Most beginners make a few mistakes and give up. I’ve started beekeeping and after three unsuccessful attempts, I now have a happy hive. In the gloom of the first three failures, I was feeling like somehow I was the problem because I just wasn’t getting the success I saw others getting. I think, now that I have found a bit of accomplishment, my first three attempts were doomed by bad location of the hive, but not having any experience to go by, I was thinking it had to be me.
In my classes, many students will allow they’ve killed everything they’ve tried to grow. I’ll bet compared to all the students combined, I’ve killed many more plants. I have killed plants by over watering. Now I know what too much water looks like. And I have killed plants by under watering. Now I know that life for a plant is somewhere in between. Mind you, I still “over love” succulents and cacti; I actually would rather grow plants that are a little more needy.
In addition to this over watering and under watering conundrum that I’ve written about before, a lot of beginning container gardeners are blindsided by potting soil choices you find at a nursery or home improvement store. There are a lot to choose from and most of them aren’t all that good. Especially for a beginner. There is no regulation on what a company can put in a bag and say “Potting Soil” and some of the mixes make it really hard for a beginner to make a start.
Remember this: Plant roots need air as much as they need water. Most potting soil mixes on the market contain far too many components that hold the water. If you over water your plants, they can die before enough air gets back in to keep that plant healthy. Orchard Supply Hardware discontinued their really good, inexpensive potting soil in favor of a ‘premium’ mix that I’m not fond of.
Right now, I’m only able to recommend LGM’s Potting Soil which is usually only found at some of the more pricey nurseries, and runs about $11 for a two cubic feet bag, including tax. Still, for a few more dollars having a plant that lives is better than the alternative! The LGM mix comes somewhat dry and I like to add some water to it before I start to use it – this is a hassle, but then the lack of water in the bag makes it a good deal lighter than it would be otherwise.
And, no, you can’t use regular soil in a container. Just good ol’ dirt, in a container, will compact too tightly and the plant roots will not get any chance at the air they need. The ‘soil’ in a container needs to be light and fluffy, able to absorb and release water quickly.
If your plants don’t survive, just try again – if you simply keep at it, you will find yourself successful, unlike the song where Ray declares he was “done in by women, hush puppies, and catfish.”
Check This Out: The Seed Library of Los Angeles
The idea for the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) has been brewing for some time and it’s still not quite yet soup. However, it is now closer to reality because The Learning Garden at Venice High School has made it one of the projects they are willing to support.
A seed library works very similar to a book library. The main difference – and the big problem to make it viable – is that seeds are living entities with a life expiration. This means stock has to be dated and rotated – and some will have to be thrown out when it’s too old to sprout.
As a member of a seed library, you check out seeds just like you would a book. You plant those seeds and grow out the crop, at the end of the season, you return fresh seeds, taken from your crop, to the library. The library benefits from being able to offer the next person fresh seed and you benefit from having free seeds. It’s a win/win for you and your neighbors and it keeps Monsanto out of your garden and denies them profit from feeding your family. Furthermore, the seeds gradually become more adapted to our climate and soils. By choosing the best plants from the crop, like farmers used to do, we gently move the genetic makeup to suit our needs better.
The Learning Garden is the perfect place for a seed library because of the wealth of variety of plants grown there. Their gardens include a cornucopia of vegetables, California Natives and medicinal plants from which they can stock the seed library and keep it fresh.
The Learning Garden also has space to grow out seed that is getting too old to germinate.
To make this happen, the needs are, as follows:
1. volunteers to run the seed library – catalog and inventory the supplies and to run the ‘open’ days.’
2. a database complicated enough to thoroughly track the seed and insuring viability for those checking out the seed but simple enough to be used by volunteers – experiments are underway with a free database to see if it would work.
3. a computer that can run that database – the Garden has an old Windows 2000 machine that might work, but it would be better to have something more up to date.
4. several cabinets of some kind that can store the seeds.
So, right now, consider this a canvassing for folks who think this is a good idea and find people who want to join the seed library, people who want to help create a seed library and people who would be willing to volunteer one afternoon a month to open the seed library to the community. There may well be a $10 joining fee so the seed library can purchase supplies, but the idea is low cost seeds, so, other than fines for failing to return the seeds, just like a book late fee, there should be no other cost involved.
Let me know if you are interested – and I’ll keep you posted as we move forward.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: email@example.com