While much of the advice that gets passed around from gardener to gardener is good, there are several misconceptions that get passed along as well. These are known as gardening myths. I recommend you review the following myths, and think twice before believing everything you hear about gardening.
MYTH: Comparing grams harvested to watts of light used is a good indication of an indoor garden’s performance.
TRUTH: Just knowing the weight of a harvest and the size of the lamp used is not enough information to make a useful comparison and deem how successful a growth cycle was. All else being equal, a one-year-old plant can generally outperform a six-month-old plant if all that is compared is the size of the plant to the size of the lamp, even if the lamp is less efficient once time is taken into account. A much more useful way to calculate your success is determining grams per day.
Take the weight of a harvest and divide it by the number of days grown to find out how much was produced each day. Calculating the grams per day for each harvest will allow a gardener to compare the success of different harvests, even if the number of days in each cycle is different.
MYTH: The length of the light period is the flowering trigger for short- and long-day plants.
TRUTH: It would be convenient if terminology was always correct, but in this case they’ve got it backwards. It is the length of the dark period—not the light period—that triggers flowering in short- and long-day plants. These types of plants have photoreceptors that can detect light above normal moonlight.
If a short-day plant is exposed to dark periods of 12 hours or so, it will begin to generate flowering hormones for a couple of weeks. These hormones will be used to trigger or continue flowering during the next light period. If the dark period is shortened or interrupted, the level of flowering hormones will drop, and the plant will revert to non-flowering growth.
MYTH: Most plant problems can be traced back to a nutrient deficiency.
TRUTH: As long as an appropriate fertilizer is used properly, there is something else likely to blame for the majority of plant problems. Improper growing media moisture levels, lighting issues, humidity problems and heat issues all tend to be more common problems. One reason for the confusion is that many common mistakes, such as overwatering, interfere with nutrient uptake, causing plants to appear underfed.
MYTH: Vitamin B1 is good for plants and is an important additive to include in a nutrient regimen.
TRUTH: In a normal plant, a sufficient quantity of vitamin B1 (thiamine) is synthesized in the leaves and transported to the roots. The only time vitamin B1 supplementation is useful is during tissue culture, when there aren’t any leaves on the cut sections of a plant to supply it. Most vitamin B1 products on the market also contain some other beneficial additive, such as a nutrient or a hormone, which is what causes the positive effects.
MYTH: If something is organic, it is safe to use and eat.
TRUTH: There are many organic things that are not good for us. For example, foxglove is a pretty flower and is organic, but it is also known to cause abnormal heart rates, seizures and even death when it is accidently ingested. Likewise, arsenic, the bubonic plague and spider venom are all organic, but are not suitable to use as salad toppings.
The confusion exists because the word “organic” is used in a lot of different ways, often with conflicting definitions. For example, to a chemist, the word organic means something that contains carbon, but to a gardener the word may mean the item in question was grown on a family farm with little-to-no pesticide use.
In another realm, the word organic is used to describe something that was grown only with certain approved things. Knowing something is organic isn’t enough; you have to know what other ingredients are involved and what substances the product has been exposed to.
MYTH: Your compost pile has to be heated before it can make compost.
TRUTH: A warm compost pile creates compost faster than a cold one does, but even a cold pile of brown leaves and nothing else will turn into compost eventually—it will just take longer. Most backyard composters add more brown leaves to their pile if it starts to smell, or more greens if the pile is slow to compost.
Getting a compost pile to heat up requires having the right ratio of moisture, high carbon-to-nitrogen materials such as dead leaves, and high nitrogen-to-carbon materials such as lawn clippings.
With a ratio of roughly three parts carbon to one part nitrogen materials (by volume), and moisture levels similar to a wrung-out sponge, composting bacteria can raise the temperatures of the pile to 130°F or higher, expediting the composting process. Make sure temperatures don’t get too high, which could create compost that is not good for plants. Again, a cold pile will work fine.
MYTH: Talking to plants is silly and doesn’t help them grow.
TRUTH: Talking to plants helps them—the longer the talk the better. Of course, just spending time in your garden is also beneficial. As you are present in your garden, you become a source of carbon dioxide and help your plants just by breathing near them. Talking to your plants may also give you an opportunity to identify problems early, assuming you are looking at your plants as you talk to them.
MYTH: The relationship between the garden and the gardener is a one-way street.
TRUTH: Gardens nourish their gardener with their bountiful harvests. They bring flowers and beauty into a gardener’s life, teach patience and provide exercise. Even mundane and repetitious tasks help you free your mind and explore your thoughts. Gardeners don’t just grow gardens without getting anything in return; gardens help gardeners grow as well.
There is so much to learn about gardening. I believe it is important to not only be able to learn new things, but also be able to change your mind and adapt to new information.