Getting Ready to Grow

Jim and I got most of our garden in this weekend.  The funny thing about

Truck and Tomato

putting in a garden is that the smallest amount of time is spent actually planting seeds or setting in seedlings.  Most of the time is spent preparing the soil.

My first Spring in this house, Jim and I had just started dating.  The following mini-drama ensued.

ME: It’s going to be a real challenge gardening here.  My yard is pure sand.

JIM (very much in archeologist mode): Sand and trace elements.

ME: Sand.  I’m a gardener.  It’s sand.

JIM (after performing a highly scientific “spit and roll” test on a small sample taken from the yard): You’re right.  It’s sand.

In some ways, sand is actually a very good base for a garden.  It drains well, so you meet none of the problems confronted by those who garden in clay.  It has no nutrients, so very few insects choose to live in it.  Fungus and other diseases don’t thrive.

However, as I said, it has no nutrients.  If you want a good crop, you’ve got to add something to give nutrients.  I started by the very simple expedient of dropping four railroad ties on the ground to the west of the shed where I wanted my first bed to be and then filling the space inside with horse manure.  This was provided, nicely aged and mixed with cottonwood leaves, by fellow writer (and horse afficionado), Melinda Snodgrass.

I had many reasons for starting to date Jim.  One of these was that he came equipped with a pick-up truck and a ready hand with a shovel.  He got a lot of opportunities to show me how useful both of these were that Spring.  We hauled manure by the truckload.  I dug it over (I’m pretty good with a shovel myself), added water, and then put in my plants.

Despite numerous warnings this mix wouldn’t work, the tomato plants did very well.  So did the zucchini, peppers, and a few types of herbs that were about all I planted this first year.

The next year, we got more ambitious, adding another bed on the east side of the shed.  This time, Jim experimented with laying bricks for the border.  For some mysterious reason, the previous owner of the house had left a huge number of odd bricks in small heaps around the yard.  We didn’t mind.  We’re still finding uses for them.

Since then, we’ve expanded.  The east bed has been joined by a small bed that takes advantage of one of the rare patches of shade.  We plant oriental cucumbers, Swiss chard, and arugula there.  The west bed has expanded into a large C that has our tiny pond in its center.

This used to be the warmest of our planting areas, but in the last few years the catalpa trees that arrived here in a bucket in the back of (fellow writer) Pati Nagle’s sedan are now tall enough that they provide some parts of this bed with enough shade  that we can now plant bell peppers.  Before this, any pepper plant in this area just screamed in agony and refused to grow.  We can’t help but be impressed by this change when we remember that the taller of these trees was the size of a standard Number 2 pencil when we planted it.

We have a second west bed that stretches along the side of the house.  We hang bean netting from the eaves and sow scarlet runner beans and liana beans (sometimes known as “yard long” or “asparagus” beans) here.  By midsummer, our bedroom window is curtained in green leaves.  Lavender and bright orange blossoms attract numerous hummingbirds.  Lizards climb up and help out by hunting the bugs – and incidentally provide a great deal of entertainment for the cats.

But every year we need to add more nutrients.  Our neighbors save their leaves and grass clippings for us.   We practice trench composting by digging huge holes in the beds.  These are then filled with such compostable materials as leaves, grass clippings, the guinea pigs’ used bedding,  and the remnants of the wild plants.  How huge are these trenches?  I offer another small drama by way of illustration.

Setting: A cool morning in early Spring.  Jane is out digging a trench.  Across the fence, Tom, the neighbor from England, is out feeding the parakeets in his outdoor aviary.

Tom (looking over the fence): “Getting ready to bury the husband?”

Jane (glancing at the result of her labors and realizing that it would make a very useable grave): “Not quite yet.”

We never compost the remnants of our squash, peppers, or tomatoes, because this is a great way to cultivate disease, but pretty much anything else that can rot goes into the trenches.

And whenever I’m working on getting the garden ready, I can’t help but think about how much gardening is like writing.  A number of you folks have been hanging out with me for a while now.  Want to offer your ideas as to why?

