Dispelling ten common myths

In Editorial on March 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

The Phyne Dyner "hedge fund".


“The index for finished consumer foods surged 3.9 percent in February, the largest increase since a 4.2-percent climb in November 1974,” the Labor Department said. “About seventy percent of the February rise can be traced to higher prices for fresh and dry vegetables, which jumped 48.7 percent.”  (The Des Moines Register Mar. 16, 2011)

Food costs are at their highest level since the Ford administration.  The Phyne Dyner recommends that readers put on a pair of bibbed overalls and take up gardening.  The savings will have you grinning like “Jimmah Cahtah” holding a pair of sevens in a game of stud poker.

I am serious, and it is time to dispel ten common myths of home gardening:

Myth 1:  “Store-bought” produce is cheaper and of better quality than the veggies grown by backyard gardeners.

In today’s economy (and the emerging one of tomorrow), backyard gardening became cost-effective and will be more so tomorrow.  And, if you have paid any attention to the new, lower quality standards in many supermarkets, where rotting veggies are put out in hopes “someone” will buy them…you know nothing of your own emerges from a stem, stalk, or vine in a rotted condition.

Myth 2:  Home gardening labor intensive and at odds with modern working lifestyles.

The Phyne Dyner has had long-standing friendships with a cardiothoracic surgeon; a newspaper publisher, a family practice physician, and an attorney…all are avid gardeners.  My physician friends are all avid consumers of vegetables…go figure.

Myth 3:  Any “savings” I see will be eaten up by increased water usage, chemicals, and fertilizer expenses.

Three answers:  Harvest rainwater from your gutters.  Go all-organic with pest control.  And, compost.

Myth 4:  “Gardening takes know-how.  I don’t have a green thumb and the planter boxes along my patio are not so jokingly referred to as, “Death Row”.

Free advice is as close as your keyboard.  It is also a fair certainty that at least two neighbors within walking distance are avid gardeners who are eager to share (free!) gardening advice.  Start small with an herb garden and work your way into rows of vegetables.  Consider an elevated lettuce patch on two sawhorses.  Take up “gardening” not “farming” as a first try.  I have gotten TONS of advice from master gardeners (and regular folks) at my local farmer’s market.  Got a bug eating your “‘maters” and have no clue about what it is and how to get rid of it?  Go on safari, catch one, and take it to a reputable garden center and ask the nice folks there…same if your leaves curl up and fall off, in June.

Myth 5:  Gardening is backbreaking work.

Build elevated patches or do some container gardening if arthritis or other mobility issues plague you.  Gardening only becomes backbreaking if the garden gets neglected for a period of time.  Most garden work can be done in less than a half hour per day…less time than the recommended gym workout.

Myth 6:  I cannot garden because I live in an apartment or my condo association bylaws forbid me from having “things” on my patio or deck “visible from the street”.

Container gardens are for you.  Some of my best tomatoes and peppers were grown in flowerboxes lining the railing of a third-floor apartment I once rented.  Sure, growing sweet corn in such a setting is not practical.  But those railings make wonderful trellises for creeping vine crops, like cucumbers and zucchini.  If you live in an anal-retentive setting having rules written by people who were potty-trained at gunpoint, consider applying for a plot at a public garden.  No public garden plots?  Lobby for one (or more!) and vow to get dirty next year.  City leaders usually embrace these kinds of uses for under- or unutilized public property.

Myth 7:  I cannot garden because I have a job where my hands must be clean and unstained.

Refer to Myth 2.  It is a fair bet that patients of family doctors and surgeons would be a bit distressed if their physician greeted them with dirt under their fingernails.  The answer is “gloves”…good ones.  Those latex jobbies like those worn by virtually everyone having a job involving actually touching another human being are just fab!  Or, invest in some “nytril” surgeon’s gloves.  They are a bit expensive, but durable.

Myth 8:  Start-up costs will not only eat up any savings, they will take a big bite out of my already tight budget.

