Posts Tagged ‘prepare soil’

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A Good Day

May 21, 2010

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I love a good day, when something simple presses through your veins and you can’t help smiling until the nighttime stars appear. To a mathematician a good day would be solving a complicated problem. A surfer looks to the ocean for a good day. For a gardener, it might be tilling the earth, harvesting veggies or flowers or if you’re like me, planting.

If I had a million dollars, I’d buy a million plants. Pot some up and earth-bound the rest. What an exotic dance that would be, a regular ongoing gala drunk in happiness for months. Heaven! Pain and sorrow forgotten for the duration, unanswered questions and forked roads put aside. Inactive dreams and disappointments lost in ecstasy. This is why people have hobbies. For good days, like the one I recently had.

My husband’s cowboy friend who owns the cattle grazing my land rounded them up and hauled them off to the property he recently bought. Cowboy friend won’t be bringing them back. (No, Cowboy’s not tall, dark, and handsome. Heck, he doesn’t even wear a cowboy hat. He does ride a horse and brand cattle. By my standards, that’s a cowboy.) The cattle-less pasture opened up opportunity. The Blue Lake bean seeds that the raised bed couldn’t accommodate could now grow along the fence. No cows to eat the vines.

It didn’t take long to sow the beans. My husband, Joe, helped. Four hands are better than two are. A small project Joe’s tired body could handle after a 16-hour-a-day workweek. Joe turned over the soil with a shovel and stapled wire to the fence boards. I was so excited, standing there holding the wire to keep it from springing back and slapping Joe in the face, I could have been in the Garden of Eden.

Since I didn’t have aged manure, I threw potting mix into the upturned soil. (When you live 17 miles from town, you use whatever’s in the shed.) I don’t recommend using potting soil because it won’t blend with dirt, at least most won’t. But the cheap concoction that Lowe’s employees’ uses, does. In fact, I like it better than the higher-priced outdoor amendments that I’ve used in the past. The best way—the proper way—to prepare the soil is to work fertilizer in at least one month before planting. Sometimes you just have to do what you can, when you can. It all works out in the end.

I can’t explain my excitement of sowing a seed or planting a tree except to say there’s more to it than just getting close to nature. The creative action stirs my soul in the moment and for the future. On Dancing with the Stars, I recently heard it said that Pro Dancer Anna Trebunskaya knows how to bring about situations that will lead her to success. Perhaps this is why I enjoy planting so much. Success is right around the corner. I can’t help feeling rich.

This weekend I’m going plant hunting. My backyard is nice but it needs color for the intimate wedding a week from Sunday. My hope is to find a red Japanese Maple tree, hydrangeas, and maybe some vincas. The bargains have to be there or I won’t buy. Even when Joe isn’t working under wage and benefit cuts, 99.9 percent of my purchases will be discounted. I rarely pay full price. Great buys make me feel like I’m contributing to the household, successful. I’ll need pots and potting mix as well. So wish me luck. I’m looking forward to more planting, this time for a young couple in love. Another good day, for sure. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Field Trip

April 8, 2010

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A recent visit to Metzger Farms knocked my ideals about meticulous gardens down a notch or two. Randy Metzger, retired county assessor, and his wife Susan have lived on their ten-acre farm in the Sierra foothills since 1978. Fruit trees, vineyards, gardens, a pond, and outbuildings circle the couple’s log cabin home.

Randy has been gardening since 1951. His newest garden lot, secured from deer by a ten-foot high fence, lies north of the cabin, tucked out of view. Inside the fence, the grounds look like an unkempt prairie of weeds. I’m talking, thick growth three-foot high. However, what seemed out of control are actually cover crops. Tucked among them were some of last season’s overgrown cauliflower and cabbage. There were probably other vegetable varieties, but they were difficult to spot among the cover crops.

A gardener of medium to high standards would have dispelled a frown across the muddle swell. Much as I love gardens for their beauty (and fresh flavors), a recent horticulture class on cover crops gave me a sense of appreciation for what was actually happening in Randy’s garden. This feeling was liberating. It told me that something good and wonderful was taking place. Life was regenerating itself in a natural and healthy way. No chemicals. Whatever nutrients last season’s vegetation sucked from the soil was going back into it. The incoming plants would flourish.

“You can tell how good your soil is by how the cover crop looks,” Randy said, pointing to a lush area then to a dwarfed one. Cover crops improve the soil’s health and structure, naturally. They prevent erosion and can choke out weeds. Leguminous cover crops add nitrogen.

Randy also leaves some of last season’s vegetable stocks in tact. Many were dead . . . brown woody-debris-dead. Get them out-of-here, they’re ugly dead. Others were living, giant monstrosities with flower stocks shooting up, going to seed. About a month before planting new vegetables, Randy mows and tills everything into the earth to decompose and to amend the soil with organic matter. This is what professional horticulturists do . . . care for the soil first, before they plant. Randy sows everything from seed in his little greenhouse, and then sells his vegetables, fruits, cider (as well as plants), June through Thanksgiving.

Most likely, there’ll be a cover crop growing in my garden this winter. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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March Garden Tasks

March 1, 2010

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Please note:  What I write in this space are lessons learned through trial and error, research, and from other gardeners and professionals. I garden in zone 9, but share garden experiences that I believe are relevant to most zones within a reasonable time frame and planting conditions.

March . . . the bridge between late winter and early spring. This is the time frame when gardeners itch to get his or her hands dirty, and can’t wait to spend spare hours in the garden. For many of us, though, it’s still too early to plant summer annuals and veggies outdoors, but there are plenty of garden tasks and spring plantings to keep us satisfied. Here are a few.

In the vegetable gardenIndoors sow seeds of eggplant, lettuce, peppers, Swiss chard, tomatoes. Outdoors direct-seed beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach. Transplant your seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, parsley, and onions. Feed fruit trees, berries, and grapes; check with your local nursery professional for organic fertilizers.

In the landscape:  Use a slow-release fertilizer around shrubs and perennials. Feed rhododendrons when buds emerge and for fuchsias when signs of new leaves appear. Remember to use fertilizer designed especially for these and for azaleas and camellias. Gardenias should receive one feeding starting mid-March, and again in April and May. Apply preventive spray to roses for mildew, rust, and blockspot. Before leafing-out begins transplant shrubs and roses.

Outdoors, sow seeds of columbine, foxglove, poppy, stock, delphinium, violet. Plant gladiolus bulbs every two weeks. Other bulbs are dahlias, cannas, lycoris eucomis, kniphofia, and tuberous begonias. Feed bulbs that have bloomed recently. If your region is free of frost danger, direct-plant pansies, snapdragons, Lobella, and violas. Indoors, sow annuals such as morning glories, Zinnias, asters, marigolds, coleus, vinca, petunia, and impatiens.

If you didn’t cover the soil last fall with mulch, to prevent weeds, you can do this now in areas where you’re not going to plant. Place a thick layer (3-6 inches) so the weeds don’t receive light, which is required for seeds to germinate. Keep mulch 3-6 inches away from base of plants. If too close (or placed against trunks), rot and disease can occur. It’s also an invitation for insects to attack your plants. Organic mulches to consider are non-chemically treated grass clippings, straw, wood chips, shredded leaves.

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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