Life Is An Experiment

We don’t start out with a set of instructions or a blueprint for how how to live our lives. Most of us learn as we go (hopefully). Sometimes it takes more than one mistake to learn the lesson. Not only that, although it’s important to learn from your mistakes, that is not the best way to learn. Learning from other people’s mistakes is much less painful. That can come in many different forms. Mentorship is probably the best, but very few people have access to wise mentorship. And for the lucky few who have access to a wise mentor, whether a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, family friend, teacher, sports or activity leader, work supervisor, or other, how many of those people are actually willing to take the advice and follow through on it? Most people think they have it all figured out or that they’ll be able to figure it out as they go along. The ego is a powerful thing. Few people are willing to submit to a mentorship relationship. It took Daniel-san a while before he got the picture with Mr. Miyagi and then was really willing to learn. Also, most mentors are only wise in one or a few areas of their life, whether educational, professional, relational, spiritual, and so on. Nobody has it together in all areas of life.

But even without access to a mentor, we can learn from others through books, audios (CDs and podcasts), videos, lectures, courses, and so on. If we choose the right ones. Usually we have to go through a lot of clunkers to get the really good ones. But only a small percentage of us actively seek knowledge on even the most important parts of life, like developing a good spousal relationship, or raising children. Most people just muddle through, based on what they liked or didn’t like that they saw growing up.

When we started SCSA, we already had decades of gardening experience. But that was on a pretty small scale. We had no experience with production and marketing. We also had no experience with a lot of the endeavors we’ve undertaken here. Since we started, we’ve tried to access as much information as we could. But some of the things we’ve done, we couldn’t find any literature on, so we’ve experimented. Not really scientific experiments, where we do the “experimental” thing alongside a control. Rather, trying things that we hope will work out but not really knowing ahead of time if it will. Some things work out fabulously. Some things not so good. Some start out good, but turn bad. Some start as failures, but after a modification, or several successive modifications, they become successful. As an example, after reading Sepp Holzer’s book on Permaculture, we used a lot of our dug-up stones to build cairns on the north side of our newly planted orchard fruit trees. I think their thermal heat mass really helped getting the new trees through the first couple of harsh winters, However, we eventually had a winter with deep snow that coincided with a large vole population, and the voles loved their homes in the stones. They girdled quite a few of the trees gnawing on the bark, unbeknownst to us until the snow melted in the spring. We removed all the stones the next summer. One of our biggest successes was installing our biochar retort. I am convinced that the fantastic growth we’ve had with our citrus and avocado trees and other plants in the garden is at least partly, if not mostly, due to biochar. Growing ginger and turmeric has been quite successful. Also a big success has been our use of raised beds. I believe the low-grade geothermal heating system in our seedling greenhouse has been helpful, but I still need more data (winter heating cycles) to know for sure. Every year we experiment with what varieties to grow, and how much, and when to plant. Some we like, some we don’t, but we keep getting closer to our ideal mix. We’ve experimented with work relationships, having interns, apprentices, part-time employees, contractors, and junior partners. This year we’re back to just us.

This summer, we’re going through a number of experimental situations, some initiated, some concluding. Here are some of them: growing avocados in a greenhouse, building and using a compost screener, getting an in-your-face validation of the negative effect of weeds in the garden vs. being weed-free, expanding our list of “vertical-grown” crops from tomatoes and cucumbers to include melons and watermelon. I’ll comment on each of these, and maybe more, as they conclude. Stay tuned. ——Steve

Stone cairns around new trees provided a great micro-climate, also a home for voles.

Stone cairns around new trees provided a great micro-climate, also a home for voles.

Raised beds have worked well. They warm up earlier in the spring and drain heavy rainfall quickly.

Raised beds have worked well. They warm up earlier in the spring and drain heavy rainfall quickly.

Our citrus crops have been outstanding. Although the avocado trees have seen excellent growth, getting them to produce has been disappointing.

Our citrus crops have been outstanding. Although the avocado trees have seen excellent growth, getting them to produce has been disappointing.

Vertical grown tomatoes have done well.

Vertical grown tomatoes have done well.

This year, in addition to our vertical-grown cucumbers (right), we are experimenting with vertical-grown melons (left) and watermelons.

This year, in addition to our vertical-grown cucumbers (right), we are experimenting with vertical-grown melons (left) and watermelons.