800 Posts! Open Thread + a graph on farming around the world

HT Pseudoerasmus

Hello and welcome! Today I realized that the blog has just reached 800 posts (slightly more than 800 by the time you read this.

Here’s the full article the graph to the right hails from–Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture Shifting to Developing Countries. (PDF). The right-hand axis shows agricultural output per worker–most countries in most parts of the world have seen gains in output per worker over the past almost-60 years. The left-hand axis shows output per hectare of land–the sort of improvements you get by adding fertilizer.

If one farmer on one hectare doubled his output, (again, suppose fertilizer) he and his land would move up at a 45 degree angle. If one farmer doubled his output by using a tractor to farm twice as much land, he would move directly to the right on this graph. If the land became twice as productive, and so each individual farmer cut back and farmed half as much land, then you’d see a line heading straight up.

So what do we see? North America and Oceana are producing the most food per farmer. Oceana gets very little food per hectare, though (“Oceana” here means New Zealand and Australia, which has some rather large sheep ranches.)

Northeast Asia–that is, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, even though Taiwan isn’t really in the north–gets the most food per acre. These are very densely populated countries. Europe hovers in the middle, perhaps having already achieved rather good productivity per acre before the study began and having recently improved more in productivity per farmer.

Africa and South Asia (India and Pakistan?) are notable for trending upward more than rightward–in these areas, improved agricultural production has allowed existing fields to be sub-divided. This suggests that, while population growth is being accommodated, farmers lack the ability to benefit from selling excess produce (hence why they do not bother to farm more than their own families eat) and people are not moving into other, non-subsistence occupations.

Anyway, how are you, my faithful readers? As we celebrate 800 posts, what would you like to see more of in the future? Less of? Any books you’d like to see reviewed or blog features expanded (or contracted)?

I am thinking of collecting and editing some of my best posts into a book; which posts have you enjoyed?

I’d like to thank you all for all of the great and interesting comments over the years; after all, if it weren’t for readers, this blog would just be me shouting into the void. Readers make all of this effort fun.

Have a wonderful day.

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New Blog Feature: The Female Side

In response to the suicide of Kathleen Forth, I’ve created a new blog feature, The Female Side. It’s really just an open thread for female readers.

Life can be isolating, especially if you have an unusual personality or are pretty introverted. This end of the internet doesn’t have that many women in it, which can make it doubly isolating.

Of course my intention is not to make a sad and lonely place, but a place where women can have a pleasant time together. (Work in progress.)

My fine male readers, you are welcome to use the About post as an open thread (people already do) and really, everyone is welcome to post off-topic comments on any thread. It’s fine.

Off-topic, but does anyone know how to get in touch with Peter Frost? Asking for a friend.

RIP Professor Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was one of the 20th century’s greatest scientists, not only because of his prodigious intellect, but also because he succeeded in the face of one of the most debilitating diseases possible. ALS normally kills people in 3 to 4 years; Hawking survived for decades.

So far there is no word on what finally killed him, only the description that he “died peacefully in his home.”

Given the horrible hand fate dealt him, it would have been understandable for Hawking to turn bitter and resentful. Instead he remained positive, never accepting defeat.

Hawking wanted his most famous formula, the equation for describing the entropy of a black hole, engraved on his tombstone. In this he joins other greats, like Boltzmann and Archimedes.

Rest in peace, Professor Hawking. I hope your spirit is finally free. You will be missed down here on Earth.

 

Merry Christmas Open Thread

Christmas is a slow day on the internet, so our regular update will be on Wednesday.

Those of you who are still around, have you made any New Years resolutions? Mine all involve getting healthier. 2018 is (hopefully) going to be the year of getting fit and feeling good!

If you don’t have any resolutions, feel free to step in and chat about whatever you’d like.

I hope you’re all having a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

Exciting Bith Data from 1919

Ex Libris

While searching for data on birth rates by profession, I came across Birth Statistics for the Birth Registration Area of the United States, 1919, which has tons of fascinating information.

The “birth registration area” is all of the states that sent in birth data for the survey–CA, CT, IN, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MN, MI, NH, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, VT, VA, WA, and WI. Missouri, that “den of outlawry,” shall not feature.

