Jessie Raymond: Gardener gives some dubious tips

When it comes to gardening, I have a wealth of wisdom to offer.
I don’t mean “wisdom” in the sense that I know what I’m talking about, exactly. If you want that kind of wisdom, talk to the beloved Vermont horticulturist Charlie Nardozzi.
But if you’re looking for the wisdom of a common gardener — one who is somewhat lazy, insect-averse and lacking in common sense — look no further.
Below are some of the many questions I’ve received from people who see me at the garden center and assume I know what I’m doing because there is dirt under my fingernails. (This, of course, means little. Show me three teenage boys and I’ll show you two with dirt under their fingernails, even if they’ve never done anything more strenuous than hook up a new game console.)
Q: My garden soil tests at a pH of 7.8. What should I do?
A: Gee, assuming pH is measured on a scale of 100, that sounds dangerously low. I would definitely buy more pH immediately and amend your soil with it (“amend” is a gardening word I know). A 50-pound bag should do the trick.
Q: I have striped bugs eating holes in my squash plants. What should I do?
A: My first reaction when encountering insects in the garden is always to run away. My second reaction is to accept that I will not have squash this year. Charlie Nardozzi would probably tell you to pick the bugs off by hand — ick — or spray your plants with a soap/garlic concoction. I suspect Windex or Aquanet hairspray would also work, but check the labels first.
Q: When should I thin my carrots?
A: You should never, ever thin carrots because it means choosing which ones deserve to live and which ones aren’t worthy. Leave them alone and get used to the idea that none of them will be larger in diameter than a strand of spaghetti.
Q: Why did my sweet corn do so poorly last year?
A: There could be many reasons for this. It’s possible that you forgot to add pH. Or — something you never hear Mr. Nardozzi talk about — maybe your goats ate half your crop while you were at work. This is more common than many people realize.
Q: How do I keep my lettuce from bolting?
A: Ha, funny one. Lettuce can’t bolt, as it is rooted into the ground. If you wake up and your lettuce is gone, blame rabbits. Rabbits disarm you with cuteness and then eat whatever your goats haven’t gotten into yet.
Q: My soil is heavy clay. What should I do?
A: You’ll want to lighten the soil with organic matter, but it takes years to make a difference. In the meantime, get yourself a set of heavy-duty garden tools and a back brace. Some gardeners have found success by moving out of Addison County.
Q: How much time do you spend weeding each week?
A: Next question.
Q: What’s the best way to support tomato plants?
A: You can tie them to posts or surround them with cages, but ultimately they’ll overcome your puny human attempts to control them. One time I had a particularly vigorous heirloom variety actually yank up its tomato cage and toss it into the cucumber patch.
Q: What’s the best way to guarantee a good harvest?
A: Ah, the ultimate gardening question. We all want to know the secret to getting healthy plants and abundant yields. But I’m afraid there is no guarantee. Even if you spend tons of money on good soil and compost and fertilizer, and hours a day tending to every little seedling and weeding until your fingers bleed, all of your efforts can be wiped out by a hot, dry summer or a cold, wet summer, or a hailstorm, or bugs, or rodents, or deer, or goats, or late blight.
And even if the conditions are perfect and you do everything right, sometimes certain crops will fail for no apparent reason other than spite, and all you’ll get for months of hard work will be a bushel full of nothing.
It’s the not-knowing that makes gardening so much fun.
Q: What’s your single most valuable piece of gardening advice?
A: I’ll answer that with a quote from the truly wise Charlie Nardozzi: “Never take gardening advice from a humor columnist.” 

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