I see most mistakes or failures as learning opportunities. This can be with gardening, Permaculture, jobs, relationships, or just about any activity of which I can think. However, there are only a few things I truly regret in life. Most are small in the grand scheme of life. Most I will never share with any but my closest confidantes.
But I will share one of my regrets today, and it has to do with gardening.
I wrote about my Kale plants becoming infested with caterpillars just over a year ago when I lived in Turkey. You can read that article with this link. In summary, I was pretty sure I found a strain of Kale that was resistant to the caterpillars which decimated all the other Kale I was growing. I am not sure exactly which caterpillar this was, but it was likely the Cross-Striped Cabbageworm (Evergestis rimosalis) or another closely related species. I had two plants which were untouched by the onslaught of caterpillars. All the others were stripped of all green; only the stems remained like bare skeletons of trees in Winter. The one plant on the end of the row may have escaped damage due to being a bit out of the way. However, the other unharmed plant stood strong right in the center of the bed with caterpillars eating away all its neighbors.
Now, to be scientific about this, I must consider all the possibilities:
- Random Chance – maybe out of sheer randomness, the caterpillars never ate a leaf on this one Kale plant (highly unlikely)
- Random Mutation – maybe there was something about this Kale plant which the caterpillars found unappetizing (this is what I was really hoping!)
- Chance Symbiosis – maybe there was a bacteria or fungi that somehow paired with this Kale and repelled the caterpillars (I have not heard of this in annuals, but I have heard of trees upregulating production of tannins when neighboring trees were being attacked by pests. This was communicated via the fungal network in the soil!)
- Special Exposure – maybe there was some chemical or substance on or in this plant that allowed it to repel the caterpillars. I didn’t use any chemicals in the garden, so it would have had to come from an outside source. Maybe it was where a bird dropped a certain type of manure. Maybe it was where my boys had just urinated – yes, they did this a lot in the garden, and they were good at not urinating on the leaf crops. (this is pretty unlikely as well)
I can’t really think of any other special circumstances which would give this Kale such an advantage, so this is why I was really hopeful I had come across a new mutation.
This is where my regret lies. I had planned to save seed from this plant. I had marked it with a twist tie at the base of the plant. It was a good thing I did, because after the wave of caterpillars passed, the rest of the Kale came back strong, and my special Kale was lost in the mix. This was fortunate for me and those plants, but I know many times the plant may not recover, and a whole harvest is lost.
Well, I got wrapped up in my move. The Kale was not going to flower and set seed until after I had moved, but I had “save Kale seed” on my “to do” list. I had planned to speak with one of three friends who I could have trusted with this task to keep an eye on the plants and save some seed from it when it was ready. There was a chance the new tenants would remove the plants or cut off the seed stalks, but I was hopeful one or all of my friends would be able to talk with them and convince them to help.
Unfortunately, I never got to that item on my list. I kept meaning to and just never did it.
There is a chance that the plant wouldn’t have set good seed. Although I did have about 30 Kale plants in this patch, so I think there would be a decent chance I would have been able to have a pretty good shot at getting good seed from my one special plant. Of course, I would have had to run multiple trials and raise multiple generations to prove this new strain, but I was very willing to do this.
But I never got the chance. I will really regret this for the rest of my life. I am not trying to be dramatic for it is a small regret, but it is a real regret. For those of you who are not gardeners, you will likely see this as silly. But of course, if you are not a gardener, I would be shocked you read this far into the article!
So what did I learn from this? I must answer this question to make this regret somewhat bearable.
- Never, never, never miss an opportunity like this again! Make it a priority.
- Observe and Interact! This is Permaculture Principle One (Observe and Interact). I did the first part, but failed on the second part. Make sure to complete this important step.
- Realize that anyone can discover something amazing. I was just a guy growing a small garden in my backyard in Turkey. I may have discovered a big nothing, but I may have discovered a caterpillar-resistant trait that could be bred into all Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, collards)… okay, maybe that is going a bit too far, but then again, maybe not.
- Realize that mutations are happening all the time. It is up to us to be observant (as I just said) and find out what is happening in our gardens. This is how almost every garden vegetable has been developed in the past.
Now, every time I see a caterpillar on my broccoli or cauliflower or kale, I am instantly reminded, and momentarily saddened, by what could have been. I will not miss the next opportunity!
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