“In the birth registration area of the United States in 1919 there were 1,373,438 live births, which represent a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 of population… Of the 1919 births, 705,593 were males and 667,845 were females, or a proportion of 1,057 males to 1,000 females.

“There is a marked excess of births over death in every state in the birth registration area. In New Hampshire the figures are lowest… A marked excess is also shown for nearly every city, and wherever the deaths outnumber the births it is usually among the colored population. The mortality rate of infants under 1 year of age per 1,000 births … is 87, ranging in the states from 63 in Oregon and Washington to 113 in South Carolina.

“The birth rates for the registration states ranged from 16.8 in California to 29.3 in Utah, and the death rates ranged from 10.5 in Minnesota to 15.3 in Maryland. The greatest excess of births over deaths–18.3 per 1,000 population–appears for Utah, and the lowest–3.1 per 1,000–for California.”

In 1919, most of the cities with the lowest birthrates were, predictably, in California, though a smattering of similarly-low cities existed elsewhere; Brookline, MA, though, had by far the lowest rate, at 8.1.

What’s up with Brookline? Was it full of priests? Shakers?

The highest birthrates were in Columbia, SC and Johnstown, PA, but several cities in Connecticut, RI, and MA had similarly high rates.

The highest death rates were Lexington, KY 25.8 and Columbia, SC 32.5. At 9.6, Flint, Michigan and Quincy MA had the lowest death rates, though several other cities were quite close, like Racine, Wis, 9.7.

This data is crying out for a map, so I made two, one showing just the per-state averages and one including the major cities + highest and lowest smaller cities:

Feel free to take and use as you please

 

The scan is not easy to read in places, so forgive me if I’ve confused a 4 and a 1 somewhere, or a 3 and a 2.

The town of Brookline, MA, kind of threw off the scale by having far fewer births (8.1) than everywhere else. (MA also had some very high birth rates.) Columbia, SC, has both the highest birth rate and highest death rate (I haven’t made a map of death rates, yet.) I think it is interesting how some cities are right in line with their state’s average, and some are very different.

We can pick out several trends: the West probably had more men than women, resulting in lower birthrates. Mormon Utah was serious about making babies. The Midwest and North East had overall moderate birth rates, though there are a few towns in there that look heavily Irish. Note:

“…it appears that far more births occur annually to white foreign-born married women aged from 15 to 44, proportionally to their number, than to native white married women of corresponding ages. In Connecticut in 1910 over 46 percent of white married women aged 15 to 44 were of foreign birth, but 57% of the children … were reported as children of mothers of foreign birth.”

The South, like Utah, has very high fertility rates–possibly due to high fertility rates among the black population, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Southern whites were having more babies, too.

That’s all for now, though I hope to make some more graphs/maps based on this book’s data soon.

Peak Dog vs. Degenerate Dog?

This is Balto, the famous Siberian Husky sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska. The windchill of the whiteout blizzard when Balto set out was −70 °F. The team traveled all night, with almost no visibility, over the 600-foot Topkok Mountain, and reached Nome at 5:30 AM.

Balto is not the only dog who deserves credit–Togo took a longer and even more dangerous stretch of the run.

And this is a modern Siberian Husky:

Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s a beautiful dog. But he’s a very different dog. I think he’s trying to turn into a German Shepherd-wolf hybrid. Balto practically looks like a corgi next to him.

Siberian huskies were bred by people who depended on them for their lives, and had to endure some of nature’s very harshest weather. We moderns, by contrast, like to keep our dogs inside our warm, comfortable houses to play with our kids or guard our stuff. Have modern huskies been bred for looks rather than sled-pulling?

On the other hand, winning times for the Iditarod have dropped from 20 days to just 8 since the race began in the 1970s, so clearly there are some very fast huskies out there.

Pirate Friday: Alwilda, Avery, and Rahmah ibn Jabir

For the past couple of weeks I have been reading The Pirates Own Book by Charles Ellms, first published in 1837. Wikipedia does not appear to have a page about the book, nor have I been able to figure out how much of the text can be regarded as “factual” and how much is pure fabrication for the audience’s amusement. Overall, I have mixed opinions about the book–some parts have been entertaining and thought provoking, while some of the pirate stories have begun to blend together. I have chosen therefore to excerpt some of the parts I have enjoyed. (As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.)

