Liberty and Security

A few months ago, I saw a quote on Facebook that got me thinking. I can’t find the exact post, but it was something along the lines of “He who trades liberty for security deserves neither and will lose both.” I’m aware of a similar quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The quote I saw was attributed to someone else and was much more simplistic and caustic than Franklin’s.

From the start, I want to say I don’t know the context of either quote and don’t wish to comment on what the authors meant. I also think Franklin’s quote is worlds better than what I originally saw on Facebook. What irritates me is the way these quotes are usually used in persuasive writing, indicating that the tension between liberty and security is something a “deserving” man will not feel, or at least will not succumb to.

Frankly, I think that is nonsense. As far as I can see, the entire project of civilization and society is to decide which liberties are worth trading for which securities. At a very basic level, we trade the freedom to kill for the security of not being killed. Hunter-gatherers traded the freedom to wander at will for the security of a stable harvest. When we marry, we (most of us, anyway) trade sexual liberty for the emotional, financial, and genetic security of a spouse.

There is a cost involved in each of these decisions, as there is in any decision. Allowing someone the legal power to punish us when we kill limits our ability to advance our own interests. The paleo-minded believe our health suffered when we traded wild boar for wheat. And anyone who’s had kids or a roommate to offset housing costs knows the sacrifices involved in that trade.

Much of the current political debate in America centers around which liberties we’re willing to sacrifice for which securities. This, I think, is normal. But very few speak in those terms. Depending upon a speaker’s political affiliations, we hear about either a government confiscating guns to solidify power or a crazy group of gun-fanatics who think a couple of kids’ deaths are worth the fun of owning a rifle. We fear a 1984-style dystopia or we don’t care about the poor. We use the term “right” indiscriminately: I have a right to own a gun, to control my own reproduction, and even, according to the UN, to freely access the internet.

Liberty and security are in tension with one another. I don’t see any way of getting around that. In that context, it seems to me that, historically, inalienable rights are simply the group of liberties the founders believed weren’t worth trading, no matter what. I realize this language implies a certain intention on their part, and I apologize. I’m hardly a scholar on the subject; many could speak better to the founders’ beliefs than I can. But whether or not they believed the idea of rights carried moral weight, what they did, practically, was to attempt to protect a certain set of freedoms from future trade.

We can discuss whether a particular trade is worth its costs, whether we have an accurate picture of what the costs are, or whether there would be unforeseen consequences (as there generally are). We can take a step back and consider the common values necessary for the discussion. What we can’t do is pretend we’re not, every day, trading our liberty for security. What we can’t do is draw our own lines, pretend we don’t, and then label those who draw them differently as unworthy of liberty.

To be transparent, I lean toward libertarianism. I don’t want to live in a world where the government can fairly consider legislation on soda size because they pay our medical costs and therefore have an interest in our health. On the flip side, I’m glad home ownership is a viable option for me, that it doesn’t depend on my relative ability to defend it, and that if my husband dies I don’t have to fear invading marauders stealing my home.

But I have no interest here in making a case either for libertarianism or for a nanny state. All I’m saying is that it would be helpful if we knew what we mean when we discuss our rights. It’s one thing to claim a right to property in that it would be wrong for someone to take what’s mine. It’s another to discuss a government defense of my right to property. The first is a moral claim. The second is practical, and with it inevitably comes a justifiable government interest in what I’m doing with my property.

Confusing the two claims makes for unproductive political discourse. It also means we allow our government to make these trades for us without considering the cost because we do not view them as trades. We can’t discuss our right to bear arms and pretend there is no cost to gun ownership or that the government has no interest in that cost. We have already given the government an interest in that we have asked them to protect us and to protect our property. What we can do is discuss whether we’re willing to accept that cost, or, put another way, whether we find the cost of making the opposite decision unbearable.

Haha, just kidding. I don’t understand them.

I read this article this morning. I’m angry.

The author is discussing the allegiance women owe feminism and what that allegiance means for them practically. In the opening paragraph, she mentions her desire to “smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time…is her feminist choice. Who can possibly take feminism seriously,” she says, “when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?”

Well, I suppose I agree with the last half of the statement. It is indeed idiotic to make equality dependent upon a legally-defined absolute freedom of choice. Men don’t have that, and women oughtn’t either.

