Saturday, October 20, 2007

October preparations for spring

This is the time of year to take two steps to start (or continue!) a garden next spring.

(1) Collect leaves! People kindly put them on their curbs, and it is legal to relieve municipalities of the expense of carting them away. Fred brings me home about 100 bags of leaves each fall. At 20 lb. a bag, that's a ton of leaves that have disappeared into our property each year for over two decades. They are a major source of what we eat. :) The only other off-site items that I have used for more than a decade are grass clippings, wood chips, and commercial seeds.

(2) If you are going to start gardening next spring, now is a good time to double dig the promising plot. Remove the topsoil from a plot about 2' x 2' and put it on a piece of plastic. (I use old plastic bags in which we have taken others' leaves.) Then dig a second layer, adding organic matter --leaves if you don't have compost. Then you move along, putting the topsoil of the next spot on the "empty" spot where you just worked (instead of on a plastic bag) so you can dig the second layer there.

The books say to drag that first clump of topsoil to cover the last place, but I go around in circles so it's easy to dump when you get back "home." A much more detailed description of "double digging" is in John Jeavons' book HOW TO RAISE MORE VEGETABLES THAT YOU EVER THOUGHT ON LESS LAND THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. It should be in your local library; if not, order it. Or maybe you want to buy this excellent paperback book.

Excavating in Montclair has its interesting aspects. There are plenty of stones, of course, of varying sizes. About a foot down below my yard was a nineteenth century cement floor, which I dug into the soil to combat its acidity. I was told that ours was the depot for milk delivery at some time, but a map of the 1870's doesn't show that. Maybe earlier? Tools, vases, and toys are other occasional artifacts.

These days there are 2"-5" holes amid my plants. They are dug over night. Bob, the more experienced gardener across the street, tells me the diggers are skunks and I should be grateful because they are eating slugs that I don't need. Mostly the diggers are very considerate of the plants I cherish, but they goofed one night this week and dug up some small green lance seedlings that I had put out from my greenhouse windowsill. Maybe they seemed too small to be worthy. Everyone makes mistakes.

It's harder to explain why the lettuce I sowed two weeks ago outside with 2007 seeds has not germinated. The lettuce I sowed from the same packet a month earlier in the window germinated fine and thrives outside now; we ate some for dinner last evening. Gardening is full of puzzles. I suspect we are not supposed to know everything. "We see through a glass darkly," says the Good Book, a sentiment I find consistent with my observations. Still, I miss that non-germinated lettuce! My own patience seems not to be unbounded, as hard as philosophy and religion try.

Good news includes the fact that Fred and I each enjoyed 13 raspberries this morning for breakfast -- not as many as two weeks ago, but still delicious.


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