Last Sunday the the weather (overcast and cool, but not raining) and my schedule (no planned activity) allowed me to dig my main garden in preparation for spring planting. This is a critical beginning to the gardening year because digging fluffs the soil, gets those microbes converting the generous amounts of organic matter (read: cow poop) into available nitrogen, and removes the weeds that got established in the long autumn demise into winter last year.
Actually I first dug around a few weeks ago just as the ground was thawing — first to yank the encroaching lawn from the edges of the established space (Nature really does abhore a vacuum, and she seems to regard a garden plot as wholly un-Natural, and she’s probably right), then to get my peas and fava beans into the ground. These are cool weather crops that don’t mind cold soil, and need this head start to flower and fruit before the heat of summer comes along. We will usually JUST get a crop of peas on the table by July Fourth so that we can consider ourselves good Yankees in the process (something about peas and salmon on the Fourth — I’m not quite sure where that came from…).
The other critical issue are black flies — this is a miserable job to do when the black flies come out because it takes a good three or four hours of digging alone, which leaves you naked and exposed to these devil bugs from hell. Normally the Black Flies swarm between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but it’s always relative to when the soil (and therefore the streams from which they hatch) warms up. Basically, we have about a two week window between garden thaw and the first black flies, so one is best to jump on the digging as soon as one can. I will likely describe them in a later post for those of you who are interested…
This year, like a good organic Doobie, I added some rock powder amendments to the garden because it has been a while: 100 pounds of rock phosphate, 50 pounds of Sul-Po-Mag, and 75 pounds of Green Sand (which is really green!).
I use a “broad fork” to do my digging — no dino-juice powered implements here. My philosophy is that my vegetable garden can be no bigger than that which I can dig by hand. The broad fork, since it’s as wide as four normal garden forks, helps with this regard, but only in a reletively weed free soil, which I’ve managed to create after many years of backbreaking single fork weed yanking. But now I’ve got this 80′ x 60′ main garden (a little more than a tenth of an acre), plus a 60′ x 15′ auxilliary garden (where Alison planted our garlic last year, the tips of which are now poking up through the soil), plus the 32′ x 17′ hoop house. I can now confidently plan to hand dig all of this, and it’s now ALMOST too much space for us — last year I never did end up using about 200 square feet that I kept thinking I would use for a second planting of beets and carrots and chard…I’m sure I’ll think of something to use that space for this year, but it’s nice to know our needs aren’t currently outstripping the strength of my back.
After I spent most of the afternoon spreading rock powder, pulling more grass from the edges, and digging, I somehow still had some energy left and managed to plant our onion seedlings, which Alison started in February. They look like chive leaves right now, but they’ll definitely benefit from getting into the ground early — we should be on our way to another crop of rock solid fist sized storage onions. And by coincidence, while digging I also found a wayward unharvested head of garlic from last year’s crop that had just started to sprout into eight new heads. Instead I minced them, greens and all, and added them to our mashed potatoes for that night’s dinner. Yum.