Monday, May 24, 2004

Soil Science

The Garden At Home
We are trying to keep track of our gardening activities this year. We are keeping a garden notebook for the first time and describing what we do when and under what lunar sign. When I was young we gardened with my father, but I don’t remember him actually teaching me anything. The whole process felt somewhat oppressive since Dad would rent a quarter acre plot and fill it with green beans, collards, corn and other freezable vegetables. The tomatoes and salad greens were at home. Nothing is more daunting than a kid facing her father’s nostalgia for the farm in the form of (what seemed like) a hundred foot row of green beans to weed or pick.

I consider the women of the Contact Center, among other things, my true garden instructors. It is from them that I first learned about gardening by the moon. The first garden I had on my own was as part of the Center’s community garden project. I actually shared the plot with two of the younger Franciscan monks who had established a friary in the neighborhood. The fellas and I would be doing something and Miss Thelma (from one side) or Miss Sara (from the other side) would lean over the little fences between our gardens and say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”. We were smart enough to stop and inquire as to what we should do. Sometimes we would be planting root crops when we should be planting leafy vegetables. Or vice versa. My first lesson in lunar gardening was to plant root crops when the moon is waning and everything else when the moon is waxing.

Later I was given calendars and books on astrological gardening and there were additional details. Different signs associate with different crops and some signs, like Leo, are only good for weeding. This year we will document our own adventure in planting by the signs. As with all horticultural documentation it will take years of keeping records and comparing to know how well we are doing and what exactly we have learned.

Along with the soil science, weather, and horticulture much about gardening is intuition. And astrological gardening is as much about mindfulness as the effect of lunar gravity on vegetable seeds and perennials. For years, mostly my late 30s, I felt like I missed spring. Gardening by the moon is one of the ways I make sure I don’t.

So far this year Pat has grown magnificent tomatoes from seed and handsome calendula, zinnias, eggplant, nasturtiums, sorrel, eggplant, and broccoli rabe. Peppers and leeks have been less successful this year. We started arugula, peas, spinach, garlic, cilantro and potatoes from scratch. All are doing well. The radishes are not doing so good, mostly because the soil wasn’t worked enough.

We are trying to create healthy soil in our backyard so this weekend we added 13 bags of soil amendments to the recently improved raised bed. It was satisfactory for a third of the bed. Turning thin, rocky New England dirt into soil the consistency of devil’s food cake – thick, moist, rich, full of earthworms (oh … devil’s food cake isn’t full of worms) -- can take years, generally seven. We are only now beginning in earnest on all the vegetable beds, so we have six more years of hauling leaf mold, composted manure, fresh manure, topsoil, and our own compost to help the worms, centipedes, and to create the living system that our dirt should be.

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