The first statement, though, gets my blood boiling. Why does opting out of corporate America to spend time doing something worthwhile make one an idiot? Let’s look at what her arguments.

“If the [feminist] movement had been serious about being serious then the idea could not have caught on that equal is how you feel. Or that how anyone feels about anything matters at all. Men know better. They look at numbers….” Annoying gender stereotypes aside, there’s some truth there. Equal is not about how you feel. So what is it about? Numbers, apparently. What numbers? Ah, there they are: “We still earn 81 percent of what men do….”

Setting aside the issue of public policy’s role in fixing social issues, I agree that one’s salary ought not be dependent upon one’s sex. I’m grateful that women have broken into careers previously considered men’s domain, broadening the options for me and my daughters. But I don’t think I could disagree more vehemently with this little gem I found further down the page: “There really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic.”


Thankfully for me, she clarifies: “If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent.” And there it is. My value to society, sex regardless, is strictly economic. I owe it to my feminist sisters – indeed, to America – to be a good worker and a good consumer. This is sickening. It is the ultimate in elitism. It says to people who value happiness, family, faith – whatever – over the accruing of wealth, that they have chosen badly. It says to a woman accepting a lower paying job to spend more time with her kids that she is devaluing himself. It says to a man choosing to be a stay-at-home dad that he’s lost his worth to society. It has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with Marxist materialism.

She goes on: “Seriously: Did Romney actually tell his wife that her job was more important than his? So condescending. If he thought that, he’d be doing it.” I can’t speak for Romney – he always seemed kind of slimy to me – but I know my own situation. I stay at home. I raise my children, grow things, interact with my community, nourish my family, read books and entertain ideas while Stephen drives an hour each way to sit at a desk making phone calls about medical supplies for nine hours every day. I can guarantee that he would enjoy his life more if our roles were switched. He is not being condescending when he praises what I do. He wishes he could, too. But he is actively sacrificing himself, giving up a good portion of the few hours he has on this earth, so that I can do it. I suppose if everything were really about power and greed I would be suspicious when Stephen tells me my job is more valuable while choosing to do something else. But it’s not. There’s this crazy little thing called love – ever heard of it? – that calls us to consider others’ well-being when we make choices. It calls us, men and women, to be dependent and to serve.

I am well aware that the day may come when our survival depends upon me working outside the home. That’s fine. I consider myself intelligent and able-bodied enough both to find work and to opt out of the crazy consumerism that enslaves us to that work.

But the glorification of that work is disgusting. We have been fed a grossly inaccurate idea of what we need, and this idea has been used to enslave us to largely meaningless work. We spend our lives fueling corporate America in return for a paycheck that we give right back when they come out with a new ipad. I do not mean to speak for everyone. Many people – doctors, teachers, social workers, and many others – fill meaningful and much-needed roles in society. We couldn’t get by without them. And there are others who find fulfillment in gaming the system, in playing with stocks or creating compelling new businesses. They enjoy what they do and support themselves in the process. More power to them. But most of us have bought into a system that relies on minimum wage workers just as much as it does doctors, yet values them much less. Most people spend their lives in boring careers and end up with little more than when they began. If I can opt out of that without putting myself on welfare, what’s wrong with that?

“To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege….” Absolutely. And it is our hope, as a family, that by being careful with our money now, in a few years we can afford to keep Stephen home, too. But oops. She doesn’t mean privilege in a good way. Look at the rest of the paragraph:

“To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don’t blame them. As it happens, fewer than 5 percent of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of corporate executives, and 17 percent of law partners are female. The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn’t male it’s pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to…whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don’t know why or what for. Then they give money to Mitt Romney.”

Look, lady. We live in suburban Cleveland on one income. We pay our bills and manage to live “luxe” by global standards. My husband doesn’t think I’m dumb because I’m not. If feminism is what you say it is, it has mixed itself with materialism and consumerism and offered me a role in society that is generally uninteresting and, frankly, dehumanizing. I hardly think it’s dumb for me to refuse to be a cog in your little Marxist machine. The kind of life we’ve chosen hardly allows me the option of “going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits.” What is a Jivamukti class? This life requires a lot of work, much of which is geared toward making our future more home-centered for both of us.