Alwilda

“On Viking Expeditions of Highborn Maids: Two female warriors, of royal family according to the crowns on their heads, are participating in a sea battle.” From Olaus Magnus’ A Description of the Northern Peoples, 1555.

“Even the females of the North caught the epidemic spirit, and proudly betook themselves to the dangers of sea-life. Saxo-Grammaticus relates an interesting story of one of them. Alwilda, the daughter of Synardus, a Gothic king, to deliver herself from the violence imposed on her inclination, by a marriage with Alf, the son of Sygarus, king of Denmark, embraced the life of a rover; and attired as a man, she embarked in a vessel of which the crew was composed of other young women of tried courage, dressed in the same manner.

“Among the first of her cruises, she landed at a place where a company of pirates were bewailing the loss of their commander; and the strangers were so captivated with the air and agreeable manners of Alwilda, that they unanimously chose her for their leader. By this reinforcement she became so formidable, that Prince Alf was despatched to engage her. She sustained his attacks with great courage and talent; but during a severe action in the gulf of Finland, Alf boarded her vessel, and having killed the greatest part of her crew, seized the captain, namely herself; whom nevertheless he knew not, because she had a casque which covered her visage. The prince was agreeably surprised, on removing the helmet, to recognize his beloved Alwilda; and it seems that his valor had now recommended him to the fair princess, for he persuaded her to accept his hand, married her on board, and then led her to partake of his wealth, and share his throne.”

EvX: Wikipedia has an article on Alwida (aka Awilda), which describes her as “legend” and depends heavily on TPoB for its sources.

Captain Avery

“During his own time the adventures of Captain Avery were the subject of general conversation in Europe. It was reported that he had married the Great Mogul’s daughter, who was taken in an Indian ship that fell into his hands, and that he was about to be the founder of a new monarchy–that he gave commissions in his own name to the captains of his ships, and the commanders of his forces, and was acknowledged by them as their prince. In consequence of these reports, it was at one time resolved to fit out a strong squadron to go and take him and his men; and at another time it was proposed to invite him home with all his riches, by the offer of his Majesty’s pardon. These reports, however, were soon discovered to be groundless, and he was actually starving without a shilling …

“Avery proceeded on his voyage to Madagascar, and it does not appear that he captured any vessels upon his way. When arrived at the northeast part of that island, he found two sloops at anchor, which, upon seeing him, slipped their cables and ran themselves ashore, while the men all landed and concealed themselves in the woods. These were two sloops which the men had run off with from the East Indies, and seeing Avery’s ship, supposed that he had been sent out after them… he sent some of his men on shore to inform them that they were friends, and to propose a union for their common safety. …

“Near the river Indus, the man at the mast-head espied a sail, upon which they gave chase; as they came nearer to her, they discovered that she was a tall vessel, and might turn out to be an East Indiaman. … The sloops, however attacked, the one on the bow, and another upon the quarter of the ship, and so boarded her. She then struck her colors. She was one of the Great Mogul’s own ships, and there were in her several of the greatest persons in his court, among whom, it was said, was one of his daughters going upon a pilgrimage to Mecca; and they were carrying with them rich offerings to present at the shrine of Mahomet.”

EvX: This might be enough booty for the whole crew to live on comfortably for the rest of their lives, but the real difficulty lay in converting Mugal riches into dollars without anyone suspecting you of being a pirate:

“Avery and his men hastened towards America, and being strangers in that country, agreed to divide the booty, to change their names, and each separately to take up his residence, and live in affluence and honor. The first land they approached was the Island of Providence, then newly settled. It however occurred to them, that the largeness of their vessel, and the report that one had been run off with from the Groine, might create suspicion; they resolved therefore to dispose of their vessel at Providence. Upon this resolution, Avery, pretending that his vessel had been equipped for privateering, and having been unsuccessful, he had orders from the owners to dispose of her to the best advantage, soon found a merchant. Having thus sold his own ship, he immediately purchased a small sloop.

