May 2015 be a good year for you.
Yet another year is here. We hauled the first 2015 load of manure yesterday, and spread it around the bramble fruit patch. In a few days we’ll send in our annual Fedco Seeds order.
At a supper with some friends the other night there were six of us at the table, three couples, who have been friends for a long time. The “newcomer” among us has been around for about fifteen years. Three of us have known each other for sixty years or more.
One of the delights of such long friendships is that half a sentence, a word, a name, or a nod, can be as nuanced and complete as an hours-long conversation with someone you’ve just met. Most of us are grandparents now. We’ve seen and known five generations of our respective families, and with any luck, we’ll see a sixth generation.
The complete history of Wishetwurra Farm and its garden would fill a book. The book hasn’t been written, but our first memory of it is from middle childhood. Then it was the back part of what had been the West family’s old cow pasture,and was starting to grow over with bushes and small trees. The boundary of the field was snakily delineated by a fence that was a history of wire technology. The fence contained both thick and thin smooth round wires, spiral twisted flat wire, and several varieties of barbed wire. In many places the strands were buried deeply into the trees to which they had been stapled. The old field was place to pick blueberries, to play. Later it was a place to pitch tents, and to build tipis. I was in that field on March 7, 1970, to watch an almost-total eclipse of the sun. That eclipse is the one mentioned in Carly Simon’s song, “You’re So Vain”.
There was little topsoil here to start with. How much? Just a few inches. Wishetwurra Farm is mostly glacial moraine. Many feet of gray clay mixed with patches of smooth old alluvial gravel lie beneath our feet. A third of the Wishetwurra Farm garden dates to between 1980 and 1985, and has been cultivated for over thirty years. The other two-thirds of the garden is around twenty years old. That section got started when one day a friend gave me a surprise gift — a truck appeared with a large load of manure and dumped it in the middle of what had once been my childrens’ horse paddock. That great pile of poo was unexpected. But gratefully accepted.
Let’s start the tour of the garden, and see what it looks like at the start of 2015.
Just outside the garden gate is a big compost area, inside a concrete block perimeter. It’s almost full of layers of organic material and manure. We throw some of the ashes from the woodstove onto this pile, for the liming action of the calcium carbonate, which makes up about one-quarter of wood ash. Ashes are also a good source of potash, plus a few other minor nutrients.
From our usual vantage point, sixteen feet up, we see the shadow of the old goat barn on the north part of the garden.
Winter. The sun is far to the south.
Shadows are long at this time of year.
The low temperature forecast for two nights from today is 5°F.
The main activity for the last few months, since the first frosts, has been garden cleanup and soil building.
Looking farther south, we see still more shadows, in the far end of the garden.
The garden did well this year. We’ll be eating from it all winter, from the freezer, from underground bins, from jars of preserves, and from plastic bags — plastic bags filled with dried fruit and dried tomatoes.
An old handbook from our local Agricultural Society describes successful gardening as “hauling”. We hauled plenty of stuff this year, as we do every year. The year’s hauling tally was thirty-three pickup truckloads of manure and seven loads of seaweed. Not a record, but a good year nonetheless.
The years of work, digging, tilling, and hauling-in of organic material has steadily improved the soil. It’s now fertile, loose and productive. The goal for all this work is get the soil so good that we don’t need to dig any more. Some old British gardening authorities don’t use the word “dig”, but instead will say “Before planting, stir the earth —“.
That’s what we want.
To be able to “stir the earth”, add a few seeds, and step back.