About two-thirds of the world population plants sustenance gardens with little more than sticks to dig holes and gourds to haul water.  The start-up myth may have legs if the budding gardener must have garden clogs in exactly the same shade of teal as their imported, Swiss pruning shears.  And, yes, container gardening can get pricey if you just must have those neoclassical faux terra cotta urns for your tomatoes.  The truth is, we throw away tons of perfectly good planting containers every year.  With some added drainage, cut down gallon milk jugs make great starter containers.  And good weather means yard sales will abound where you can pick up flower boxes, planters, and pots for pennies on the dollar.  Sure, there might be a crack in the bottom.  So what?  Rather than buying a rain barrel, build your own.

Now, go get some tires…bury them alongside the driveway…and paint them white.

Just kidding!

Paint them red…easier to see when the snow flies.

Myth 9:  I like eggplant…once a month.  If I grow it, I’ll have bushels of the stuff that will just go to waste.

I suppose Myth 9 has its roots in the American psyche that equates possession with wealth. There is nothing written that one must personally consume every veggie grown.  When my tomato crop failed two years ago (wet summer = stem rot), I traded cucumbers for tomatoes with a friend whose crop faired better than mine.  A side benefit was a delightful friendship between us.  And do not expect a quid pro quo exchange on everything.  Take some of your surplus garden bounty to a local food pantry.  I did this when I grew more peppers than I could eat, freeze, or dry.  The pantry staff acted like I walked in with a fist full of hundred-dollar bills to give away.

Myth 10:  Gardening is…well…work.  I don’t want to spend my free time working.

This is a corollary to Myth 5.  Yes, gardening can be work if you obsess with it being work.  But one of the attractions of gardening is that it is not brainwork.  You can (literally) put your mind on “hold” while you spade over the ground or fill pots with soil.  Sure, there’s bending, lifting, pulling, and hauling involved…just like what comes with your gym membership…see Myth 5.  If the sight of an earthworm gives you the shivers or if real gardening will screw up your $75 mani-pedi, grow herbs in small pots.  You can still legitimately claim the title, “Urban Farmer”.

Perhaps the greatest benefit comes from the intangible aspects of gardening.

There are several federal statutes prohibiting the Phyne Dyner from singing.  In my garden, I can sing until my hounds howl in anguish.  Gardening lends itself to a light heart and a light heart leads to singing, introspection, and even moments of prayer.

When you garden, you pray…a lot!  Even atheist gardeners pray.

Gardening brings the benefit of anticipation into our lives.  “Will the seeds I planted sprout today?  How much bigger is that first cucumber than it was yesterday?”  I find myself standing on my patio watching the bare soil with the same eagerness I once had for my approaching birthday.

Have you ever fed a hummingbird from your hand?  Mrs. Phyne Dyner plants out flowers that tend to attract hummingbirds and butterflies (I do not believe she knows butterflies come from caterpillars that eat gardens!).  The first time I experienced the Zen-like peace requisite to standing absolutely motionless and being the garden while a hummingbird sipped nectar from my palm it was purely magical.

Gardening puts us in tune with our surroundings.  We are much more aware of a summer storm’s fury if we are fretting about its wind blowing down our tomato cages or the hail battering delicate buds and leaves.  We actually know when it last rained and how much fell.  Gardeners know the frost dates as well as their own birthdays.

Gardening gets us…outside!  There is a huge difference between seeing your neighbor through a pane of glass and seeing him/her across the yard.  When we grow to know our neighbors and see them as people, we tend not to hear their dog barking at 3am and do not get irritated if they start mowing their own yard at 6am on Sunday.  It is too sad that many people do not know the names of neighbors just a door or two down the street.

“Outside” means heat, bugs, and a bit of dust.  If we grow a bit accustomed to heat, bugs, and dust we tend not to hermetically seal our homes and run the air conditioner.  We sleep with (GASP!) the window open.  And, golly, turning off the A/C…saves money.

I like to think the stuff I grow tastes better than the stuff from the grocery store.  Maybe it does.  Maybe it is all in my head.  One of the biggest motivations for the Phyne Dyner to cook is my seeing the delight of people when they eat something from my kitchen.  Their delight turns into outright awe when I announce, “I actually grew what went into this.”

Then there is the tangible benefit from where I began this word-journey:  The immense joy that comes with walking past the produce section of the grocery store and looking disdainfully at over-priced produce that was gas-ripened in a boxcar or truck trailer, rather than in the sunshine.  “Nothing for me today, thank you.”

Now, get out there and grow something.


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