“In this he and his companions embarked, and landed at several places in America, where, none suspecting them, they dispersed and settled in the country. Avery, however, had been careful to conceal the greater part of the jewels and other valuable articles, so that his riches were immense. Arriving at Boston, he was almost resolved to settle there, but, as the greater part of his wealth consisted of diamonds, he was apprehensive that he could not dispose of them at that place, without being taken up as a pirate… he resolved to sail for Ireland, and in a short time arrived in the northern part of that kingdom, and his men dispersed into several places. Some of them obtained the pardon of King William, and settled in that country.

“The wealth of Avery, however, now proved of small service, and occasioned him great uneasiness. He could not offer his diamonds for sale in that country without being suspected. … going into Devonshire, sent to one of his friends to meet him at a town called Bideford. … they agreed that the safest plan would be to put his effects into the hands of some wealthy merchants, and no inquiry would be made how they came by them. … Accordingly, the merchants paid Avery a visit at Bideford, where, after strong protestations of honor and integrity, he delivered them his effects, consisting of diamonds and some vessels of gold. After giving him a little money for his present subsistence, they departed. …

“He changed his name, and lived quietly at Bideford, so that no notice was taken of him. In a short time his money was all spent, and he heard nothing from his merchants though he wrote to them repeatedly; at last they sent him a small supply, but it was not sufficient to pay his debts. … He therefore determined to go privately to Bristol, and have an interview with the merchants himself,–where, instead of money, he met with a mortifying repulse; for, when he desired them to come to an account with him, they silenced him by threatening to disclose his character; the merchants thus proving themselves as good pirates on land as he was at sea.”

EvX: Money laundering always seems to be one of the weak spots of any pirate operation carried out near civilized ports.

On the Capt. Babcock’s near-death at the hands of Arab Pirates:

“…two English brigs, the Shannon, Capt. Babcock, and the Trimmer, Capt. Cummings, were on their voyage from Bombay to Bussorah. These were both attacked, near the Islands of Polior and Kenn, by several boats, and after a slight resistance on the part of the Shannon only, were taken possession of, and a part of the crew of each, cruelly put to the sword. Capt. Babcock, having been seen by one of the Arabs to discharge a musket during the contest, was taken by them on shore; and after a consultation on his fate, it was determined that he should forfeit the arm by which this act of resistance was committed.

“It was accordingly severed from his body by one stroke of a sabre, and no steps were taken either to bind up the wound, or to prevent his bleeding to death. The captain, himself, had yet sufficient presence of mind left, however, to think of his own safety, and there being near him some clarified butter, he procured this to be heated, and while yet warm, thrust the bleeding stump of his arm into it. It had the effect of lessening the effusion of blood, and ultimately of saving a life that would otherwise most probably have been lost.”

Arab Pirates:

“The line of coast from Cape Mussenndom to Bahrain, on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf, had been from time immemorial occupied by a tribe of Arabs called Joassamees. These, from local position, were all engaged in maritime pursuits. Some traded in their own small vessels to Bussorah, Bushire, Muscat, and even India; others annually fished in their own boats on the pearl banks of Bahrain; and a still greater number hired themselves out as sailors to navigate the coasting small craft of the Persian Gulf.

“The Joassamees at length perceiving that their local position enabled them to reap a rich harvest by plundering vessels in passing this great highway of nations, commenced their piratical career. The small coasting vessels of the gulf, from their defenceless state, were the first object of their pursuit, and these soon fell an easy prey; until, emboldened by success, they directed their views to more arduous enterprises, and having tasted the sweets of plunder in the increase of their wealth, had determined to attempt more promising victories….

“The town of Bushire, on the Persian Gulf is seated in a low peninsula of sand, extending out of the general line of the coast, so as to form a bay on both sides. One of these bays was in 1816, occupied by the fleet of a certain Arab, named Rahmah-ben-Jabir, who has been for more than twenty years the terror of the gulf, and who was the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infested any sea.”

