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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


7 Mad Gardening Skills

Being an avid gardener requires you to have special skills and abilities. When was the last time you tried a totally new plant or technique? Are you known for your gardening prowess? Ever breed your own varieties? Do you know when it will rain next? Here are 7 mad gardening skills to take you to the next level.

Nunchuck skills… bowhunting skills… computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!  (Napoleon Dynamite)

Note: Mr. Dynamite is totally correct as I won the Snarky Girlfriend’s heart with my gardening expertise (“Oh, you have a garden?”).

Groundhog broccoli damage 

Took me awhile to catch on that I had a groundhog problem

1. Alertness

Are you observant and present while out in your garden? It’s easy to wander around just enjoying all the natural beauty, but as they say “the devil is in the details.” Catching something now will keep you from crying about it later. One droughty season a few years back, I noticed some of my plants’ leaves looked chewed on. I thought, “Oh, probably grasshoppers or some other bug.”

The next day, I noticed even more gone, but I was still unsure. The third day I came out to discover a smallish groundhog in my garden. I chased him out through the hole he had come through, which is sadly how I figured out how he got in. Had I been smarter (or just more paranoid), I would have spotted the incursion site, patching it before Woody helped himself to my produce.

Do you know what the weather has in store? Learn to be an amateur meteorologist, watching both current conditions and future forecasts. Be the person others ask for weather reports. I know from past events that if the experts are calling for clear skies and lows in the mid-30s later in the week, I should be on the lookout for a frost or freeze.

Preparing now instead of the night when you receive the official warning (if you are lucky enough to get one) is prudent. Watering is more efficient when you know there is a chance of showers later in the week. If only sunny days on the horizon, plan on giving your thirsty little plants some deep long drinks.

2. Creativity

Do you consider yourself creative? Remember that your garden is an expression of your imaginative self. We are all designers. Every choice you make, whether it is plants, techniques, or placement, is yours and yours alone. It’s one of the reasons no two gardens look alike (if you are doing it right).

What you find yummy I may find yucky. What plants you put with others (companion plants and interplanting) are probably not what I would combine. You might plant in straight rows, curves, blocks, and/or shapeless blobs. Use your garden as an opportunity to convey your artistic vision. Think of your garden as a canvas and your plants as your paint.

Are you curious and open to new things, whether they are new plant varieties, techniques, or relationships? Try not to be so judgmental (I know, it’s tough). If you find yourself thinking, “That won’t work” or “I tried that the years ago and it failed”, try to rephrase it into a question. “What would work?” or “I wonder why it failed?” or “What am I missing?” will open up your mind to new possibilities.

Our attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts are oftentimes what limit our creativity the most. Just don’t pay attention to that whole “curiosity killed the cat” saying.

Groundhog mid-run

Groundhogs need to be forgiven.

3. Forgiveness

Can you easily forgive? The forgiving gardener is the successful gardener. You need to forgive others, especially woodland creatures and other pests. They get hungry just like we do. Our gardens are often the most delicious food source around. If they trespass into your space, know that is just nature’s way. Of course, you may need to fence them out or remove them if they become too aggressive. All I’m saying is don’t hold a grudge — animals need love, too.

You also need to learn to forgive yourself. I guarantee you will make mistakes, some of them being HUGE. Like “leaving your plants unprotected during a frost” huge. Or “leaving the garden gate open and varmints find an all-they-can-eat buffet” huge. You may even label these events with “debacle” or “fiasco”, at least in your mind, but mistakes are just you learning and growing. Hopefully they only hurt temporarily when they are happening.

Zucchini winner
Don’t be this guy.

4. Humility

Are you humble when you are successful and other gardeners aren’t? Once you have an awesome garden, it’s easy to be all smug in your superiority. Remember where you came from. Most of us started out with weedy, barren, sad little excuses for a garden. Also, any season’s random events could wipe you out (drought, late freeze, early frost, flooding, sharknadoes), which could be karma for the braggart.

Modesty is the best policy as your garden isn’t prolific only because of your hard work. You had a full team assisting you along the way. Insects pollinating and preying on pests. Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microscopic organisms converting debris into nutrients for your plants. Birds, amphibians, and reptiles who make your garden their home while ridding it of slugs and snails. Make sure to thank them while tending to your bountiful veggie garden by making your plot hospitable for all your little helpers.

Know when to hold them. Know when to fold them. Kenny Rogers

5. Patience

Is patience one of your qualities? Being able to see your ultimate garden to fruition (see what I did there?) is sometimes difficult, but Mother Nature has her own pace. You can’t rush her; don’t even try. Here’s a fun example. I ordered some American groundnuts (a North American native) to grow with my garden. Planted them and then waited and waited. Nothing happened and I figured they were duds. The following year, what do my little eyes see? American groundnuts twining up my Jerusalem artichokes. Good thing I didn’t order more or complain to the seller.

You should also strive for patience and perseverance while working on your garden projects. Many new gardeners want to take on the entire yard all at once. The best projects are completed a piece at a time. Yes, it will take longer to implement your master plan, but great achievements are often built on small successes. Don’t be one of those people with a million half-completed undertakings.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.  -Dwight D. Eisenhower

6. Planning

How well and often do you plan? Planning itself is not an end goal. Plans will change but planning will prepare you for what could happen. It also gives you something to shoot for; a goal to stretch for. I use the MOTHER EARTH NEWS GrowVeg Garden Planner to plan all of my gardens (see my review here). I also have to-do lists and spreadsheets to keep me on target. I am one of those disturbed individuals that LOVES planning. As soon as the season is over I’m already working on next season. That’s what January and February are all about.

PAC-MAN garden design
My garden looks like PAC-MAN designed it.

7. Sharing

Do you share your skills, seeds, experience, and vegetables? I am sometimes the most selfish person I know (just ask the Snarky Girlfriend). I have trouble sharing, especially my garden vegetables. The first cherry tomatoes of the season are a good example. Sometimes they make it back to the house; sometimes they don’t (“Nope, no tomatoes yet” said through tomato-stained lips).

What if you have so many vegetables you don’t know what to do with them all? Like the summer zucchini overabundance that everyone moans and complains about? This is a perfect time to donate to those who are not lucky enough to have fresh vegetables. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are to grow such wonderful produce.

So how did you do? Do your skills stack up to this lofty list? Need to work on some? Are there some skills that should be added to this list? Email me and let me know.

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of Don's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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