Posted on 21 December 2011 by

Technology and the Gardener

By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

The other day, I was in a superstore scanning the markdown items and noticed a unique item.

This item I was sure was placed in the wrong department.

I was in the gardening department not the cooking so what was a meat thermometer doing here.

As I examined this strange looking cooking utensil I noticed a picture of plants on the package. Again, I was going what? No pictures of roasts, turkeys or chickens.

So, being curious and not willing to admit I had no idea what I was holding, I flipped over the package and read the directions.

The directions on this odd product were quite clear but again I could not believe my eyes and I could not believe that someone felt they needed this product. Being a science person and a little nerd, I decided I would buy the product. I knew I carried one around with me everywhere I went and I was certain that this one worked just fine and was just as accurate but I just had to have this new-fangled product.

So off to the checkout I went with my new toy much like a dog with a new bone. When my husband saw what I was carrying, he just gave me that look. We all know that look, that look of do you really need that and as he continued to stare I payed for it.

When I got it home, I was like a kid in a candy store. Opening the package was fun and once open I found another little gift. A simple pamphlet or what they called a book with plant information. I was not so interested in the so-called “freebie” but instead how my new toy or should I say tool for my job would work.

Before I go on with the story, I would like to identify what this product is and with all the fanfare I can muster. Drumming flowerpots please…………. A soil moisture tester.

Ok, I know that was not earth shattering but from one gardener to another, it was really neat. For years, I have used my trusted little index finger to do all my moisture tests. I would stick it down at least 2 inches and then pull it out. If my finger came out clean, then I knew the plant needed watering. If my finger came out caked with soil, then I new the plant did not need watering. Pretty simple practice for a simple gardener but technology is creeping more and more into my life so I decided to embrace it with this little gadget.

So away I went into the fight of the century or the fight of my career, which was better the finger or the gadget. Being a scientist, I formed my hypothesis that stated my finger would always be a better judge of soil moisture. I mean it had been doing this test for as long as I can remember and I have never lost a plant do to overwatering.

The day came for the test. First the finger tested the soil of my poinsettia. It felt fine and the finger came up with a little soil. Next the moisture gauge was up for the test. This gauge worked by measuring soil moisture and displaying it as a percentage on the gauge’s face. According the package, the small book listed several common plants with their ideal moisture level. If the gauge read above the level, then the soil was too wet. If the gauge read below the level, then the gardener needed to water.

As luck would have it, the poinsettia was not listed and I could not find a plant that was even in the same family. So on to another plant and this time I made sure it was in the book. My lovely Mother In-laws Tongue was up for the challenge. The first test was again done with my finger. It came out clean but do to the type of plant and the time of year, I knew it did not need to be watered. Next, the gauge was inserted into the soil and a reading made. Lo and behold, the gauge agreed with my finger.

This testing continued and the results on average were the same. While both the finger and the gauge worked well, the gauge was not a replacement for experience. In my opinion, the finger was mightier than the gauge for one reason. It allowed the gardener to build that one on one relationship with their plants that are modern society tries so hard to discourage.

If you are a brown thumb gardener, by all means utilize technology to its fullest to aid you in plant care. On the other side of the coin, if you are an experienced gardener or one who is looking into an urban homestead lifestyle do not get wrapped up in “new toys.” The only tools you really need are a little soil, seeds, sunlight and water. With these ingredients, you can create miracles that can sustain your heart and soul.

So until we blog again, technology is a great tool but it should never be a substitute for skills that are eons old.

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