EvX: Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah was a real person–according to Wikipedia:

Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah (Arabic: رحمة بن جابر بن عذبي الجلهمي أو الجلاهمة‎‎; c. 1760–1826) was an Arab ruler in the Persian Gulf and was described by his contemporary, the English traveller and author, James Silk Buckingham, as ‘the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infested any sea.’[1]

As a pirate his reputation was for being ruthless and fearless, and he wore an eye-patch after he lost an eye in battle. He is the earliest documented pirate to have worn an eye-patch.[2] He is described by the former British adviser and historian, Charles Belgrave, as ‘one of the most vivid characters the Persian Gulf has produced, a daring freebooter without fear or mercy’[3] (perhaps paradoxically his first name means ‘mercy’ in Arabic).

He began life as a horse dealer and he used the money he saved to buy his first ship and with ten companions began a career of buccaneering. So successful was he that he soon acquired a new craft: a 300-ton boat, manned by 350 men.[4] He would later have as many as 2000 followers, many of them black slaves. At one point his flagship was the ‘Al-Manowar’ (derived from English).[5]

“His followers, to the number of two thousand, were maintained by the plunder of his prizes; and as the most of these were his own bought African slaves, and the remainder equally subject to his authority, he was sometimes as prodigal of their lives in a fit of anger as he was of his enemies, whom he was not content to slay in battle only, but basely murdered in cold blood, after they had submitted. An instance is related of his having put a great number of his own crew, who used mutinous expressions, into a tank on board, in which they usually kept their water, and this being shut close at the top, the poor wretches were all suffocated, and afterwards thrown overboard.”

EvX: TPoB quotes James Buckingham’s account:

“On one occasion (says Mr. Buckingham), at which I was present, [Rahmah] was sent for to give some medical gentlemen of the navy and company’s cruisers an opportunity of inspecting his arm, which had been severely wounded. The wound was at first made by grape-shot and splinters, and the arm was one mass of blood about the part for several days, while the man himself was with difficulty known to be alive.

“He gradually recovered, however, without surgical aid, and the bone of the arm between the shoulder and elbow being completely shivered to pieces, the fragments progressively worked out, and the singular appearance was left of the fore arm and elbow connected to the shoulder by flesh and skin, and tendons, without the least vestige of bone.

“This man when invited to the [British] factory for the purpose of making an exhibition of his arm, was himself admitted to sit at the table and take some tea, as it was breakfast time, and some of his followers took chairs around him. …

“Rahmah-ben-Jabir’s figure presented a meagre trunk, with four lank members, all of them cut and hacked, and pierced with wounds of sabres, spears and bullets, in every part, to the number, perhaps of more than twenty different wounds. He had, besides, a face naturally ferocious and ugly, and now rendered still more so by several scars there, and by the loss of one eye.

“When asked by one of the English gentlemen present, with a tone of encouragement and familiarity, whether he could not still dispatch an enemy with his boneless arm, he drew a crooked dagger, or yambeah, from the girdle round his shirt, and placing his left hand, which was sound, to support the elbow of the right, which was the one that was wounded, he grasped the dagger firmly with his clenched fist, and drew it back ward and forward, twirling it at the same time, and saying that he desired nothing better than to have the cutting of as many throats as he could effectually open with his lame hand.”

TPoB concludes Rahmah’s tale:

“This barbarous pirate in the year 1827, at last experienced a fate characteristic of the whole course of his life. His violent aggressions having united the Arabs of Bahrene and Ratiffe against him they blockaded his port of Daman from which Rahmah-ben-Jabir, having left a garrison in the fort under his son, had sailed in a well appointed bungalow, for the purpose of endeavoring to raise a confederacy of his friends in his support. … A desperate struggle ensued, and the Sheikh finding after some time that he had lost nearly the whole of his crew by the firing of Rahmah’s boat, retired for reinforcements. These being obtained, he immediately returned singly to the contest.

“The fight was renewed with redoubled fury; when at last, Rahmah, being informed (for he had been long blind) that his men were falling fast around him, mustered the remainder of the crew, and issued orders to close and grapple with his opponent. … he was led with a lighted torch to the magazine, which instantly exploded, blowing his own boat to atoms and setting fire to the Sheikh’s, which immediately afterwards shared the same fate. Sheikh Ahmed and few of his followers escaped to the other boats; but only one of Rahmah’s brave crew was saved; and it is supposed that upwards of three hundred men were killed in this heroic contest.”

