Out doing stuff in the garden, I sometimes wonder: What’s fun about gardening? What’s interesting about gardening?
European hornets are interesting. My first encounter with them — large, intimidating looking hornets with fat, yellow and black striped bodies, was a few years ago when I saw it feeding on kitchen trimmings as I was about to add more to the compost pile.
The thought of a sting from this brute seemed horrendous; I learned, though, that they’re not particularly aggressive and their sting belies their ferocious look. The menacing-looking brute that entered the schoolyard turned out to be a pretty nice guy.
My next significant encounter with European hornets was this week, as I was gazing up into the branches of my plum tree admiring the ripe, red plums, ready for harvest. Reaching up and picking a fruit left me in hand with hardly more than …
In an hour and a half this morning, a 20’ long by 3’ wide bed of spired, aging corn stalks morphed into a bed of succulent, young greenery in the form of endive and Chinese cabbage transplants.
Before beginning this job I harvested what ears were still ripe on the stalks. The yield from this first corn planting was small, both in quantity and size of ears. Old fashioned Golden Bantam, as told by its name, normally yields small ears — but not usually as small as the 3 to 5 inch long ears I harvested.
Planting in “hills” (clusters of 4 plants) usually provides for adequate pollination, but poor weather at a critical developmental stage might have thrown pollination awry.
At any rate, with ears harvested, I lopped each stalk in half with my Hori-Hori knife, then dug straight down right around the base of each hill to sever the …
With weeding, harvesting, watering, swimming, kayaking, golf, and biking to do this time of year (not that I do all these), why would anyone spend time making compost? For one or both of two reasons, that’s why.
First, as an environmentally sound way to get rid of so-called “garbage.” Landfilled, the valuable nutrients and organic matter locked up within old broccoli stalks, rotten tomatoes, even old cotton clothes are taken out of our planet’s nutrient cycle almost forever. Landfilling, to me, also disrespects the soil, that thin skin over the Earth that supports much of life here.
Once Levi’s, now almost compost
This leads to the second reason to make compost now. I require plenty of compost for my gardens so need to scrounge every bit of waste organic material as it becomes available. Even go out of my way to haul it in. Or create it.
One problem with gardening, as I see it, is that much of it is about delayed gratification. Even a radish makes you wait 3 weeks after sowing the seed before you get to chomp on it. With a pear tree, that wait is a few years.
Which brings me to compost. Now that the flurry of spring pruning and planting have subsided, I’m starting this year’s compost cycle again — that’s compost for use next year. Delayed gratification again.
Food waste, yard waste, and compostable paper make up 31% of an average household’s waste which, if landfilled, ties up land and contributes to global warming. Composted, it feeds the soil life and, in turn, plants, and maintains soil tilth, that crumbly feel of a soil that holds on to moisture yet has plenty of space for air. You don’t get all this from a bag of 10-10-10 …
“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.
’Tis the season to really put the “organic” in organic gardening. “Organic,” as in organic materials, natural compounds composed mostly of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. “Organic,” as in materials that are or were once living, things like compost, leaves, manure, and hay.
I’ve spread compost over almost all my vegetable garden beds. A one inch depth laid atop each bed provides all the nutrients the vegetable plants need for a whole season, in addition to other benefits such as snuffing out weeds, holding moisture, improving aeration, and nurturing beneficial, pest-fighting organisms.
I’m also finishing up the bulk of making new compost for the year. Pretty much everything organic — old vegetable plants, kitchen trimmings, even old cotton clothing — go into the compost piles. The primary foods, though, are hay, which I scythe, rake up, and then haul over from my hayfield, and horse manure, …
“The poor farmer grows weeds, the mediorcre farmer grows crops, the good farmer grows soil.” How true, when I think of the good farmers and gardeners I’ve visited over the years. I aspire to be a good farmdener and spend a lot of time trying to grow soil.
Growing soil isn’t all that complicated. (You do need to start with good drainage of water.)
First, keep the ground covered. Organic mulches, such as leaves, straw, and wood shavings, keep rain from pounding the surface. The pounding drives small soil particles into pores, sealing the soil surface so water can’t percolate in. Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other soil organisms gobble up organic mulches, releasing nutrients and forming humus, which improves percolation and moisture retention, and makes room also for air in the soil. In my gardens, I never want to see bare …
One of the strangest creatures I ever found in my compost was the dinosaur that emerged today as I turned the pile. It was worse for the wear, the gash in its head probably from my machete, the “solar powered” shredder I use for stemmy compostables like corn stalks. (Think about it.) After a year in the pile’s innards, the dinosaur’s greenish, scaly skin has been bleached almost white.
Dinosaur emerging from compost pile
I typically build compost piles through summer and into fall, then turn them the following spring. Turning, not absolutely necessary, lets me mark the piles progress and, as needed, fluff it up for aeration or sprinkle it if too dry. Many people use fencing to enclose a compost pile, which is effective as an enclosure but exposes the pile to too much drying air. My bins, made from …