I don’t want to go much into gender roles here, except to say I think the twenties’ housewife feminine ideal is just as poisonous as the ideal presented in this article. I don’t think all women need to choose as I have. But I wish people could see how insulting this kind of thinking is. It is insulting to women to say they’d be more valuable if they were more like men. It is insulting to men to act as though they care only about economic power. It is insulting to all of us to tie purchasing power to personal worth.

If I may borrow from the author’s gender stereotypes for a moment, I’d like to suggest she take a closer look at the women of this world. Maybe they know something the men don’t.

Our Urban Garden

Living in a fourth floor apartment with no yard space and a very shaded fire-escape presents some unique challenges for a would-be gardener like myself. Fortunately, my beloved Lakewood hosts five or six community garden sites. Ours is about two miles away, a nice walk when the weather is decent. The plots are roughly 10’x10′, and we rented a tiller on Friday to loosen the soil and work in some (purchased) compost. I apologize to all the permaculturists out there; someday, I’ll have my own garden and will nurture its tender ecosystem with more care. For now, I’m content to make some compromises (such as purchasing compost). I will admit, though, that there is something strangely heartbreaking about cutting a worm in half with my shovel.

Tilling the plots meant I could finally get my onion starts out. I hope they survive. It’s my first year trying onions, and these got a little moldy in their pots (too little airflow?). We’ll see how they do. We also planted some carrots, chicories, and purple mizuna, a frilly mustard relative. Tomorrow morning will be another big planting day (fingers crossed). I want to get going on my beets, turnips, lettuces, radishes, and other greens. My broccoli and cabbage starts bit the dust, so I’m going to try starting some broccoli directly in the garden. It may be too late, but it’s worth a try.

Our inside set-up is a little more complicated. I bought a cheap wire shelf from Home Depot and rigged some grow lights to it with electrical tape. It has three shelves that my plastic trays from Walmart fit perfectly. Currently, it houses some beautiful pepper plants, a handful of greens (that will also go out tomorrow), and some yet-ungerminated tomatoes, ground cherries, and marigolds. I leave the lights on during waking hours and check the soil for dampness every day. They usually need water every three days or so. Too much water and too little airflow yields the mold I mentioned above.

The fourth grow light is attractively hanging from some twine tied around a curtain rod. I’ve suspended it above our windowsill pots to give them a little extra light. I had very low expectations from my windowsill garden, and I have to say it’s surprised me. It’s currently hosting a healthy supply of mache, claytonia (or miner’s lettuce, a winter green that grows tiny white flowers that are also edible), arugula, and endive. I tried radishes, which yielded some nice greens and one minuscule radish. I think I’ll leave the windowsill to the greens from now on. Plants whose edible parts are roots (underground starch storage systems) or fruits (like tomatoes) need lots of energy to form them, and windowsill lighting is not up to snuff. I have a bunch of tiny little sprouts to supply the next round of greens when we harvest our current plants.

When the weather warms up, I’m going to try to put a few plants out on the balcony. As I mentioned, it doesn’t get much sun, so I’m not sure it’ll work. I have high hopes for one particular pepper plant (red rocoto), which is listed as loving shade.

Every situation presents unique difficulties for gardeners; how do you work around yours?

The American salad is in a sorry state. For most people, a salad means a dusty pile of iceberg, bacon bits, and mushy tomato wedges. It is something to be eaten out of obligation, or perhaps because there can be a McDonald’s-like enjoyment in the combination of bacon, ranch, and cheese bits (on a pile of iceberg, of course, so we don’t feel like total barbarians). Well, forget all those stale croutons and bottled dressings for a moment. If you take the time to beef up your salad skills a bit, a whole new world of healthy (and delicious) eating will open up for you.

What greens are you familiar with? Iceberg is the most common salad green, and, in my opinion, the most boring. You know romaine from Caesar salad, and have probably tried spinach with fruit and nuts or perhaps steak and blue cheese (all delicious, from my perspective, but not even the tip of the iceberg – ha). But what else is there?