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12 Responses to “Getting Ready to Grow”

  1. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    Oh, that’s easy. You have to put in a lot of manure to get something worth consuming. 🙂

  2. John C Says:

    Perhaps because the first draft — the planting — is exciting and new, but enjoying the drudge work — watering, weeding, digging out beds, editing, rewriting — is what gets you to a bountiful harvest?

    I’ve recently discovered a love for lemon thyme, with its pretty little blossoms and green stalks (can you tell I’m not the gardener in my household) which has become my favorite smell. If you have the opportunity, indulge yourself and give a little space over to our most wonderful house guest — I’m certain you’ll enjoy its presence.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I should try lemon thyme again, now that my garden is more “moderate.” I planted a wide variety of thymes when I moved here and only the English thyme took. I have several thriving patches.

      Another way to get that lovely lemon scent is lemon basil. It’s easy to grow and the scent is amazing.

      By the by, have you ever read Edward Eager’s middle grade novel, _The Thyme Garden_? Time travel and gardening… I love it!

  3. Dominique Says:

    I’ve got it! How is gardening like writing? Jane loves them both 😀 …and spends hours toiling away happily at both.

  4. heteromeles Says:

    Why hang out? Why not? I look forward to reading your posts every week. Thank you for doing them.

  5. Susan Bannister Says:

    Loved this blog–I used to love gardening–it is such good therapy and gives you time to sort out your life and thoughts–God gave us gardens for a purpose. Enjoy your Spring Jane!

  6. shibiku Says:

    While writing creatively and academically can be two very different beasts, I think that they both share the “soil prep” aspect. Before writing, you have to do the research. You have to spend time gathering quotes, or building the world. You talk about the importance of the soil in this post, and about how you want to furnish a good place for the plants to grow. The soil is all the preparation that goes into writing before writing the actual product. It’s stacks of books and pages of notes and jumbled collections of quotes, clippings, bookmarked pages, and half-written ideas. The papers where I have not provided the nutrient-rich environment for my paper to grow in have not gone as well as the ones where I start with good “soil” – good information, good notes, and good pre-writing.

  7. composerinthegarden Says:

    Jane, delighted to find your blog here – I love your writing! I actually find gardening a lot like writing music, but for me, it has two aspects. One is that it largely lives in my imagination and the physical reality of it is just an outcome and not the ideal, and the other is that it allows me to “orchestrate” in another medium – play with texture, color, story line, drama, etc. In a way that is very similar to composing.

  8. Nicholas Wells Says:

    As writers, we sometimes start with an idea that’s pretty dry and hard to work with (sand). But we work with it anyway. We infuse it with characters, settings, and a few conflicts (nutrients). Then we plant the seeds in it for the story and the plot line, and the world we are creating.

    If we find the right mixture, sooner or later, the story (garden) begins to grow on it’s own. We weed out the bad ideas, fix a few mistakes (why did I put grapes next the the California poppies?), and cultivate it so that it fills out and grow into something grand and beautiful that works well. Hopefully in a way that’s not a jumbled mess of plants that no one can make sense of.

    Finally, we share this creation with the world. People see pictures of our gardens, and/or we offer them fruit from it. Hopefully they leave enriched by the visit.

    That’s the best I can think of anyway.

    Mind you I appear to be a much better writer than I am a gardener. I live in a desert, yet I have found a way to repeatedly kill cacti. Doesn’t matter how “unkillable” it is. I’ve killed it. Thankfully my writing efforts simply fall under the “have yet to bear fruit” category.

  9. janelindskold Says:

    Wow! I’d been thinking about the “soil prep” aspect so nicely discussed by several commenters.

    However, I hadn’t thought of a lot of the other options. Thanks for adding nutrients to the compost trench of my mind!

  10. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I am so glad the teaching year is drawing to a close here and I have more time to BOTH read these wonderful posts and reply! Thanks, Jane. Great post!

  11. Morton w. Kahl Says:

    Oh, what a difference! Here,as the old cliche goes, we throw a seed down and run to keep from getting hit. We have mostly flowers, but do have some extremely hot peppers called “Locotos” We really don’t even have to water (but we do) for six months out of the year, the rainy season. It rains almost every day, but only for an hour or so. Ah, yes, the location is La Paz, Bolivia.

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