How I Learned to Hate the Keyboard and Love the Garden

Creating a garden is strangely worth the nagging sacrifice, like accepting a foreign exchange student for one incurable summer. Several reasons come to mind to never plant each year, especially when I can peacefully enjoy air-conditioned produce at my local co-op. Personal gardens don’t make fiscal sense nor are they sane by nature (no pun intended). I still press forward planting every year. Here’s how it goes….

Once I’ve committed to creating a spring garden, I set my sights on renting a soil-crushing monster tiller. That’s when I find a willing neighbor to share the burden. When I arrive at my local Home Depot it never fails that several other amateur gardeners got in line to rent their beast, I mean “monster”, before me. Once I’ve completed the rental process, usually evident by the novel-worthy stack of receipts, I find a Home Depot employee to help me lift the monster into my Subi.

Even though I have a basement, I’m not big on germinating seeds, but the thought is a romantic one. Instead, I stop by my local nursery to purchase two-dozen starts (baby plants), fertilizer, my poop of choice, slug/snail death, cages, tools, a drip system and a few bee-attracting plants to pollinate. The odds are that I’ll be back to the nursery weekly for a variety of reasons including: replacing dead plants I’ve burned with too much fertilizer, discovering a cool new plant to crowd the garden like a New York tenement building, beta from a cute nursery worker, sunflower seeds, odds and ends, mulch, and more slug/snail death. Every year I think, if I just master this process I’ll have a good yield of glorious veggies. Anything less, and I’ll spend the summer admiring dead plants consumed by weeds.

After hoisting the monster out of my car with the help of my neighbor, I haul everything to an 8x12 plot of earth. It’s not enough to just till the soil once. To start, all the weeds and weird things that grew over winter need to be removed, so the first pass is just a clean up in the garden world. By now my lower back and forearms are torched! This isn’t a good sign coming from someone who is an avid road cyclist, backpacker, and weight lifter. By spring I’m usually pretty fit. For the second pass, I force my torched body to spread fertilizer and animal poop atop the soil. This time I go deep with the tillers breaking the soil and my back in a quest for all the garden starts to develop better roots. Once I’ve put the monster to rest, I rake the garden smooth.

Now the fun starts…with a trusty shovel I dig 24 holes for two-dozen starts. As a bonus, I like to can tomato sauce, requiring me to plant about 10 tomato plants annually. Tomatoes like to be planted deep so they grow strong roots, which means more back pain. To add to my physical torture, I push several cages into the earth so plants can grow big without falling over when they produce veggies. Then I add two bags of mulch over the top of the soil around the cages, plant sunflower seeds around the perimeter, and route the drip system, I’m done! I immediately drop to my knees and pray to the sky for Vicodin and a bottle of good bourbon. My prayer is usually half-answered….

After a solid month of watering, plants begin to show early growth, and the winners stand high above those fledging plants that may never mature. At this stage, constant attention is required to water and fertilize at just the right amount. This is my favorite point in gardening because I add the last ingredient to what will be a glorious feat of nature, the Mantis. My local nursery refrigerates Mantis eggs, which claim to produce 300 Mantis per egg. I hang the egg near the tallest sunflowers. Every year Mantis can be found on these sunflowers. My theory is simple, Mantis are predators and good predators have an advantage with their prey on higher ground, like on the big sunflowers. This combination of sunflowers and Mantis are my personal Zen.

As an entrepreneur, waking up to the sun, a piping cup of tea, and contemplating thoughts at the foot of the garden give me pause to free my creative mind. Searching for Mantis amongst the growing sunflowers is a daily ritual. This is how I prepare for work with two technology startups where I’m chained at my computer banging away on the keyboard. The side benefit to a work/life balance is having a blossoming garden to share with friends who have become the core of more than just one startup.

So the rub…ideas created in the natural world inspire the business mind. These experiences can be translated into the digital realm via keyboards and mice. Garden Mantis brings together the thinkers, tinkers, and visionaries.

For more information on gardens, and pollination specifically, consider reading, Pollinator Friendly Gardening, by Rhonda Fleming Hayes.