Where Planting Green is Routine: Part 2
Aaaand…..we’re back! Last time, with the help of Mrs.Manjula Krishnamurthy, I took a closer look at the backbone of any gardening operation: the soil, the water, and of course, the plants. Though we’ve now explored some of the basics of harnessing your green thumb for good, you may still have a few reservations about creating a garden of your own. In this blog, I’ll take a closer look at the “thorns” in the gardening process — that is, the obstacles that make people hesitate to pull out their gloves, dig through the soil, and sprinkle in the seeds. From seemingly uncontrollable weeds to quickly ticking clocks, I’ll address some of your most pressing concerns, with Mrs.Krishnamurthy’s thriving backyard community in mind. So worry no further! Let’s find out why so many people steer clear of gardening — and why they shouldn’t anymore.
The Weeds: A Nuisance Turned Nourishing
When we hear the word “weed,” we’re often quick to wrinkle our noses in disgust. Just the thought of spending hours yanking clusters of relentless plants in the sweltering heat is enough to make anyone — myself included — squirm. That’s why I was surprised to learn that contrary to popular belief, several weeds are edible, medicinally useful, and most importantly, controllable. Mrs.Krishnamurthy, for instance, has a whole host of weeds proliferating throughout her garden, one being Solanum nigrum. Also called the blackberry nightshade, S.nigrum is used to alleviate symptoms of adverse skin conditions such as psoriasis and reduce stomach cramp pain, among other benefits. I was curious about how Mrs.Krishnamurthy came to plant S.nigrum in her garden, and it’s safe to say that I was not expecting her answer:
People were throwing around cigarette butts and all kinds of junk [at the gas station], and there was this one plant — Solanum nigrum. I wanted it. So, I went inside the gas station and talked to the cashier, and he said, “Just take it.” Now it’s taken over my yard, and I love it. I don’t even have to sow the seeds. It’s so easy to propagate.
You can identify a rose flower, right? It’s the same thing with weeds. If you keep looking at them, you’ll know exactly what is what. It’s just a matter of interest and experience. [S.nigrum is] wonderful because you just throw it in the ground and it will grow. It’s that forgiving. That’s how life should be. Effortless.
I got to taste S.nigrum’s deep purple fruit while visiting Mrs.Krishnamurthy. She plucked it from a vine, rubbed it against her shirt to get rid of the dirt, and popped it in her mouth. When I got past my initial reluctance and decided to do the same, I was pleasantly surprised. Though the fruit was milder than a blueberry, it still offered an equally refreshing burst of energy. Perfect, I must say, for any summer day.
Of course, with that being said, at the end of the day weeds still behave like weeds. Once you establish them, it’s hard to get rid of them. They grow everywhere, and edible or not, you still have to prevent them from overtaking your yard. However, that doesn’t mean that weedicides are the only solution. Mrs.Krishnamurthy, for one, avoids using them and chooses to pull her weeds instead:
We have tons of morning glory in our yard. I would love to have that, but not in my vegetable bed. It can strangle all of my climbers. If I go in my garden and spot it, I always pull it. That’s a little bit of maintenance. But even though it’s been a challenge, I enjoy doing it because I love the outdoors.
To those gardeners who regularly spray chemical substances of any kind on their grass, Mrs.Krishnamurthy advises that they stick to only eating the crops harvested from the vegetable bed, even if other edible crops are growing elsewhere. However, she encourages anyone who refrains from using chemicals to consume the crops that grow throughout their yard, edible weeds included. In other words, there’s no longer a reason to wrinkle your nose when you hear the word “weed.” As so eloquently put by Mrs.Krishnamurthy,
Instead of exerting a lot of energy in cultivating something that is so hard to grow, and instead of using all of those pesticides and insecticides, you should just eat what grows really well. If it’s a weed, identify the edible ones and enjoy them! I have them in abundance.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The Time: Minding the Clock
To commit or not to commit? That’s the golden question about gardening. I used to think that maintaining a garden takes hours upon hours of diligent weeding and watering every day, but my conversation with Mrs.Krishnamurthy made me realize otherwise. In fact, Mrs.Krishnamurthy told me that while she initially spent three to four hours a week tending to her seedlings, she now spends hardly ten minutes a day in her garden tilling the soil, harvesting fresh vegetables, or pulling the occasional weed. Ten minutes. That’s it! To those who critique gardening for its supposedly unmanageable time commitment, now it’s my turn to ask, “What’s holding you back?”
Because Texas weather is constantly in flux, I wondered whether Mrs.Krishnamurthy works in her garden throughout the year or only for part of it. She told me that even though she does have a few annual plants, most of her plants are perennials. She highlighted green onions in particular for their ability to grow with minimal maintenance:
During the wintertime, I bring green onions from the market, cut the base, and just throw it in the ground. I literally throw it in the ground. I don’t plant it, mind you. That green onion knows how to turn itself and grow. Even if the base is upside down, with the roots sticking up and the green part sticking down, it will still grow.
When I asked Mrs.Krishnamurthy if she plants anything else in her vegetable bed during the wintertime, she told me that she spends the colder months more focused on “giv[ing] the bed a breather.” However, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t active in her garden. To enrich the soil in preparation for the spring and summer, Mrs.Krishnamurthy takes everything ranging from potato skins to Bounty napkins and buries them in the soil for the worms and bacteria to eat. This results in rich soil fortified with plenty of nutrients — and millions of happy microbes. And according to Mrs.Krishnamurthy, sometimes planting all of that vegetable waste comes with its own surprises:
When it’s the right time, things start to come out [of the soil]. Sometimes I’m like, “Huh. I never planted this. What is this?” Here’s the key: Once you establish, nature just takes its course.
Here it is again: Once you establish, nature just takes its course.
The Critters: Protecting Without Killing
Ah, the critters. We’ve heard more horror stories than we can count about pesky squirrels taking bites out of plump tomatoes or beetles chewing mercilessly through the leaves of potato plants. For many people, the animals and insects that often infiltrate a garden are a major dealbreaker, and understandably so. After all, after investing so much energy into planting, watering, and weeding your garden, the last thing anyone wants is to spot a sneaky rabbit snatching a stray carrot or beet. Mrs.Krishnamurthy has successfully kept rabbits and rodents out of her garden by sealing the gaps underneath her fence with wood. As for insects, she refrains from growing plants that are especially vulnerable to being eaten, explaining that she only grows what has “natural resistance.” Of course, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had critters chew through her plants before:
In the past, I planted parsley, and black swallowtail butterflies love that plant. One time, 30 or 40 worms ate the plant. That one plant alone was full of yellow, black, and white worms. I decided to let them eat it, and all of a sudden, they all became butterflies!
Finally, there’s the mosquitoes. That unending swarm of buzzing bloodsuckers is enough to make many of us reach our breaking point. But the solution is simple: all-natural bug spray! Mrs.Krishnamurthy maintains that mosquitoes should never be a reason to not grow a garden. “They’re not as bad as people think,” she said. “It’s worth eating what you grow.”
Did you notice anything? Though she too deals with weeds, animals, and insects, Mrs.Krishnamurthy has managed to grow a flourishing garden without a single chemical in sight. Not a single synthetic fertilizer, pesticide, or weedicide. And let’s not forget that after all of that hard work, she still has plenty of time to spare.
So what are you waiting for?