I, at long last, (so it seems,) have everything planted. It always seems I reach this state with less dignity and aplomb than I would like. Later winter and early spring are spent dreaming up all sorts of things that I’ll want to get done and complaining that I can’t do everything. Then, starting sometime around the beginning of May, my wishing starts to come back to haunt me. Things start to pile up and time feels as if it goes into some kind of warp as I hurtle down the roller-coaster of life. In short order I am practically running around like a maniac, going “I got to dig! I got to plant! I got to mulch! I got to mow! I got to prune!” . . . And much, much, more.
It’s not like I sit around all winter doing nothing, so of course the sudden flush of things that clamor for my time must compete with everything that I did before. This clash of priorities catches me right in the middle. I end up doing some things that really don’t need to be done, not doing some things that ought to be done, and generally getting flustered and disgusted with myself.
Let it be noted, however, that I did manage (even with all of my panic and disorder) to get everything into the ground. Not that this should really be a big feat, but for me it feels like one. The corn is planted. The squash is planted. The cucumbers are planted. I can compare this success to my past, or to my ideal of how things ought to be done. Compared to my ideal, I dug the garden and planted things in an atrocious manner. But compared to last year I’m doing good so far, so I’m feeling pretty pleased. Last year I planted my squash in extreme haste and I got my corn in even later than I did this year, and I didn’t dig the ground as well.
Work still needs to be done, most importantly mulching. You see, I have an uncommon method for gardening. There are probably as many methods of gardening as there are people who do it, but my particular technique centers around limited available time, and the fact that there are two aspects of gardening that I do not care for. The first is beating out sod, the second is weeding.
If you are not one of those people who beats the dirt out of the sod when you garden, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’ll explain. When removing sod to dig a garden a person can either turn the grass under, or slice the sod layer away and remove it to some other location to compost. Removing the sod entirely severely reduces the ability of the grass to grow back but it also removes the most fertile layer of earth. One solution is to beat all the good dirt out of the chunks of grass sod until only the bare roots are left, which is then discarded to compost. In abstract this is a brilliant idea, but in reality the amount of labor required for anything more than the teeniest garden is astronomical.
My father is not known for moderation, so throughout my childhood I was drafted (okay, sometimes I volunteered) for various gardening projects which (Dad being the frugal sort) almost always involved beating sod. Since our gardens were never small, this meant what seemed like an endless field of sod that needed to be beaten out. A job that looked like it would never be completed and, if memory serves me, might never have been.
All these long hours of beating sod in my childhood have left a permanent scar on my psyche and I have sworn off sod beating for the rest of my life. Beating the dirt out of a piece of sod is some of the most boring and futile labor invented. I would rather leave the sod in the garden than spend a minute of my time trying to make it give up the dirt that is clinging to its roots.
The second part of gardening I don’t like to do is weeding. I don’t loathe this so much as beating sod, but it is work that needs to be done over and over again, and I invariably don’t have the time to do it. I can either let some other task suffer while I chop up weeds that will grow back next week, or else I can not weed and instead feel extremely guilty as I watch weeds grow up and choke out my garden.
My gardening experience (and choices) would probably be much easier if I owned all sorts of mechanical equipment that would subtract most of the physical labor from digging and maintaining a garden. If I were rich and famous (or at least had a respectable income) I would have a rototiller and which would simply chop up the sod into oblivion. As it is, I dig my garden with a mattock.
A mattock is similar to a pick, except with a much wider blade. You might have seen a picture of some poor African farmer digging his garden with a mattock. Yes, I live in the United States of America, but I dig my garden like a poor third world African . . . there is some equality in the world. A mattock is a good tool, a useful tool, the best you can have for digging up a lot of earth without something mechanical . . . but compared to a hefty rototiller or a plow it is slow going. Hard, too, if you’re out of shape.
The current strategy I used to garden is this: I first take out the DR. Brush Mower and knock it down to the lowest setting on the mowing deck and scalp away the grass and weeds where I am going to dig. Then, if I am planting corn, I take a mattock and dig up the entire area. I don’t remove the roots of the grass and weeds, I simply break everything up. Then I plant. And afterward I mulch everything heavily. This last step accomplishes three things. It fertilizes the garden, it keeps down the weeds (no weeding), and it helps the soil water retention a lot (no watering). Mulching in the short run is extra work, but in the long run it saves a lot of work. It is a secert of gardening. If there was only one thing I could tell someone they should do in their garden it is this–mulch.
The type of mulch can vary. My preference is some kind of manure mixture. In years past when we still had goats I would take the manure and hay mixture and fork it down between the rows. This worked great to hold in the water and keep down weeds. This year I’m going to use horse manure mixed with sawdust because someone a few streets over has a huge mountain of it they’re trying to get rid of. This is a little risky as sawdust can make the soil too acidic, but nothing ventured nothing gained. I don’t have many other options this year, anyhow.
Corn is very demanding of the soil and the ground around here is mostly clay. I have learned a trick that helps corn grow around here . . . it is technically dangerous for the wellbeing of the plant but I have managed to pull it off without harm. The trick is to spread raw chicken manure in the dirt of the corn rows, or else spread it on top of the corn rows before the corn sprouts. Chicken manure has a very high nitrogen content and it can burn plants. That warning given, I’ve found that spreading it judiciously over the rows or mixing it in the soil gives the corn a much appreciated spike of nitrogen and I consider it better than using some chemical mix.
This year I planted more corn than I did any other year, and I planted it all at once. Last year I planted more corn than the year before that, but tried two staggered plantings. It didn’t work out. I got the first planting in okay, but time got away from me and . . . well, the second planting never produced any harvestable corn. This year I decided that being clever would have to come some other time, and I dug and planted everything all at once.
The amount of digging was more than I wanted to do in one day. Technically, I could do it in six or eight hours, but by drafting Lachlan to help me I managed to get the initial digging completed in something like three hours. Good for me, but he will probably end up having psychological scars about using mattocks. After that I had to hoe out all the rows, plant the corn by hand, and cover the seeds back up. Every step in this process, exercises the lower back. Mattocking exercises a lot more than the lower back, but even after three hours of that I wasn’t feeling too bad. But then I had to spend more time hunched over hoeing out the rows, and even more time after that hunched over dropping the seeds into the rows. I am young, but I’m not invincible. By evening it was difficult to stand erect.
The corn is planted, but I still need to spread the chicken manure and then mulch. This will probably be a full Saturday of work, but with that the corn should be effectively taken care of until harvest time.
For the curious, we did get a frost the last day in May. So many warm days in May and then at the very end a cold snap. Both the apple trees and the lilacs were done blossoming so they weren’t hurt. Alas, but my grape vines were coming on with full vigor. The frost was, thankfully, light, so rather than being completely annihilated the grape vines were more like . . . seared.
I’m still not sure of the complete extent of the damage. Some vine portions wilted and leaves died but the real question is what is going to happen to all of the wonderful little grape clusters that were starting to come out. Everything had the appearance of being the first great harvest since I planted my vines and now . . . I might have lost it all. Time will tell.
I should count my blessings.