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Garden Logic

Bill Meredith

"If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me." …W. Shakespeare, MacBeth, 1606.

"Logic will get you from A to Z. Imagination will get you anywhere."
Albert Einstein, several years later.

(July, 2014) Our garden was a necessary supplement to the budget when we were younger and the kids were all at home, but over the past 30 years it has shrunk to a small plot in the corner of the yard. We plant it mainly because we always have; I enjoy puttering in it, and it provides some of fresh vegetables for the table. My wife no longer does the industrial-scale canning that she used to do; however, old habits die hard, and a few years ago she came home with a bag that contained several pounds of bean seeds. Had they all been planted, they would have produced enough green beans to carry the whole town through a winter famine, so with what I believed was sound logic, I pointed out that this was more than we needed for just two 30-foot rows. She replied that such a purchase was indeed logical because the seeds were on sale, and buying in quantities like that had kept us within our budget for over 50 years. Then she invoked the standing rule that, in cases of disagreement, her logic was always to outweigh mine. (She claims that we agreed on that rule back in 1957; I have no recollection of it.)

A corollary to the buying-on-sale rule directs that nothing should ever be thrown out, so consequently I have planted seeds from that batch for the past five or six years, and more than half of the original bag of beans is still left. I was sitting in the garage one-day wandering if they were still good when my friends, Claire and Shane, came over to visit. I explained the problem to them, and we decided to plant a few seeds and see if they would grow. I gave each of them a container of soil and a few seeds, and Claire planted hers in neat rows, carefully pushing each seed in to the depth of half a finger. Shane’s were done with less precision but with enough enthusiasm to make up for it, and sure enough, the seeds germinated within a week. I offered to let them take the seedlings home to plant in their yard, but Shane declined; with a degree of logic and foresight that I considered remarkable for a 3-year-old, he said they might grow into giant beanstalks that could fall on their house and crush it. Unfortunately, we had a week of rain, and the beans are still sitting in the garage, waiting patiently. I have to admire them.

As everyone knows, success in gardening is at the mercy of the weather. By all logic, the planting season should have been over a month ago; however, actual events do not always follow the rules of logic. I should have plowed the garden in March, but it was too wet. After that, it seemed that every time it got dry enough, we would have a cold snap, or events would conspire to cause me to be busy with something else, so it was early in May before the upper end of the garden got dry enough to work in. I have a Gravely garden tractor which, in plow years, is probably even older than I am, but it started after only a few arthritic wheezes, and I plowed enough to set out one row each of tomatoes and peppers. The lower end of the garden was still too wet, and the next day it rained again. After that, the tractor had either a stroke or a heart attack… it’s hard to tell them apart in tractors… and it was in the hospital for a week. We were well into June before I finally finished plowing.

My educational background has many weak spots, and one of the worst is that I never had a course in Logic. My wife didn’t either, but it seems to be less of a problem to her. I contended that seeds will rot if we plant them when it is too wet; she replied that it has been a wet spring and thus we will have a wet summer, so I should quit stalling and get on with it.

One of the worst summer droughts I can remember occurred after a wet spring, so I knew there was something wrong with her logic, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After some diligent research (a few minutes spent scanning the internet), I discovered that her argument contained a fallacy that was so old even the Romans had a name for it. They called it post hoc ergo propter hoc, which means if two events occur, the earlier of the two causes the latter one to happen. More recent texts call this a False Causal Relationship, and such things are especially common when talking about the weather. A good example is the belief that we will have six more weeks of cold weather if the groundhog sees his shadow; it may happen sometimes, as it did this year, but when it does it is strictly a coincidence.

I was hesitant to mention this to my wife, but when I finally did, she felt her case was vindicated. She said she had been sure all along that groundhogs were to blame for the condition of the garden, because recently one of them actually came up onto the front porch and looked in through the screen door at her. I found that hard to believe, and also was puzzled about how this had anything to do with either the weather or the garden. But the next day when I went out to get the morning paper, a big groundhog ran out of the shrubbery and disappeared around the corner of the garage, and later that day I saw him in the garden. He was sniffing and prowling around the area where we planted cucumbers and squash last year, and the look on his face made it clear that his regard for me as a gardener was in a downward spiral.

I finally got the beans, squash and cucumber seeds into the ground, and I am building a chain-link fence around them. If the seeds don’t rot, and if the plants mature before frost comes, and if the groundhog doesn’t tunnel under the fence, maybe we will have some of these things on the table… provided, of course, that there isn’t a drought this summer. In the meantime, I’m beginning to wonder… all these years, I’ve followed Shakespeare’s philosophy, and sometimes the garden was a success… but I expected retirement to be a lot less stressful than this. If we have a garden again next year, I may switch to Einstein.

Read other articles by Bill Meredith