All gardeners are unique, but recently I was thinking about the personality traits that I believe are common to most highly effective gardeners. I came up with a list of nine traits. Cultivating these traits in myself has definitely helped me become a more effective gardener, and I think they’ll help you become a more effective gardener too.
The first trait of highly effective gardeners is optimism. The very act of planting the seed today in anticipation of a harvest weeks, months, or even years from now is an act of optimism. If I didn’t have a positive expectation for the outcome of planting a seed I’d never plant it in the first place. So optimism is essential.
Next, highly effective gardeners are observant. They pay attention to which crop varieties do well and which ones don’t. How much sun different parts of the garden get at different times of the year, what pests affect various plants, and when they’re active in the garden, what predators prey on pests, how rainwater moves through the garden and how to potentially store more rainwater in the garden, and what pollinators are active in the garden.Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Effective gardeners know that their gardens are their best teachers, and they actively observe their gardens on an ongoing basis and accumulate a wealth of valuable knowledge in the process. By continually observing nature, they learn how to work with nature to achieve optimal results.
Third highly effective gardeners are curious.Curiosity drives the observations I just talked about, but it also motivates us to try new things, experiment, challenge conventional wisdom, and push the limits of what’s possible. Curiosity also inspires highly effective gardeners to expand the learning process beyond the confines of their individual gardens by reading books and research articles, watching YouTube videos, sharing information with other gardeners or even enrolling in a Master Gardener program. Curiosity inspires us to be lifelong learners, and there’s always more to learn about growing food.
The fourth trait of highly effective gardeners is patience. Everything in gardening takes time, whether it’s making compost, improving the soil fertility of your native soil, growing tomatoes, or planting a bare root tree and waiting three or four years before you get the first fruit. Without patience, a new gardener will quickly give up in frustration. So, patience is essential.
The fifth trait of highly effective gardeners is persistence. Sometimes our efforts as gardeners don’t go as planned, whether it’s because of pests, plant disease, bad weather, or mistake on the gardeners part, but to be successful, we can’t be discouraged. Instead we need to learn from our experience and turn mistakes into learning opportunities and keep on trying. Learning from our experiences leads me to the next trait.
Highly effective gardeners are adaptive. Persistence alone can lead us to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, but if we carefully observe and adapt to the feedback nature is constantly giving us we increase our chances of success in the future.
Highly effective gardeners are also creative problem solvers. They observe and adapt to challenges in creative ways. There are so many examples, but right now, given the season I’m thinking of Elliot Coleman’s innovation,to extend the harvest season for cool weather crops under two layers of cover without heat. Inspired by Elliot’s innovation, I built our double layered hinge low tunnels, which not only allow us to extend the harvest season for cool weather crops, but also make harvesting much easier. Now, this is just one small example.The opportunities for creative solutions to gardening challenges are truly endless.
Highly effective gardeners are also discerning. Discernment is very important in gardening for many reasons, but I’ll focus on one today. There have always been a lot of gardening myths, but with the advent of social media they may be spreading faster now than ever before and falling prey to these myths can waste a lot of time and money. But highly effective gardeners are much less likely to fall prey to gardening myths, because they don’t believe everything they hear. They apply critical thinking skills, and they want to see evidence before accepting claims. As a result, they’re less likely to spend money on products they don’t need or waste time on ineffective gardening practices. However, it can be challenging to weed through all the claims without help.
The ninth trait of highly effective gardeners is that they’re cooperative. Specifically, I’m thinking here of working cooperatively with nature, instead of trying to fight it too much. In my experience, the easiest, least expensive, and most productive way to grow food is to work with nature to build the soil food web. By simply applying compost and organic mulch to the soil surface. In addition, instead of using pesticides, we manage pests by growing in polycultures and creating an environment that attracts pest predators like wasps, ladybugs, and ground beetles.