Out of the habit

Have you ever realized that a longtime habit doesn’t make sense? That there’s a simpler and more effective way to do something? That maybe there are other reflexive practices that you should re-evaluate?

For me, this epiphany came when I saw that the tomato plants I grew from seed were not thriving as well as the ones I bought at a greenhouse. I decided that next year, we’re leaving the nurturing of tomato, pepper, eggplant and broccoli seedlings to a nursery.

As we get older, we tend to get set in our ways, frozen in our routines. We do things a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done them. It takes a jolt of recognition to say to ourselves, “Hey, that’s a dumb way to do it” and look for alternatives.

Since we began gardening, Betsy and I have enjoyed looking at seed catalogs in the wintertime and marveling at all the different varieties. I bought tomato seeds called Cosmonaut Volkov because I liked the name — and found they did well in our garden. When the seeds arrived in the mail, it was like a harbinger of spring.

I suppose that starting plants from seed made us feel like big-time farmers instead of hobby gardeners. It certainly appealed to our frugality credo to pay pennies for a seed instead of $2.50 for a seedling.

I enjoyed the process of planting each seed in a flat filled with seed-starting mix, then in a few weeks mixing compost and potting soil and transplanting the sprouts into 6-ounce yogurt containers. But then the questions began. Do I have the right nutritional mix? Am I giving the correct amount of water?  Is it warm enough for the seed to germinate? Am I transplanting at the right time? Am I giving it enough light? Or maybe too much?

Then there’s the expense and bother of shining electric lights on the seedlings. There’s the question of when and how long the seedling should be “hardened off” (put outside) before planting.

To me, it’s not worth it anymore. I can go to Andrew’s Greenhouse in South Amherst and buy all the tomato, pepper, eggplant and broccoli seedlings I need for about $30. I know they have been raised under optimal conditions and are ready to go in the ground. I’m also supporting a local business.

Every time I go there I run into proprietor Andy Cowles, who gives me “tomato counseling.” I found that he doesn’t believe in planting tomato seedlings horizontally, as I’ve done for years. Tomorrow I’m going there to buy a tomato plant to replace one that’s doing poorly.

We will still buy seeds of plants that are sown directly in the ground, such as lettuce, kale, turnips, peas, cucumbers and winter squash. Also, plants that need to start early, such as leeks and celeriac. I’m undecided about summer squash; if I bought seedlings, perhaps they’d be stronger and less vulnerable to attack by flea beetles.

Maybe it’s time to question some of my other habits. Do the health benefits I get from eating a banana a day justify the journey it must make from Central America? Should I consider eating butter again? Does it make sense to watch the weather report on TV every night? The possibilities are endless.

For new readers of this blog, this handy index/reference guide provides links to over 100 posts, in 12 categories, including gardening, frugality, climate change and life lessons.



3 thoughts on “Out of the habit

  1. I found myself nodding in agreement about starting things indoors from seed — not because I worry about light and nutrients so much, (you are so much more committed as a gardener than I am), but because there would inevitably be a few days I’d be so busy/distracted I’d forget to water the tender little plants . . . and voila! compost. Sigh. I too have been “weeding out” habits that don’t work so well anymore, in favor of simpler routines, and feeling better about it. Thanks for reminding me to pay attention to new ideas on what’s important.

  2. Pingback: Past posts: A simple living index | Adventures in the good life

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