Thursday, July 10, 2003

Soil Science

This garden is the hardest because I have had to let two go. The first garden of my adulthood was in Cincinnati. I was part of the Contact Center, a community organization now over 20 years old, which had garden space at the cemetery. That was the first garden of my adult life, that I had some major decision making power over, since I shared it with two priests who were also part of the Center.

We didn’t know anything about organic gardening, so the women of the Center began to teach us. I had been participant in my father’s massive gardens for as long as I could remember but he believed at the time that the best relationship with the soil was one mediated by petrochemicals and pesticides.

So Eddy, Randy and I would go about our little plot, attempting to plant something or other, and Thelma or Sarah or Grace would lean over the little fence separating our plots and say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” And we would stop, and try to figure out, first, what we were doing wrong, and next what we should do instead. In this way we learned not to walk on fresh plowed dirt, not to plant collards in places that had had club root in the last seven years, to plant root crops when the moon waned and leafy crops when the moon waxed. We learned that potatoes are not good companions to tomatoes but carrots and onions are. We learned that if you gave the dirt a fighting chance it would become a living system and maybe, in the end, that was what gardening really was about.

My second garden was in Jamaica Plain and my land lady had killed the soil. It looked like cinders from a house fire. My friends, mostly Katherine Kelly, and I set out to rebuild the dirt. We hauled rail road ties in my little Honda Civic and bags of leaf mold, horse manure and compost from every place we could find them. We built beds and rotated our tiny crops. After six years the soil was glorious and the strawberries succulent. Year seven I moved.

We are almost four years into this new gardening venture and I am just now acquiescing to the necessity to rebuild the dirt here at our Dorchester home. At first I felt defeated and overwhelmed by the prospect – more land, more beds, more hauling, digging, tugging and dumping. Now I am feeling differently. Every one of us deserves food from a healthy ecosystem. For most of us, the dirt in our yard is the closest manifestation of that ecosystem. So I am applying myself with renewed dedication to scavenging and procuring leaf mold, driving west to get some chicken or maybe goat manure, and relieving my friends of nice piles of organic grass clippings to fire up the compost pile while we begin walking the seven year journey of renewing the life cycle of this yard’s soil – for us, the flowers and vegetables and not least of all, the worms who inhabit it all.

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