Leaf lettuce is slightly more bitter and less crunchy than romaine. It is fairly delicate and is best washed immediately, rolled up in paper towel and stuffed in a ziploc bag with the air pressed out (this also saves you from trying to dress wet greens). Lettuces in general are not the most flavorful greens, and are best paired with strong-tasting ingredients. One of our favorites is Salad Ni├žoise, recipe here. It is a fairly involved salad featuring fish and lots of cooked vegetables. Notice the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and shallot. Easy to mix up in a small jar. If you don’t have shallots, use onion or (slightly less) garlic. Skip any of the veggies you don’t have; maybe try salmon instead of tuna (this salad is even better, by the way, with fresh fish). You can use whole potatoes and cut them up if you don’t have the fancy baby ones. I usually steam the veggies instead of boiling them because I think it’s easier. Whatever. Salad is not like baking. It is extremely flexible, governed only by what’s in your fridge and which flavors you like.

Arugula can run the whole range of mild to bitter. Most supermarket arugulas are stronger than lettuce without being terribly bitter. Because it’s more flavorful than lettuce, it’s good in very simple salads. Perhaps my favorite salad ever is arugula dressed with a little lemon juice, olive oil, and salt (for salad dressings, the proportions are usually one part acid to three/four parts oil, depending on your palate; a dollop of mustard adds flavor and keeps the dressing emulsified longer). Slice some onion very thinly and shave some parmesan on top. If you want to make this salad even better (and more expensive), toast a few tablespoons of pine nuts in a dry pan just until you start to smell them. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Kale is not as bitter as arugula, but it is tougher. It is amazing in this recipe, with our without the radicchio (a very bitter, but fabulous, non-green). Slice it thinly so you don’t end up with giant mouthfuls of tough leaves to chew. I usually throw a can of rinsed chickpeas over the top of this salad.

So now you’ve got some ideas. But the most fun in the kitchen, I think, comes from successful creativity, and salad-making is no exception. Being creative (while still making something you like) does require a little familiarity with your ingredients. That takes some effort, but it is worth it.

The first step is to assess your pantry. What oils, vinegars, and sauces do you have lying around? Do you know when to use red wine vs apple cider vinegar, or when lemon juice might be nicer still? If not, pour a tiny bit into a glass, warm it with your hand, and taste it. Please do not use vegetable oil for salad dressing. Please. And olive oil, especially if you’re using it for dressing, should be at least slightly peppery and not at all rancid. Good olive oil will make you cough if you drink it straight.

My most basic dressing requirements (if I had to narrow it down, which I’d hate to do) would be olive oil and sherry vinegar (a little nicer than red wine). Mustard would be a close third, as it adds so much depth to the dressing while also improving its consistency. This website lists Sally Fallon’s recipe for basic dressing. It is useful for learning some general proportions (note that the flaxseed oil is included for health reasons, not taste). Don’t forget salt and pepper.

Beyond the basics, apple cider vinegar (if you can find the raw kind, it’s even better) is versatile and delicious. If you mix it with olive oil and greek yogurt and pour it over chopped apples and shredded red cabbage (thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law for this awesome idea), you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before. Coconut vinegar is fun for more asian-themed salads, perhaps with a dash of toasted sesame oil (which, by the way, will make all the difference in your stir-fry. Add it at the end, though; it’s not for cooking). Lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice serve well as the acid in dressing, as does orange juice (though it’s a little too sweet to use without some vinegar). Roasted root vegetables, crumbled feta, thinly sliced onion, and lettuce with lemon juice and olive oil are heavenly. Flavored oils and nut oils are both fun to play around with, though they’re less versatile than the basics.

And then there’s balsamic. It comes in a couple classes. The cheapest kind is labeled simply “balsamic vinegar” and is great in marinades for meat or dressing for just about any veggie salad. The best, and most expensive, will be labeled either “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” or “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia“. You can explore Wikipedia for more information on what separates the classes of balsamic. Suffice it to say, the real stuff is syrupy and sweet, needs no oil, and is too expensive to use regularly. But nothing else will make your tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad shine in the same way.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the greens. Pick something out you haven’t tried before. Taste a piece, then imagine which of your on-hand dressing ingredients would compliment it best. Add some fresh (steamed, roasted, whatever) vegetables, or don’t. Maybe it would be good with cheese or nuts. Got any fresh herbs with a short shelf-life? Maybe they’d be nice in the mix. A can of fish or chickpeas can be thrown over the top to turn it into a main course. It’s your salad; make it how you want. Just leave the wilting iceberg and mystery bacon bits for someone else.

I apologize that this is such a long post. I can’t help it; I love salad. If you’ve made it this far, feel free to share your salad ideas and experiences. I would love to hear them.

