Sunday, March 2, 2014

Too Early to Garden? Yes or no?

On one hand, the sunlight is returning to the northern hemisphere, and plants are sprouting flowers and leaf buds.

On the other hand, with half of the continent buried in snow and another third or so suffering deep drought, what’s there to do in the garden now?

My dad, who was an intense green gardener, knew that this was the time of year for some essential activities. Neglect them now and regret them later.

First on his list was to diagram the gardening areas and list the plants he wanted to be raising late in May and June. Anyone can do this, whether buried in snow, discouraged by drought, or beset by winter rain.

Next, he’d find appropriate seeds. Dad was devoted to Burpee seeds. He’d spend time with the Burpee catalog, find the seeds and plan when and how to start the seeds for perfect plants.

Third, and also essential, he’d add fuel to the compost heap.

“Heap,” you say? “There must be a better, more refined word.”

For us, it was decidedly the right word. We had a “heap.” And the word is still used in authoritative sources. Discreetly located near the southeast corner of our city lot, as far as possible from the street, it appeared to have a shape, though miniaturized, much like that of another "heap," the mountain (Rainier) we saw in the distance. Our heap was about 3 feet tall, max. See a photo of the compost heap here.

The heap consisted of taken-down leaves and stems of plants from last year’s garden, lawn clippings and food scraps, all carefully parlayed into a gold mine of energy for the garden. But to build to their full energy, those ingredients required one other: chicken manure. Chicken manure heated up the heap. 

Chicken manure could be added in any amount to the heap at any time of the year but
had to be added in March to jump start the decay process.

We, the family members, raised our own poultry in the backyard and carefully gathered and used the
manure droppings they provided. But Dad wanted more than our flock provided. To get it, he drove out of Tacoma into a rural Pierce County poultry farm. There he’d buy a tub full of chicken manure, haul it home in the trunk of the family car, and mix it into the heap.

How did my dad get his gardening ideas? For one, he was an early and constant subscriber to “Organic Gardening Magazine.” We four family members longed for the day when we’d open the mailbox door and find the latest issue. We competed to read it first.

But my neither he nor my mom were preoccupied with gardening as a hobby. Instead, green gardening was just their way of life.

It became a way of life for my brother and me, too. Throughout the year we had our own responsibilities. Jerry and I helped to provide food for the family table and were proud of our role. Long after we were out of the house, we’d come back for family celebrations and inspect our parents’ large, organic garden and flower beds.

Here’s a recap: Plan the garden, identify a source or sources for your seeds, and get that heap hot!

Question: Yes or no: are you doing anything in your garden now, or laying plans for later activities?


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