Venus de Milo with Makeup

Due to recent conversations (see here) on the subject of phenotypic femininity and older art, I decided to try to put makeup on the Venus de Milo.

Please keep in mind that 1. My Photoshop skills are not very good, and 2. I don’t actually know how to apply makeup.

Why? Modern makeup–cheap, colorful, abundant, and not made with lead or other toxic substances–was invented in the late 1800s. So if we’re talking about femininity in art, then we have to find some way to control for makeup use.

Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

So you want to grow a garden, but you have a serious black thumb. You’ve killed cactuses. You plant seeds, but they don’t come up. Your tomatoes rot on the vine before they ripen. Luckily for you, I’ve put together this handy absolute beginner’s guide to gardening.

  1. Have you considered growing weeds?

I’m serious.

Okay, half serious.

Take a good look at what grows well in your area, particularly in your yard and neighborhood. Mint dies in my neighborhood but bulbs grow well; at a friend’s house some 20 miles away, mint grows rampant but bulbs die. Do you live in a wooded area with lots of pines, or a dry area with succulents and cacti? Do strawberries grow wild in your yard?

If you see a flower or plant you love growing wild near your house, chances are good it will grow in your yard. If you can just dig it up and take it home without running afoul of the law, go ahead! If not, take a couple of good picture of it and take the pictures to your local garden store. While you’re there, ask the employees what they recommend for your area.

(Note: I’m pretty sure that most big-box stores that sell plants, like Walmart or Lowes, sell similar plants all over the country. These are kind of generic and will probably work fine in your area, but if you want local plant varieties that may be better adapted to your area, try a local garden store.)

The most successful plants in my garden are actually plants I found growing “wild” in the area–a couple of domesticated plants that were growing so abundantly they had escaped their original garden and the gardener was fine with me digging up and taking home the shoots that were cluttering up her yard and some wild flowers I liked. These hardy plants have survived and thrived despite, in one case, being nearly murdered in the process of tearing it out the anti-weed mesh it was growing in.

    2. Now take a good look at your microclimate–the specific place where you are trying to grow plants.

Are you putting potted plants on a cement porch with no shade in front of a glass door, where they’re going to get direct and reflected sunlight all day? Temperatures here can easily reach 100 degrees every day. Or are you trying to grow plants in the shade under a large tree, where the ground is always damp and they receive no direct sunlight? You can easily have both microclimates in the same yard, and the plants that grow well in one spot definitely won’t grow well in the other. If you’re confined to gardening in an ultra-sunny location, you’ll need heat and drought-tolerant plants. If you’re gardening in the shade, look for shade-tolerant plants.

In my experience, fruits won’t ripen in the shade. I’ve grown plenty of strawberry, tomato, and pumpkin plants in the shade, (strawberries make a lovely, shade-tolerant groundcover,) and never gotten a single decent fruit off of them. My tomatoes, yes, rotted before they ripened.

It’s okay. I don’t even like fresh tomatoes. I was just growing them because everyone else does.

I can get fruit to ripen on the sunny side of the house. I’ve gotten lots of tasty fruit on the sunny side of the house. Unfortunately that’s the patio side, so everything there has to be grown in pots and watered often because they dry out quickly.

I have had luck, however, growing some vegetables in the shade.

C’est la vie!

    3. Start small, simple, and easy.

Some plants grow easily and will work almost anywhere. Peas, for example, have never failed me, whether planted in way too hot, dry, dusty soil or in a pot in the shade. Soy beans and regular beans grow well, too. (And personally, I like the taste.)

By contrast, some seeds come with a list of instructions six months long:

“Put these seeds in a container of sterile sand in your refrigerator for 3 months. Mist them once a week so they don’t dry out, but don’t get them wet. Then warm them up slowly. Put them in a container with sandpaper and shake them, and if that doesn’t work, nick them with a knife. Then plant them 1/4 inch deep in a mix of 1 part peat moss, 1 part sterile potting mix, and 1 part sand. Water once a day for 3 months, until you give up and plant peas instead.”