This morning, for the second day in a row, Laila knocked my coffee off the table, completely soaking a big pile of her books and breaking my favorite mug. I do not always (or even often) respond well to this sort of thing. As I started to yell, I realized my mistake and stopped. I explained to her that it was an accident, that we have control over our responses, and that anger is not a good response to frustration. She’s way more important to me, I said, than a book or a coffee mug. Expressing my frustration is not worth hurting her.

This was a teachable moment, and aside from my initial outburst, I think I handled it pretty well. I calmed down, explained to Laila that mommy’s response had been inappropriate, and modeled a better response. Laila seemed to understand. “Not Laila’s fault, no,” she said. “Mommy’s fault.” Well.

The problem is that in the long run, teachable moments don’t always work.

The things my parents told me have stuck in my mind. They surface when I’m making a decision or considering an issue to which they apply. But they are something to be weighed along with everything else I’ve absorbed along the way, whether from teachers, peers, or culture in general. My parents’ lessons may resonate more strongly than other input, but they exist within the same category of information to be judged. I don’t believe this has anything to do with my parents. Words, and even the most persuasive of arguments, simply have limited influence.

The most powerful way in which my parents shaped my life was by determining my most basic understanding of how life works. I think about what they told me, but I do what they do. I don’t have to consider whether it’s worthwhile to share a family meal; that’s just what families do. Families go to church on Sunday. They make music together. They show gratitude to each other and to God, and they appeal to Him in times of difficulty. Spouses have patience for each others’ faults and show embarrassing amounts of affection in front of their children. These things don’t have to go through the normal channels of consideration to affect me; they’re just how I live.

My mom doesn’t spend excessive money on clothing, because she values other things more highly. She loves to nurture, be it plants or babies. She believes in order, honesty, and good manners. My dad appreciates intellectual thought and artistic expression. He values prudence and self-sacrifice. He tells his daughters they’re beautiful and his sons they’re strong. My parents value family over money and true wisdom over what our culture offers.

All of these values have found their expression in me, though not yet as strongly as in my parents. I’m hoping that’s just because I’ve had fewer years to work out the kinks.

So what should I have done this morning? I should have responded well, rather than explaining what a good response looks like. I shouldn’t have slipped into believing my inconvenience was reason to hurt my daughter. She may hear my words, but my actions are what she’ll model.

This is hard. It would be much easier if I could patch over my faults with a pep talk and hope it sticks. But it won’t. If I want my children to value family time, I have to value family time. If I want my daughter to have a positive body image, I’ve got to get over thinking appearance is so important. If I want my children to handle their anger well, then I’ve got to stop throwing temper tantrums. I’ve simply got to become a better person, the sort of person I’d be proud for them to be.

My children have been good for me in so many ways. Waking up at night with that first baby pretty quickly cured me of the notion that my desire to sleep was something the world should work around. The love I can’t help but have forces me outside myself and into self-sacrifice. But even more than that, they’re an ultimatum. I can’t put off changing my bad habits because they’re watching me now. It’s time to grow up.


On Monday, I was chatting with my sister-in-law (who is angelically patient with my gardening obsession), and she asked me what I had learned last year from my garden. I hardly knew how to answer. Um, everything? I remain an absolute gardening novice, and I know that, but when I compare what I know now to what I knew then, I feel positively brilliant. So I thought I’d share some of what I learned from my very first garden and hope that maybe you all will share what you’ve learned, too.

1. Be aware of your own limitations. This is one of the few things I think I did well last year. Looking at seed catalogs, I want to grow everything. Red okra? I must have it. Who cares that I don’t like okra. But I knew that if I tried to do too much, I’d get overwhelmed and likely fail (I was also due to have a baby in July, so there’s that). So I stuck with tomatoes, greens, and herbs, each a mystery to me, but none of them terribly difficult in their own right (Yes, tomatoes are easy to grow. The preponderance of detailed, contradictory tomato-growing advice you can find online will convince you otherwise. They may be difficult to grow perfectly, but not to grow or even grow well, especially if you stick with cherry tomatoes.) This year, I’ve got some eighty plus seed packets in my little container, so obviously I’m having a harder time following this advice.

