Monday, April 5, 2010

Perfect Soil

I went to help friends at my old house in my old garden - the one I built out of youthful ambition, naivete, sweat, and the odd garden tool three springs ago - and had the unparalleled experience of pure bliss. I would not call myself an accomplished gardener. I am simply too erratic to make a garden beautiful, or to let all of my plants grow. For example, I did not plant ground cherries in their little pots this weekend. My cold frame is still in the ice shed. But when I walked into the garden and slipped (yes - slipped!) a garden fork into the first bed - the one that had tomatoes in it 2 years ago and lettuce last year - and turned the soil, I did what i do every year, and bent to check the soil. My arm slipped into perfect, dark, moist, and crumbly soil right up to the elbow.

After 3 years of gardening in clay and gravel, 2 of them in this very garden, I wanted to cry with joy. There was no way I was abandoning this perfect soil - so dark in color and light in weight - to spend another year in dirt and mud. Maybe I'll plant my onions and leaks and some lettuce at my house - just to have something there. the beds, after all, are tilled. I could add some good compost and call it a day. Which means, of course, that my garden plans were for nothing (though now that I remember it, my beds at the co-op are also 4' by 20'. and there are 3 of them. But I don't think I'll be able to just take up 3 beds even though there are 10+ beds roughly that size), but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter one bit because this success - having created such beautiful, dark, rich, and deep garden soil in 2 years - is a huge achievement. Far better than growing more garlic than I could possibly need for one winter, or making beautiful garden plans.

Building that garden was back-breaking. it's a huge, no-till garden built on what was, at the time, a thoroughly compacted post-construction lightly sloping hill complete with a hard pan, standing water, and more clay than i wanted to deal with. It was built by broadforking every bed just to aerate the soil, digging out paths (and dumping that soil onto the beds), then layering manure, paper, and 6 inches of straw, and watering the whole thing. It was mostly built in spring, so that year, I watched the bed seep moisture out of my seedlings (direct-seeding was not an option) and copious amounts of slugs (attracted by the straw) do a number on everything but the onions and potatoes (after an evening salt-shaker attack on the slugs). The next year was a little better, though I didn't grow much food at all, only tomatoes and garlic - and we know what happened with tomatoes last year. Most of the garden has been fallow one of the two years. And now - it is perfect.

Given how much work it is to build garden soil, I hope you can understand why i wouldn't want to do it again at a rental where I might not even be gardening next summer.

In conclusion I planted peas, lettuce, and swiss chard. My friend planted some herbs as well. I realized I should have planted chives, though I let my friend's interest get ahead of my own. Oh well. There's plenty of time, and there should be plenty of space.

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