You Thought You Left Science Behind in School
For the typical homeowner, working in the garden is either a tedious but necessary task to be done before getting back to something more important or it is a pleasurable respite from the tedious but necessary tasks of daily life. What most people fail to realize is that gardening is one of the most complex interactions of sciences and math that they can be involved in without having a career directly involved with the sciences. Awareness of these complex issues can make even a simple garden more productive and beautiful while actually reducing costs and work.
Starting with the soil and its preparation for planting, the gardener is working with practical geology and inorganic chemistry. Soil is composed of finely ground up rocks and minerals in the form of sand, silt, and clay in some mixture. Knowing the pH, chemical composition, and the mix of these components in the soil is critical to properly preparing the soils for planting. Mixed in with the mixture of sand and clay is a buildup of organic material that were originally naturally occurring compost and mulch. The resulting mixture is what a garden’s “dirt” is actually composed of. Understanding what is there naturally leads you to properly apply necessary amendments. Add to that is the understanding of the physics of water drainage to insure that a productive garden does not become only a water retention pond.
After the soil is prepared, the gardener enters the world of botany and biology. Plants are selected for their adaptability to the soil type and weather conditions of the specific area. If the gardener starts from seeds or adapting existing plants, they enter the areas of plant propagation, genetics, and plant potential. When a plant fails, it is very often the result of selecting a plant that is not well suited to the local conditions. Buying plants not suited to an area is an expensive waste.
After the garden is developed and planted, the gardener begins the often tedious tasks of garden maintenance and the potential work and money savings can really begin. Fertilization and plant feeding is the application of chemistry as all plants need access to sixteen basic chemical elements to reach their true potential. As complex as this issue appears to be for many people, it is surprising basic when the gardener does the math involved. Most of these sixteen elements are naturally available and of little concern, but there are five or six that require regular addition. The temptation is to buy a standard mix of chemicals and spread them heavily. The cost for chemicals is expensive since much of this will be wasted and will run off to create problems elsewhere. Basic math will show that the amount of plant food is usually measured in teaspoonfuls per plant or perhaps a cup for a whole area.
Finally, calculating the amount of water needed for a garden can dramatically reduce the owner’s water bill as most gardens are over-watered and the runoff wasted. This becomes even more important as the conservation of fresh water is becoming more critical in many areas.
To be an effective gardener requires understanding of a lot of different elements. Underlying all of these are the basics of science and math that many people groaned about when in school. But with some basic study and understanding, a home gardener can use these tools to bring their garden to its full potential and save time, effort, and money in the process.