large, subsidized harvests. Imagine how difficult it is for farmers who have been taught—from their extension agents, the implement, fertilizer, pesticide, and seed salespeople, and likely their own parents— to change? Regenerative farming, which partners with nature to build living soil, is a tough sell to them. They need to see results. More importantly, they need an escape plan to get out from under crushing debt. Despite all of that, regenerative farming is catching on. More and more, farmers are showing their neighbors that it is much more profitable (and more fulfilling) to partner with nature than it is to partner with Big Ag.

So, back to our newest, big change. We are going back to growing in the ground, and partnering with nature. But we are NOT going back to tilling. Our system (which is nothing new) of nurturing earthworms and other decomposers in our raised beds, by feeding them a steady diet of chopped leaves, is truly the best way for us to garden. We have changed enough to take down one of the hoop houses, and pass it on to another aspiring gardener. Everybody needs one hoop house, if only for its mental health benefits in March, when the hammock is set-up inside. There is nothing like basking in 80 degree, Florida-caliber weather, when it is a sunny 20 degrees outside.

Now, with our Bed Caps, we feel that our raised bed system is complete. I just might make a portable mini hoop house, though, to slide over select raised beds, and offer the plants a bit of Florida weather on those cool May or September days. For many urban growers, a large hoop house is far too big for their small lots. But a 6′x10′x7′h mini hoop house on skids, with flip-up ends that allows it to be pulled over a raised bed, could be a slick way to extend the season. It might not fit a hammock, but a lounge chair would fit.

It’s not a high priority, but it’s on the list.

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