No Free Mulch! Gardening by Conservative Principles
(dedicated to Phil, my own personal Chauncey Gardiner)
Every year I plant a small vegetable garden. It’s just a small patch, 5’ by 15’. It’s more effort than what I get from it, but I enjoy the whole experience. There’s something to be said for eating food you grew yourself. This year I thought I’d perform a little experiment. What would happen if I applied purely conservative thinking, as presently practiced by today’s Republican Party? I decided to find out.
I planted the usual sugar-snap peas, bush beans, carrots, and a couple starter grape tomatoes (Sweet Mojo — they’re the best), and watered daily. While waiting for the seeds to sprout, I did no weeding. After they sprouted, I still neglected weeding. According to free market economics, competition always produces winners, so these guys were going up against seasoned weeds; I’d see how tough they were. After a couple weeks I could no longer see the young veggie shoots, the weeds having proven the competition theory. Because I had put myself into the conservative meme, I missed the part about the weeds succeeding because they had a heavy advantage from the beginning. So I weeded. Don’t think I wasn’t resentful about it. Now the vegetables had the head start.
My long time friend, Phil, fancies himself quite the gardener. He thinks he knows more about gardening than he thinks our friend John doesn’t know about computers. He’s constantly offering unwanted advice on the subject. “You have to mulch,” he’d say. “It keeps the weeds down, and you won’t have to water as much.”
“I’m not going to mulch,” I insisted, “It’s too much of a hassle.”
“Well, you’re composting, aren’t you?”
“Hell no,” I said. “What, I’m gonna start piling garbage in a corner of the yard, or something?”
“Why not?” He sounded incredulous, as if everybody composted and what the hell was wrong with me.
“Because, hello — I’m renting. This isn’t my property.”
I watered every day, and pulled weeds. Water, pull weeds, water, pull weeds. This was getting pretty labor intensive. On top of that, I had to start staking the peas, putting long sticks next to them. Their greedy little tendrils were looking for something to climb. Then the grape tomatoes started going wild, and I had to go around the yard to find branches with a V in them to stake them up and keep the young tomatoes off the ground. Boy, these vegetables were so damned needy. I had to do everything for them. Then it hit me, what was really happening. I was contributing to a culture of dependency. I was like the federal government, and these lazy vegetables had their leaves out, waiting for handouts, or as I preferred to call them, entitlements.
Meanwhile, new weeds had been hiding among the growing plants, so I had to get in there and weed them out. Phil kept after me about everything I was doing wrong. “You should be mulching,” he said again.
“To hell with mulching!” I yelled. “There’s no free mulch!”
“Awww!” he said, in frustration.
Phil is anything but politically conservative. And he really does know a lot about plant care and landscaping. So how come he didn’t know that you never water your lawn, or anything else, in the bright sun. The water droplets act like magnifying glasses and burn the plant. It’s SCIENCE, for crying out loud. He wouldn’t buy it, so that makes me a little dubious about his great knowledge.
I’m not weeding anymore. The vegetables can take care of themselves, now. I informed them the other day that due to budget cuts, I wouldn’t be able to take care of their needs as much as I had before. I simply couldn’t afford the time, and time, as we all know, is money. Then came more unsolicited advice: “You’re watering them too much.”
“Phil,” I said, in as calm a voice as I could muster, “when the ground is dry, as it tends to get in summer, I need to water.”
“If you water them less, they’ll grow their roots down in search of water. It makes them stronger,” he told me.
“I’m not trying to grow an oak tree, here! I only need them to have roots at all for about three months.”
I thought about what Phil had said. Watering was really just another entitlement, again from the conservative point of view. So I quit watering. They’ll have to pray for rain, like all the wild plants do. Sink or swim, I say. And the survivors will be so strong, their fruits will be superior to all others. About three weeks later, I decided to see how the garden was doing.
Everything was dead. Well, not everything. The weeds seemed to be thriving. I had gone purely by conservative principles, and it not only led to disaster, but now I had to dig into my overstressed budget to go out and buy the vegetables I should have had right in my back yard.
As for Phil, I really do appreciate his gardening advice, even though I can’t get past his ignorance of watering in the sun. Still, I’m grateful for his, well, being there.
[The Editorial Board would like to inform the reader that the above was a fictional piece, and that no actual garden vegetables were harmed in its production, unless you count harvesting and eating.]