Use the ‘Right Timing’ Approach for Garden and Farm Tasks
By Sarah Joplin
Learn when it's the best time for seeding, weeding, mulching and what to use on your garden.
They say that timing is everything. When we endeavor to garden and farm successfully, we are especially well served by striving to do the right thing at the right time. Best practices incorporate right timing as a key component. As a sort of New Year’s Resolution, I decided to try to aim for right timing in my day to day and it has gotten me thinking about this a lot. While it may not be everything, there is certainly a case to be made for the importance of things happening when circumstances are optimal.
Cultivating this paradigm requires heightened awareness and a willingness to respond to right timing on its own terms. We so often plan projects according to our free time, our budget, even our desires and whims. The “Right Timing” gardening and farming approach is instead based on looking and listening, paying attention to what is happening in the natural environment rather than what we want to be happening.
I’ve endeavored to act on right timing in the following areas.
Each year in late winter, I get itchy to start on the garden. By late February if I haven’t been able to get my hands in the dirt, my mood gets agitated and frustration starts to build. March certainly seems time to dive into seeding and planting even though snows are often still falling and our last frost date isn’t until mid-April. My mind says one thing while Mother Nature rules supreme.
I’ve started seeds in March in my potting shed-makeshift “greenhouse.” Time and again, I get spotty or poor germination. The plants that do sprout struggle and grow leggy. Even with hardening them off slowly outside, they always undergo shock and are stunted when I plant them in the garden ground.
The longer I garden, the more I cannot deny that waiting yields better results. If I can just manage my impatience and wait to start seeds until April or even May (gasp!), the seeds sprout, grow and thrive naturally beyond any of my contrivances. I just have to wait for the right time.
It is similar with direct seeding. So often I am impatient and want to direct seed the garden in late spring, when the ground is still saturated with ongoing rains. The result is that even if the seeds sprout, the tiny seedlings often drown. Waiting on planting until early summer allows the seeds to grow and thrive seemingly effortlessly.
Mind you, these experiences are not isolated incidents. I’ve done this repeatedly over years and only in the past few years have I begun to act on Mother Nature’s schedule instead of the one I try to impose. She always prevails. I end up reseeding, frustrated, wasting time, money and energy when I try to manipulate natural forces to my will.
Photo by Sarah Joplin
Weeding is an ongoing job for an organic gardener. As tempting as broad-spectrum herbicides are — and Lord knows I can well understand why farmers and gardeners resort to them — I still rely on good old weed pulling (and weed barrier materials and mulching) to manage weeds in my flower and vegetable gardens. I’ve learned that there are “right times” to weed. Weeding works best when the soil is moist but not wet so that the roots release and don’t break off when you pull them but you aren’t pulling too much soil out with the root. When the soil is just damp, you can get the whole root and easily shake off excess dirt or soil.
A “right tool” for the job is a hula hoe. It has a squared off “stirrup” that slides under the rootlets and cuts the plants off without the need to bend over and pull. There is a right time to use this tool as well: when the weeds are just a few inches tall without a strong root system established. Again, this practice works well when the soil is moist. If you don’t get rain, try weeding in the morning when the dew might still soften the dirt.
Strangely enough, I’ve found that it is sometimes “right timing” to let the weeds grow to a few inches. This seems counter-intuitive but when there is more of the plant to grab it can be easier to pull.
Mother Nature is persistent and opportunistic. She doesn’t care if you are tired, sore or are hosting a barbecue. She will proceed along her path regardless. That is why I’m learning to take action when I see conditions are optimal for what needs to be done. If I miss windows of opportunity for right timing, I don’t know when or if they will come again. Once opportunity is missed, I have to resort to an effective practice that my boyfriend often employs: saying the Serenity Prayer. When action isn’t an option, surrender is necessary!
I mulch with grass clippings as well as wood chips. Sometimes the grass isn’t growing fast enough to provide enough mulch and the weeds get ahead of me. There is right timing for mulching before the weeds get too large or they will have to be pulled before mulch can effectively be applied. Again, you aren’t in control of these conditions. You can only pay attention to when they are occurring and act accordingly.
Photo by Sarah Joplin
My boyfriend and I always have a long list of gardening and farming projects on our roster. I’ve made master lists and tried to break them down by month or season. While this practice may be helpful to keep us focused, what we are finding is that it is best to look at the current and forecasted weather and soil conditions as well as our energy and monetary resources and assess what it is the right time to do. Invariably when we proceed with what right timing presents rather than what we intellectually prioritize on our agenda, we look back at how well projects go and acknowledge the value of this new practice. As they say, it is best to ride the horse in the direction it is going.
I’ve long said that life is comprised of choice, change, attitude and timing. While timing may not be everything, I’m learning (the hard way) how large a part it plays in successful gardening and farming.
Sarah Joplin is a mid-Missouri farmer at Redbud Farm. Though she enjoys travel, speaks French and is involved in an art business in California, Sarah is equally happy homemaking and getting her hands in the dirt.
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