Fight The Hype


Of course, I’m not growing food commercially for finicky consumers, so my produce doesn’t have to be perfect.  And I allow myself the great luxury of the vegetable garden: a certain number of dismal failures, more than made up for by the screaming successes.

For example, we have no cucumbers this year, though my children love them.  The ones I started from seed died because I planted them too soon, in soil that was too cool.  The seedlings we bought after that mini-disaster turned out to be mislabeled zucchinis.  Plus, though I wouldn’t admit this to everybody, I can’t seem to grow a full-sized carrot to save my life.  Maybe I start them too late?  Maybe I pay too much attention to my job and not enough to thinning the tiny bastards early in the season?

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And in complete defiance of all conventional wisdom, I get unusable amounts of delicious apples from trees probably planted by cows, trees to which I do absolutely nothing–no pruning, no spraying, no thinning.  As with everything else in life, there are risks and benefits.  I’m willing to forgo apples beautiful enough to appear in Snow White in order to avoid poisoning the planet my children will inherit.  Plus, I work hard enough in the garden to understand when to leave well enough alone. 

Of course, there are problems with gardening this way.  The gardener is not sufficiently susceptible to marketing.  The gardener fails to contribute sufficiently to big corporations.  The gardener is not sufficiently anxious.

Have you noticed the degree to which even the most well-meaning garden suppliers trade on anxiety?  Back-pack sprayers to kill all the threatening insects. The one package of fertilizer precisely formulated for tomatoes, the other package of stuff precisely formulated for the roses.  Weird bags for automatic watering that look, interestingly enough, like disposable diapers for trees.  These purveyors imply that the road to success requires precision and lots of carefully calibrated things that they happen to sell.  Actually, I believe that the road to success mostly involves worms.  Amy, can you back me up here?

They’re only scaring us to get us to part with our money–and encouraging us backyard farmers, who are after all, VERY GOOD PEOPLE, to do ugly things to our little piece of earth in the name of practicality.  I have a different idea: Accept that our crops don’t have to be any more perfect in appearance than the people we love and no more perfect than our own flawed selves.  Instead of spending our money on wrinkle cream for the apple trees, let’s spend all our money on plants–that’s where the adventure is–with an occasional really insane purchase of a teak bench or an iron arch that will deliver years of beauty. 

Let the back-pack-sprayer producers go belly up.  It’s America.  We’ve got a dynamic economy here.  They’ll soon find a more useful line of work.


  1. I backed into organic gardening because I am cheap and unorganized. You want how much for that bag of bug killer and I have to do it how many times and only when the weather is what?! I worked full time and had babies and gardened like an insane person when I could fit in the times. And things grew wonderfully and hey, it is good for the planet too. I too am sick of the need to commercialize everything, but it does create jobs and make money.

    PS: I can’t grow carrots either.

    PPS: Disney Princess has to be the most brilliently disgusting advertising gimmick for little girls ever.

  2. Scare tactics, they use it for everything (just listen to Bush). I can’t tell you how many times I tell kids from the neighbourhood that bees aren’t bad, they are your friend, and then that goes out the window when their parent throws a tizzy because a bug got close to them. We did have a beautiful moment in our backyard the other evening, the kids from the neighbourhood were over playing, and we got to see 3 praying mantis and 2 black swallowtail caterpillars. Oddly enough the one parent next door hasn’t quite managed to kill everything living around him yet.

  3. See, this is why I love organic gardening so much—I don’t poison the planet my kids are going to inherit, AND I get to “stick it to the man” in my own Earth-friendly way. If perfection is what you find in the blank stares of supermodels and the gleaming, sterile cleanliness of a “tidy” house, I don’t need it. Give me a few holes chewed in my kale by the cabbage white caterpillar, tiny toddler fingerprints dotting my coffee table, smile lines and the occasional frizzy hair day. An authentic life is more important than perfection.

  4. I’m with you, my friend. Our apple trees are bent over from the weight of all the fruit, and I hardly even managed to water it this year, much less feed it or spray it.

  5. My trees’ branches are touching the ground this year too. I have a peck of not-so-pretty drops I picked up this morning waiting to be turned into sauce to go with supper. There’s a bushel waiting to be picked up and bushels waiting to be picked from the tree. So they’re a little homely but they taste wonderful!

  6. You get an AMEN from me too! When did we come up with the notion of all this artificial perfection anyway? I know what we eat, how it was grown and that we are not going to croak from some pesticide residual. Sure beats the alternative to me! Anybody for a slightly mishapen but oh so delicous pear?

  7. Thanks for this great blog and a thoughtful post on organic gardening. Apples in particular seem to scare people into using spray so they look grocery-store perfect…but a place I go every summer has many old apple trees, they never spray, and most of them porduce great tasting crisp apples!

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