Laissez-faire gardening pays off in the springtime | Lifestyle


If you haven’t read The Daily Sentinel’s home improvement sections, you might not be familiar with this column.

The name suggests I’m a cow or a goat, but it’s simply a reflection of my belief that if I’ve got to water and tend something out in the yard, I want to eat it.

Plus, I love to cook with healthy, fresh ingredients, and it doesn’t get any fresher than the produce aisle in the flower bed.

I’m a big believer in no-till gardening, mostly because my rototiller broke a few years ago, and I’m too cheap to buy another one. Other proponents in the no-till movement (really, there’s an entire no-till faction with websites, blogs and devotees out there) claim it’s better for the soil, better for good bacteria and earthworms, and it prevents erosion.

Since I don’t rototill, which would wipe away all evidence of past garden mistakes and give me a clean slate every spring, I’ve planted perennials, self-seeding flowers and herbs, berry bushes and about anything else that sounds interesting in my vegetable gardens.

I try to tend my garden, and am pretty good about weeding in the springtime and fertilizing before I plant anything, but by midsummer, I get busy playing and everything out in the garden does what it wants to do.

I call it laissez-faire gardening.

Neat and tidy rows? I don’t think so.

Well-marked plots with just one plant in any given space? No, not so much.

I don’t trust anyone else to work in my garden, since it’s not easy for anyone who’s not me to know what is a desired plant and what is not.

That’s OK, though, my self-imposed time-out space is a bit wild and untidy, which makes me happy, and no one should bother with gardening unless it makes him or her happy.

If you’ve never tried gardening, however, you might want to experiment with it, since studies are emerging that correlate gardening with better physical and mental health and longer life.

And let me digress a little more. Have you ever thought about the plants we eat? Sometimes we eat the leaves, sometimes the fruit or the seeds, and sometimes we eat the roots.

I have no idea how early humans figured out what part was the edible part. What prompted those who may have gotten sick from eating the leaves of a potato plant to dig up the roots and see what happened if they ate that?

Or why were some seeds ground up and turned to flour and others were simply consumed? Personally, I’m kind of glad no one thought grinding up dried peas to bake bread would be a good idea. The idea of eating bread the color of split pea soup doesn’t make me hungry for toast.

When a plant goes to seed, it is usually nearing the end of its life cycle. With the exception of legumes and corn, most vegetables aren’t valued once they go to seed.

In fact, some experts will advise pulling the plants out before they go to seed, or with leafy greens such as spinach and basil, pinching off the tops of stalks that look like they want to flower and go to seed, so the plant will keep producing leaves.

I pinch basil throughout the summer, but I rarely pull anything else that goes to seed.

I’ve discovered that flowering carrots are quite pretty, as are flowering kale and kohlrabi. When lettuce goes to seed, it looks like a dandelion gone rogue, but I let it go, anyway.

The result of all these plants going to seed, combined with not using a tiller, means I have lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard and kale coming up in odd places all over the garden.

Better yet, they often come up long before I would have ever thought to plant them, so in addition to flowers and perennial herbs sprouting everywhere in the springtime, I’ve got parsley, lettuce and Swiss chard to pick in April and May.

I also have weeds like nobody’s business, but pulling weeds can be a great way to get rid of your hostilities.

The no-till method may or may not work for others. My garden was lawn for 30 years before I turned it into garden space, and I’ve since added truckloads of soil conditioner, alpaca poop, Mesa Magic and other organic matter. I’m not saying the soil in my garden is Iowa, but it’s not the typical Grand Valley clay, either.

Some vegetables won’t go to seed the year they’re planted, but will if you allow them to overwinter, so if I have plants that look like they want to live in November, I leave them be.

That’s how I ended up with a couple hundred tiny Swiss chard seedlings in a space that used to have five, and pretty yellow flowers that are actually kohlrabi plants busy producing seeds that might grow in 2020.

You would think with all of those seeds flying all over my garden, I wouldn’t have to buy a lot of seeds and could save a ton of money, but to that I say, “That’s blasphemy. What kind of monster are you to even think such mean and hurtful thoughts?”

Yes, I have a plot of returning lettuce that could feed salad to the entire staff of The Daily Sentinel, but I bought two additional packets of lettuce mix because they both included varieties that sounded interesting.

It’s a compulsion, but it’s cheaper than gambling in Las Vegas. Plus, I’ve got kale.

Penny Stine is an avid gardener, who makes a lot of gardening mistakes and occasionally learns from them. Look for her column on the third Saturday of the month during the growing season. Stine is the staff writer for The Daily Sentinel’s Special Sections department and can be reached at

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