Saturday, July 20, 2019

Learn, Baby, Learn

Learn, Baby, Learn

If I told you to put a lot of organic matter* in your soil before planting, you might say:

a) “Ok.”
b) “What's organic matter *?”
Or c) “Who are you? Why are you talking to me? And get that shovel out of my face!”

All three are valid answers. In any event: time to “larn you up.”

Organic matter: my leaf pile, someday rotting to compost, in front of a 4' fence for a size comparison.

I've had a squirrel-proof bird feeder in my back yard for over 40 years. It's on a pole with a loose baffle. Squirrels climbing the pole can't get past the metal baffle, as their weight tilts it down, and the top, rounded surface is too slippery to climb. Until the last week or so, when I watched a squirrel actually get some traction on that surface and pull himself up. After seeing this same squirrel accomplish such thievery several times, the baffle was drowned in silicone spray. We'll see. How do I know it was the same squirrel each time? Among the hoard of gray squirrels, it alone was almost black. No other squirrel accomplished this thievery during the week that I watched. Others didn't, or couldn't, learn from that miscreant. A good thing.

I've read there was a chimpanzee who was taught to understand and “speak” in sign language. It couldn't show any other chimps how to do the same. Have you seen the “Planet of the Apes” series of movies? Not a happy outcome for humanity. Maybe the chimp's instructional failure was a good thing.

The ability to teach important details to one's own species, often without a physical description to mimic, is a major factor in man's overrunning the earth and holding its fate in his hands. I hope that is a good thing.

Some people say they have a brown thumb, but I contend the difference between a brown thumb and a green one is knowledge. Not “simply” knowledge, since learning isn't always trivially easy, but knowledge is something that can be absorbed by normal people with motivation.

If you want a green thumb, you may choose a minimal amount of information to ensure your tomatoes grow well. Or, you may learn about many other plants, and get your whole garden off to a good start. Or, you could become obsessive, reading everything you can, talking to everyone you find with a modicum of knowledge, and even experimenting. Those options are all available to us through some magic inherent in being human.

So, I could teach you about “organic matter” and the needs of your soil. We could chat, amiably, about pH and minor nutrients. You would already know about the major nutrients. Friends would come by to enjoy your garden and protest they could never grow any plants that well. You would say, “I use a lot of organic matter in my soil.” They would say a) "Ok", or b) “What's organic matter *?” or c) …

* - “organic matter”, in this context, is the remnants of life: generally dead plants or parts of plants. Small animals, fungus and bacteria will eat those remnants and break them down to basic chemicals the roots of the plants in your garden would love to have. Compost and humus are two forms that can be made in the backyard or purchased. Mixing it into your soil before planting, and top-dressing with it afterwards is always a good strategy. Many books have been written on the subject of this paragraph. I would recommend: “Start with the Soil” by Grace Gershuny as an easy and intelligent introduction.

1 comment:

  1. Good article - you're pretty ferny, Berney. My book club had conversations today about the evolution of sign language and how exchange of goods and information help a society to flourish. Interesting that the chimp could not teach other chimps sign language - was he a bad teacher or were they convinced they didn't need to know?