Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

January 7, 2016
High-leverage gardening resolutions for 2016

First, a confession is in order. While this is certainly the time of year for resolutions, I’m not really a great resolution-maker. Perhaps that comes from a history of my own good intentions but very low implementation. You may have the same problem.

I do think that a year’s beginning is a good time for reflection about what is important in life, along with what was worthwhile in the past year or two, and what one wants to do more of. It’s been my experience that “mega” resolutions have the proverbial snowball’s chance of actually being lived out.

One way to address the problem is to have resolutions so low that essentially no effort or nothing new is attempted. This is the “maintenance” approach, and it’s essentially a well-tuned recipe for mediocrity.

A better approach is to work on incremental goals and steps that are achievable and are components of a larger, more significant or noble goal. This is the approach that I strongly support related to my skills and lifestyle as a gardener, small-community member, and self-reliant-minded person.

And, that leads us to resolutions in the garden that are worth keeping. I want to offer you a few general principles worth pursuing, as well as some specific practices that I think you should consider adding to your gardening routines over the next 12 months. These aren’t earth-shattering, but they are simple and effective ways to really bump up your gardening skills and results.

First and foremost, work on adding a new skill or crop this year. If you add a couple each year, the cumulative effect is impressive. Every year, I work to become skilled in the cultivation of a new crop. It usually takes a few years to really get the nuances of any crop, but it’s really worth it. In the last few years, I’ve become competent at growing onions, garlic and basil. Tomatoes are now dependable, and this year I’ll continue to hone my results with eggplant, okra, arugula, and potatoes. Heck, we’ve got plenty of “pie plant” (rhubarb) growing around here from earlier year’s learning adventures. Future year aspirations include becoming a skilled carrot grower, trying some new cabbages, as well as more blackberries, peaches and grapes.

Another practice to adopt is to further your skills in starting many of your own plants from seed, or propagating shrubs from ones you already have in your yardscape. Not only are economics very good, but the variety of seed is usually better than what is available as small plants. Propagation from existing non-patented plants is pretty easy, and it’s really enjoyable to increase the greenery around your place using cuttings. I went into detail on hardwood cuttings a few weeks back, so if you missed that, check it out.

Also, resolve to acquire at least one really good quality gardening tool every year. I’ve done this many years and it’s paid off in having a set of good garden implements that work well and are a pleasure to use. If you don’t have a good set of handheld pruners, start there. Felco is my go-to brand, but Corona and others have some good models out there. I recommend you get the bypass style (instead of anvil), and don’t get the cheapest model. Spend more, take care of them, and your true cost of ownership will be quite low when you factor in the amount of years you get to use the tool. Other tools to consider include cultivators, hoes, shovels, pole pruners and saws, orchard ladders, string trimmers, and lawnmowers.

Oh — I almost forgot. An investment in a great pair of gardening gloves allows you do a lot more work, while protecting your hands. Take care of your hands with hand cream as well. Your hands are the No. 1 gardening tool you’ve got.

Another worthwhile commitment is to improve your soil on an ongoing basis. Begin looking for sources of organic material that can be composted or added into beds, rows, or plots. Become maniacal about creating an ongoing stream of organic materials and nutrients to your soil. Grass clippings, shrub trimmings, veggie scraps from the kitchen, lint from the dryer, hair clippings, coffee grounds, leaves, old potting soil, litter from animal pens are all prizes to be latched on to. Backyard poultry not only provide eggs and meat, but they “pre-compost” a large amount of weeds, vegetable kitchen scraps, grass clippings and overripe leaf, veggie and fruit crops. Think of your soil as a bank. The more deposits you put there, the better the results for years to come.

Lastly, there’s a balance to be had between learning new skills and implementing them.

Not too long ago I read a compelling article in The Mother Earth News. The author made the case that your homestead or garden can end up “firing” you for neglect! He went on to say that there are rhythms in rural and gardening life that must be embraced and attended to. If the season’s first flush of young weeds appear, and you don’t attend to them, you will pay dearly later. If the soil isn’t prepared and seeds planted timely, then you can hardly hope for a good harvest. If animals are not properly cared for, there are certainly negative outcomes. Should maintenance, repair or replacement of buildings, fences, or tools be called for, and are ignored, then we can end up living in the middle of a non-productive, broken-down mess. In essence, our home and the grounds “fired us”, because we didn’t attend to what was needed, when it was needed.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t confess that there have been times like that in my care of the property. I’m not proud of it, but I haven’t “arrived” in these areas. This I do know. When things are “squared away”, and I know I’ve done what I’ve needed to, I’m a lot more content.

One other point the article’s author made is that we can become victims of good intention or always learning, but never implementing. We’re YouTube creators with a channel on rural living, and I certainly appreciate people tuning in and seeing what we are doing. Our channel is growing rapidly. Here’s what I hope for those that do watch some of the adventures and lessons around the Cooper place — they are moved to action! Sure, we want to be entertainers — “edutainers” of sorts — but we really want people to experience a significant increase in productivity, capability and satisfaction of taking care of what needs to be taken care of, and doing it well.

Constantly “taking in” great gardening, yard and animal husbandry information is a real temptation because there are so many great resources out there right now in several media. If you like reading online, there are articles, videos, interviews, downloads, and plans galore. There are also a lot of great authors that have published some great books on a wide range of rural-related skills. Let’s not forget about some great magazines, national and regional, that have high value for both education and just the plain fun of looking at the beautiful pictures and reading the articles.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against great reading, learning, and getting new information. If I were, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this column! What I am saying is to work on creating and maintaining a balance between getting information or knowledge and putting it to use. If you do, come this time next year, there’ll be some great new additions to your skill set, and out in your yardscape as well. Let’s make this year a great gardening year, including being a part of great community events that are gardening-centered — such as public presentations hosted by the Master Gardeners, the Garden Tour in June, and events at the Clark Historic Farm and Benson Gristmill. I hope our paths cross many times this year!

Jay Cooper can be contacted at, or you can visit his website at for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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