November 6th, 2006
Improve Your Gardening With Backyard Research

Review: Improve Your Gardening with Backyard Resarch.
Lois Levitan.
Rodale Press. 1980.

You wouldn’t be writing about your own garden if you weren’t an inquisitive sort of person, curious about what’s going on in your garden and why. Each of us knows our garden experience is unique and we blog about it to share our collective knowledge. In our frustration with garden books written for the general case, we observe and document and experiment and compare our experiences with our gardening friends.

Instead of simply documenting the development of the garden, what if you set up systematic trials to see what methods, plants, and soils work best for you? That is, what if you approached gardening (if I may use this word in 21st century America) scientifically. This ideal appeals to me because my attempts to grow plants is primarily about experimentation and only secondarily about decoration. Even in my actual landscapes I think of the world as a giant laboratory.

Lois Levitan’s Improve Your Gardening With Backyard Research give you ideas to explore and methods to explore them with. One important element of experimentation that I frequently lack is to have a “control”–something to use as a basis for comparison. For example, how do you know what ratio of brown to green materials heats up best in a compost pile unless you try different ratios?

And there are so many topics to explore in the garden. Compost. Weather. Comparing varieties of plants (like this year’s wonderful Hanna’s Tomato Tastings). Methods for dealing with pests. Composition of the soil. Companion planting. Methods for sowing seed.

My favorite discussion is on the energy efficiency of various crops–that is, does the amount of energy (in consumable calories, available proteins) exceed the amount of energy you put into growing it?

I found this to be a very inspiring book. Now if I can only get over my lazy tendencies and take action.

by M Sinclair Stevens

2 Responses to post “Improve Your Gardening With Backyard Research”

  1. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I think I’d lack the patience/attention span/organizational skills for scientific or research gardening. I think I’m more of an emotional gardener.

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    Well I’m not opposed to the *idea* of being more scientific! I’ve been experimenting for over 30 years and kept sloppy but useful records. I’ve always tried to observe what happens and have written many “notes to self” about these observations.

    When it comes to setting up of a genuine scientific experiment, there’s a certain element of laziness, I admit! But there’s another reason to decline controlled experiments here. My garden budget is very limited, and we have an average-size yard. Every area of this quarter-acre is in some stage of development, whether already changed and planted, or only changed in my dreams.

    I’m afraid that pure science would divert both money and space from my garden plans, and I’m not willing to make that sacrifice.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose