The garden of the Millennium

by Don Trotter


ello fellow Earthlings and welcome to Gardening 2000. This exciting time in our history as stewards of the planet is our opportunity to begin and continue to practice environmental responsibility in our gardens. Those who follow us into the gardening hobby will judge our collective lives. Will we pass on to them an understanding of garden ecology, or will our liberal use of chemical pollutants and other harmful substances render the future gardener's soil sterile and lifeless? Will the gardener's of the future be forced to practice their techniques in artificial environments because we killed the Earth's capacity to support life?

These questions are just a few of the daunting topics that face us as gardening enthusiasts as the next millennium officially begins one year from now. How will we face the fact that our planet is shrinking and each time we use a synthetic chemical in our gardens we affect our fellow inhabitants? This is certainly an exciting time for all of us that enjoy gardening to consider the consequences of our choices. Thanks to our talent to grow our own food, cultivate attractive landscapes, and provide tender loving care to show-stopping flowers we have all combined to make gardening the most popular hobby in North America. The numbers of us who garden without using chemicals have been increasing by amazing percentages. Seed companies are reporting record sales and garden centers are seeing more of us than ever before. There is an affirmation here someplace. Can it be that we are in fact becoming more aware of the incredible planet we inhabit and how unique our place in the animal kingdom is? I believe that we have finally reached an awareness of our environment that touches us daily. Isn't evolution great!

The garden of the millennium is the Earth. And we are the gardeners. Our opportunity to show our reverence and respect for what is likely to be the only planet we will get to live on has fully arrived. We are the stewards of an amazing piece of real estate that has provided us with shelter, food, and spiritual nourishment. It is finally the time for us to actively engage in caring for the home that has cared for us forever. As we all enter into the challenges that will face us in the new millennium, let's take stock in the challenges Mother Nature has faced while watching us grow.

As you go through a list of the greatest experiences in your life, how many times does something from nature pop into your head? Could it have been a trip to John Muir's Yosemite? How about the birth of a child? For me, it was the first time I actually figured out that the plant came from a seed, grew, and then gave me corn on the cob. The full realization of this completely changed my life and my respect for life. I write to many of you out of this respect for the system that allows these plants to grow and produce food, beautiful flowers, and shelter. I don't look at trees and see two-by-fours, but I certainly appreciate the fact that lumber is a byproduct of the life of that tree. A legacy of the tree, so to speak.

What will our legacy be? Will we be known a the species that got smart and nurtured the Earth out of respect, or the one that drove ourselves to the brink of extinction because we couldn't see how our lives impacted our home? This little bit of silliness is not written to get you to do anything other than reflect on what your legacy will be. I only wax philosophical for the purpose of stimulating thought. You and I both have identical purpose here on this planet and are thus equally responsible for how we care for this planet. Yes, it is easier to write about it than to do it. That is why so many advice givers are more screwed up than those they give advice to. We are all equally tasked with the health of this home and thus the purpose for the greeting in these columns.

So, fellow Earthlings, welcome to the garden of the millennium. It is our personal Eden to enjoy, love, and care for. In the following year we will continue with our discussions on the fun and creative ways we can tend to our gardens without resorting to rescue chemistry. We will have lots of fun with roses, fruit, veggies, flowers, lawns, pest and disease controls, and other entertaining and informative topics. Last year I wished you all a Happy New Year by giving you my wish for your prosperity. I do hope that my wish came true and this year I wish for all of you the understanding that you are unique and incredibly valuable members of a society that cares for and is nurturing of she that gives us life.


Start your Spring garden indoors

Welcome to our first winter together in the new millennium. The first spring is on the way, and it will be time for planting. Our discussion this time will be on getting a head start on spring so our gardens are blooming and producing food when others are still in early growth stages. So let's take a look at some of the choices we can make in order to get that head start on an amazing and prolific spring gardening season.

Starting seeds indoors can be a fun and enjoyable project for the whole family and a very good way to get your kids interested in the garden as well. Children -- as well as adults -- can be fascinated by the metamorphosis of seeds to plants and young plants grow fast enough to keep them interested and constantly checking to see how the plants are progressing. This interest will continue once the weather warms up and the garden moves outside. The first tomato or head of lettuce from this garden will give them a new outlook on where food really comes from, instead of believing it comes from the grocery store.

Only a few materials are needed for sprouting seeds successfully. Some lightweight potting soil, some small containers, seed, some water, and a light source is all you need. One of my favorite containers for sprouting seeds is an empty egg carton. You get twelve perfect size little cups for early root development and the plants are very easy to pop right out of the individual cups and into larger pots for further growth or directly into garden soil once it warms up. There are other household things like yogurt cups and cottage cheese or sour cream containers that can serve as great containers for growing plants as well. No need to go out and buy a bunch of pots if you use your imagination. It is also a great way to show your kids about recycling. A piece of masking tape and a permanent marker can serve as a label so you know what you're growing.

Seeds can be sprouted successfully in artificial light and many gardeners put plants on a shelf or counter and put a florescent light about twelve to eighteen inches above their plants and keep light on them for about ten to twelve hours a day. There are lots of really inexpensive household timers that are used on things like coffee makers that can work for lighting so you don't have to remember. The old sunny window is still the best place to sprout seeds and most houses have a south-facing window that will work fine for seed sprouting.

Watering is the most critical part of seed sprouting and can be the difference between a lush crop of vigorous plants and a wilted or rotted mess. Providing water to your sprouts should be done when the soil feels dry to the back of your hand or finger. You can use any number of those water meters to test moisture in soil but the back of your hand is by far the best sensor -- and most of you already have a hand or two -- so save your money. Poke some drainage holes in the bottom of any container you use for growing so you don't overwater, and provide a tray so the water doesn't get all over the place.

Soil for your seed-sprouting project should be a very light-weight mixture. Several potting soil manufacturers actually make seed sprouting mixes. Many of them are quite good. I like to mix my own by blending up equal parts of peat moss and vermiculite. This soil mix is light and it holds water very well so you don't have to check the moisture in your soil as much as soil mixes with sand in them.

Feeding of young plants should be done with weak fertilizers. I really like a weak compost tea mixed with very dilute kelp extract. Compost tea is made the same way as tea you drink. It doesn't taste very good so I would refrain from imbibing. A tea bag for compost tea can be made of cheesecloth or an old nylon stocking. Put about a quarter of a cup of compost into the bag and steep it in a gallon bucket of water in the sun for a day. Kelp extracts are widely available at most garden centers and I use it at one-third of the dilution strength recommended on the container. This mixture provides all of the nutrients your developing plants could want, has no smell, and it won't burn tender plants like many chemical fertilizers can.

When the soil warms up outside and the weather is mild, it is time to set your plants into the garden and you have a huge head start on the spring growing season. This is a very fun project for those gardeners in northern climates where the garden seems miles away in winter. But those of you in milder climates can also benefit from sprouting your own seeds by saving money on expensive transplants that are often produced in nurseries that are heavy users of toxic chemicals.

Seeds are available at most nurseries and garden centers. Some grocery stores also carry seeds for the garden. If you would like a listing of seeds that are produced by natural organic seed producers, give me a ring and I'll send you a list. Next time we will be discussing winter care of your fruit trees. See you in the Garden!

Got questions? Fax the Doc at (760) 632-8175 or Email him at Don Trotter's Natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Look for Don's book Natural Gardening A-Z from Hay House at bookstores everywhere and at all online booksellers and check out Don's columns in Hearst's Healthy Living Magazine coming in March.