You see, some seeds are designed by nature to just fall on the ground and start growing; some seeds are designed to get eaten, pass through a digestive tract without getting destroyed, and then sprout; and some seeds are designed to sit around all winter until they sprout in the spring. You want the first kind of seeds. If you really want a plant grown from more difficult seeds, just go buy a plant. Trust me, it’s better to spend $8 on one plant that’s actually alive than $4 on 30 seeds that won’t grow.

While we’re on the subject of seeds that don’t grow, remember that unlike people, most plants produce hundreds or thousands of seeds during their lives. Obviously not all of these seeds can possibly turn into new plants. So if some of your seeds didn’t sprout, remember that the average tree sends out thousands of seeds that don’t sprout, either. So don’t feel bad! You probably still have a better success rate than nature!

Some plants don’t even like using seeds. Strawberries prefer to propagate via runners (which is why they make such nice groundcover.)

Additionally, some plants will live for years, while others live for only a season and then pass away.

If your plants keep dying, you might have annuals! They’re supposed to do that.

If you enjoy digging in the dirt and want an excuse to get outside more often, plant annuals. Annuals tend to grow quickly and look nice right away–lots of pretty flowers are annuals. If you get lucky, they might even sow their seeds in your garden, resulting in new flowers popping up next year, but there’s no guarantee.

If you want a garden that will keep going without you having to start over from scratch every year, plant perennials. I’m lazy, so I have perennials. (Except the peas.)

Perennials can take a while to get going. For example, while your peas might be ready to harvest after a mere two months in the ground, asparagus takes 2 to 4 years to develop. But once you do have a mature plant, you can harvest it every year for decades. Apple trees take 4+ years to mature, but again, last for decades. (There’s an apple tree in Germany that’s 185 years old.)

By the way, you might think cactuses and succulents are the easiest plants to grow, but my cactuses always die. Always. I am the cactus murderer. I don’t know. I over-water them or something.

    ETA: 3B. Start seeds in pots:

This has become such an established part of my gardening routine that I nearly forgot how much I struggled before I figured it out: sow your seeds in small pots, not directly into the ground.

I don’t know why it works, but I have spent years watering long rows of flower seeds I planted directly in my garden, only to get nothing in return. (Except weeds. Lots of weeds.) By contrast, when I start seeds in pots, at least some of them almost always come up. They are much more convenient, as well, because I can keep all of the little pots together on one rack on the porch and water them all at once rather than hauling the hose up and down the garden, and if you have one set of pots positioned above another set, water from the first group can drip down and water the second.

When the plants get big enough, (about the same size as the ones growing in similar pots in the garden store if you have one per pot,) transfer them to the ground.

Speaking of which:

    4. Dirt, water, and fertilizer.

You probably know all about these already, but remember that plants like dirt with plenty of nutrients. If your dirt is bad, you’ll need to fertilize. If things have been growing in your garden for a while, you’ll need to fertilize. If you want to grow corn, you’ll need to fertilize.

But… like everything, there’s too much of a good thing, and you can over-fertilize plants. Each plant has its own needs, so read up on the plants you have.

        5. What if I’ve done everything right, and my plants are still producing mealy, unpleasant fruit?

 

The plants/seeds sold at garden stores, nurseries, Walmart, etc., have been optimized for all sorts of traits, like fast growth, attractive leaves, beautiful flowers, pest resistance, ease of sprouting, etc. Some of them have been bred to taste good, but plenty of them haven’t–honestly, I’ve been surprised at what a high percent of fruit plants sold at regular stores actually produce totally inferior, unpleasant-tasting fruits.

If your plants aren’t making tasty fruit, it might not be your fault at all. You may have to experiment with several different varieties before you find one you like, or do some research into the best varieties for your region. This year I ended up mail-ordering a specific variety of fruit plants that are supposed to be tasty and grow well in my area, but aren’t available at my local big-box garden store. (Probably because they’re a local variety and I hear they have some issues with pest resistance/rot.) Wish me luck.

Just like the seeds, don’t get discouraged if your first few plants don’t work out. Plants are dynamic. They grow, flower, seed, wither, and start again. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. Remember, humans have been growing plants for 10,000 years, and it has generally worked out well.

So that’s my absolute newbies’ guide to growing plants. I hope it helps.