. . . But My Garden is in Order
“Some men there are who never shave (if they are so absurd as ever to shave), except when they go abroad, and who do not take care to wear polished boots in the bosoms of their families. I like a man who shaves (next to one who doesn’t shave) to satisfy his own conscience, and not for display, and who dresses as neatly at home as he does anywhere. Such a man will be likely to put his garden in complete order before the snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of melancholy ruin and decay.” So wrote Charles Dudley Warner in his wonderful little book (much more than a gardening book) My Summer in a Garden (1898). I gave up shaving a few months ago, but I am putting my garden in order for autumn.
The scene is quite pretty as I look out my upstairs bedroom window upon my garden — my vegetable garden — each morning. Weeds have been removed from the paths and the beds, and spent plants have been cleared away. What remains of crops is a bed with some tall stalks of kale that were planted back in spring. Yet another bed is home to various varieties of lettuce interplanted with endive, all of which went in as transplants after an early crop of green beans had been cleared and the bed was weeded, then covered with an inch depth of compost. Also still lush green is a bed previously home to edamame, which was subsequently weeded, composted, and then seeded with turnips and winter radishes back in August.
From my window, the remaining eight beds in the garden present mostly grasses in various states of lushness. The “grass” in this case is oats, sown in any bed no longer needed for vegetables at the end of this season. I had cleared such beds of spent plants and weeds, sprinkled oat seeds (whole “feed oats” from Agway), watered, and then, as with the other beds, covered them with an inch depth of compost. One bed was finished for the season except for six floppy cabbage plants. I staked those plants up tall and out of the way, and then gave the bed the same treatment around the cabbages’ ankles.
Ready for Spring
That’s it: It all looks fresh, green, and neat — but more than that, what I did is also good for next year’s garden. Cleaning up weeds this year makes for less self-seeding of annual weeds and seeding and establishment of perennial weeds. Cleaning up spent plants takes any pest-ridden plant parts off-site, reducing chances for future pest problems.
Dense growth of oats protects the soil surface from pounding rain so water percolates in rather than skittles off the surface, promoting erosion. Below ground, oat roots pull up nutrients that rain and snow might otherwise leach away into the groundwater.
And finally, that inch depth of compost that each bed gets helps support the many beneficial fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, and other soil microorganisms that make up the soil food web. In so doing, it will provide ALL the nutrition my vegetable plants, even intensively planted vegetables, need until this time next year.
Mr. Warner, I think, would approve. Even my non-shaving; I do trim my beard regularly.
Add Water, Conveniently
A lot of compost is needed to cover all those vegetable beds. For all the beds in my two vegetable gardens, as well as those in my greenhouse, I estimate my annual needs at almost 5 cubic yards per year.
My compost is made from hay I scythe from my small field, kitchen scraps, spent vegetable plants and weeds from my garden, some horse manure in wood shavings, and, for fun, old cotton or woolen clothing, and leather gloves and shoes.
Yes, I’ve read about striking a balance between feedstuffs high in carbon and those high in nitrogen in order to get a compost pile chugging along. As important is good aeration and moisture. Most compost piles that I see suffer from thirst.
A lot of water is required to wet the inner layers of a compost pile, and applying it requires more patience than I have. So I no longer do it manually.
I purchased a small sprinkler which I connected with 1/2” black plastic tubing (the same as I use for drip irrigation mainlines) along with some L connectors to lead the water line from the top center of a pile neatly down to ground level. Water pressure is variable from my well so I also put a pressure reducer, to 15 psi, in the line; a valve needing just one-time adjustment keeps the sprinkler wetting only the top of the pile. A U-shaped metal pin keeps the sprinkler firmly in place in the center of the pile.
All that’s needed after adding a batch of material to the pile is to set up the sprinkler, turn on the spigot, and set a timer for about 20 minutes. The droplets cover the pile right to the edges and in a day or two temperatures soar to 140° or more.
Next year at this time, this year’s piles will be ready to do their part in putting my garden neat and in order.