2. Don’t be too afraid of your own limitations. Maybe that sounds contradictory, but it’s true. I killed many plants last year, but more things worked than I could have imagined. Go ahead and try.

More practically,

3 Go buy some seeds. Seriously. Just a couple packets of things you like. Once you have the seeds and some potting soil, you can salvage all sorts of containers from your recycling bin and just see what works.

4. Wait until your soil is ready to work it. It should be unfrozen, obviously, but also not too wet. You don’t want to be able to squeeze it into a ball that sticks together.

5. Learn how to harden off your seedlings! I got amazingly lucky with this last year. I didn’t harden off anything, but the seedlings survived, I think perhaps because I had kept them in an open window and they’d had some experience with wind and direct sun. But don’t risk it. How sad would it be to nurture a bunch of little tomatoes and peppers only to have them die because you forgot to get them used to the outside world?

6. Some herbs are hard to start from seed. It’s way easier to get plants from the farmers’ market or garden center. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, and tarragon are among these. It’s not even that expensive, considering that these are all perennials. Some varieties are said to survive northern winters, but I think I’ll just take cuttings next fall and root them inside.

7. Set up your tomato support system at planting time. I waited until they needed staking, and I think I damaged the roots. Also, invest in something decent for them. Tomatoes take a long time to grow, and they deserve some quality support. Last year, I stuck some green garden stakes by the plants and tied them up with twine, over and over, all summer long. This resulted in bruised stems and poor plant growth. I don’t recommend it.

8. Big beefsteak tomatoes, like Brandywines, have a very limited shelf-life once fully ripe. It is not difficult to miss their window of ripeness and let them rot on the vine. This is even more frustrating with these types of plants that give you so few fruit anyway. Go ahead and pick them a couple days early and let them ripen inside. I had two beefsteak plants last year, a Brandywine and a Cherokee Purple, and I got harvested exactly one not-rotten fruit between them.

9. Tomatoes don’t need as much water as you’d think. (Remember this, Sarah. Don’t over-water the tomatoes this year). Too much water when the fruit is ripening can make them mealy. They do, however, like calcium, so give them a crushed eggshell or two at planting time. I tried this last year on my mom’s recommendation, and I had absolutely no problems with blossom end rot, which is supposed to plague tomato-growers.

10. Learn about succession planting (but don’t obsess too much). I let the same kale plants grow all season last year, and while they produced just fine, they were crawling with mealybugs by the end of summer. I think younger, healthier plants would have held up better. This year, I’m going to plant three separate crops, pulling out the previous when the new ones are ready. The same holds true for lettuce. Flowering lettuce is an amazing, otherworldly sight, but there’s no reason to let it happen unless you want to save seeds. Plant another crop a couple weeks after the first, and you’ll have no gaps in your delicious lettuce consumption. I add the last bit about not obsessing as a reminder for myself this year, ha.

11. Cilantro bolts like crazy, which is great if you want the seeds (coriander), but not if you’re going for fresh cilantro. Succession plant, succession plant, succession plant.

12. You can use more basil than you ever thought possible.

13. READ. Seriously, nothing (except maybe experience) beats reading for gaining skill and information. Obvious, yes. But oh so important. Square Foot Gardening taught me I was right to question the notion of “row spacing.” Grow Great Grub said I could grow more indoors than I thought possible (I’m experimenting with some of this right now). Northwest Edibles (I know I mention this blog in every post, and I’m sorry, but I love it and I can’t help it) explained the differences among hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom seeds, and taught me that you plant garlic in the fall (who knew?). The internet (and the public library) are your friend.

13. Plants want to grow. They’re on your side, so long as you don’t kill them. I didn’t do anything right last year, not really. I turned our soil when it was way too wet (Turning is too generous a word, really. What I did was move it around a bit and break up the bigger clumps). I didn’t fertilize much at all, except what the community garden provided, which was fortunately a giant heap of leaf humus – a great soil amendment. I treated my tomatoes terribly and got my garlic in too late. But nature can be very forgiving, and I enjoyed my delicious tomatoes, herbs, and greens all season long, and my trip to the plot yesterday revealed little garlic stalks poking up above the soil.

All of this will be obvious to anyone with vegetable growing experience. But it was all new to me, and it’s the sort of thing experienced gardeners don’t share because they forget that they ever had to learn it. Have you had any similar garden-related revelations?