Kitchen Garden

Clearing a Field of Risks

Sheep and LambsLAKE MACBRIDE— A gardener accepts risks. Soil, insects, weeds, temperature variation, hail, frost, flood, drought, neighbors’ pets, deer, and others. No doubt, we will take those risks, and after the season’s promise is in the ground, mitigate them as best we can.

Risk management is also part of most people’s lives. In the middle of the economic spectrum, people spend a lot of money managing risk in the form of insurance. Health insurance is the biggest monthly expense in our household, and if one adds in auto insurance, dental insurance, home owner’s insurance, life insurance and others, insurance payments dominate household expenses.

Most people I know, who buy into the consumer society, are not very good at managing risk, even if they are adept at apples to apples comparisons between competing insurance policies. Gardening represents a chance to learn how to take risks.

Evaluating the weather and making decisions about when to plant specific vegetables seems part of the living dynamic of being a grower— large scale or small.

What are the risks, in life and in gardening, and are we willing to take them? For a home gardener, the risk of making a mistake is high, but the cost of mistakes are mostly very low— time spent, opportunities missed, labor invested, and the cost of seeds and seedlings. With little to lose financially, the social aspect of gardening becomes more important in risk taking.

Yesterday, I asked a grower her thoughts about planting with the current 30 day forecast. She would wait until the weekend to put squash, tomato and other seedlings out… because of the potential to reach the mid-30s later this week. “I wouldn’t risk it,” she said, mentioning the traditional May 10 last frost date. Her farm operation has a lot at stake in making the wrong call, and she exhibited a conservative approach, her judgement tempered by decades of experience as a farmer.

Getting better at risk management takes practice: studying opportunities, evaluating data, considering our experience, making informed decisions, and evaluating results. A garden, with its low financial investment, is the perfect field to get practice managing risk.

If one lives, there is risk and living is something no insurance policy can adequately protect. As a gardener, we go on living, mindful of the risks involved, but being willing to take them.