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Archive for the ‘Soil’ Category

Worm Wrangling 101

How did you spend YOUR Sunday afternoon? I spent mine in a room with about 30 “children” (ages 5-85), one instructor, and hundreds of worms.

The worms (eisenia fetida, or “red wigglers” for the less lofty) have become my garden partners. I will feed them scraps from my kitchen, keep them warm and contained, and they will produce castings that will feed my plants. I think this is a very good deal.

I took a class on raising worms from F.A.R.M.S. – Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools. These folks offer classes in gardening, cooking, healthy living, and as if that weren’t enough, offer free movies about food and farming every Friday night. The age range of students in that classroom was astounding, and a testament to the interesting and important work they do. Check out their website: http://www.mefarms.org/

In addition to information about what they’re up to, the site includes recipes and an interesting blog.

This class is useful at any time of the year, but is particularly poignant when offered to Mainers at the end of a very long winter, when spring is still many weeks away. (Mainers know that the calendar is a cruel mistress. What she says is virtually never what you get. So, March 20th is labeled the first day of spring? It is to laugh.) But thanks to my worm wrangling class, I can actually start on my garden, even when I shouldn’t start my seedlings until mid-April and I shouldn’t set my seedlings out until Memorial Day. No matter. The worms and I have plans.

It begins with humble ingredients:
— a plastic bin with air holes on all sides (including the bottom),
— a lid for that plastic bin (to keep the worms in. Yes, apparently they will wander if allowed),
— shredded bedding made of paper, coconut fiber, or woods chips (anything that holds moisture and allows the worms to burrow)
— a little grit, water, and organic food
— worms!

Here are a few photos from my happy Sunday. I’ve known about vermicomposting (using worms to transform kitchen scraps into compost) for years, but this was my first hands-on experience. It was a lovely reason to get my hands dirty.

First up: Filling my bin with shredded paper. The instructor confessed that she had just shredded mountains of bills, and brought them to class. One of the benefits, I’m sure of having a class scheduled close to April 15th:

CloseupBinHeapedWithBills

Next step: enough water to make the paper spongy but not wet. This was a delicate operation, and I confess I needed a rag to clean up the water that leaked out of the bottom of my bin. Yet another example of “More Enthusiasm Than Skill” (the name I’ve chosen for my autobiography, if I ever get around to writing it).

CloseupWaterOverPaper

Worms need grit to help them grind up their food. We were offered cups of garden limestone to sprinkle over the bedding.

CloseupGritInCup

The instructor had brought in a large bin filled with worm castings and worms. We were given sieves to tap the castings into round balls that were then easily scooped into Baggies to save for our gardens. The worms were left exposed and were easily picked up and dropped into our bins.

The instructor’s large bin was also available to the class for additional wrangling. One young girl was so thrilled at being allowed to collect worms that she offered to get mine for me. Of course I said yes!

Closeup_ChildHand_SelectingWorms

And this is what my hand-selected worms looked like in my newly made bin today:

CloseupWormsInMyBin_Better

My big compost bin is not yet set up in my garden, because I’m not sure where the beds will be laid out. And every time I’ve tossed coffee grounds and eggshells into the trash, I’ve cringed at the waste and lost potential. But now, thanks to my red wiggler pals, my kitchen scraps have a new home and a new purpose in life.

I think I’m gonna need a bigger bin.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“I used to say that one ton of worms could eat one ton of garbage. I was always thinking big like that. Then I found out that Seattle had distributed four thousand worm bins. I did some figuring and realized that worked out to ten tons of garbage going into worm bins. That’s when I realized—it’s happening!”

— Mary Appelhof, American biologist (1936-2005) — worm composting activist and author of “Worms Eat My Garbage”

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Planning the Garden

We have moved and things are different. Our mortgage is gone. Our taxes are halved. And my garden has doubled.

I left behind a 40’ x 50’ garden in New York, and now I have a 100’ x 180’ garden in Maine. I had better plan this carefully.

Here is a photo of the sketch Husband did of the area I will be working on this year. The scale: 1” = 10’.

SketchOnBoard

The rectangular shapes are stone walls, and the poofy swirls are trees.

From left to right, starting in the back: that smaller rectangular area has woods to the back and our neighbor’s field to the left (northeast). My plan is for this smaller area to have sunflowers, herbs, a seat for quiet contemplation, lots of fragrance, and lots of butterflies.

The larger area to the right will be the flower garden, with the wooded area at the far-right becoming the shade garden.

The area in the left foreground will have the orchard (we have apple, peach, and pear trees coming on April 30th!), and that circular area is the base of a silo. I’m thinking of a rose-covered arbor across the back half of that curve.

How will I tackle this enormous area? Here are my first thoughts:

Step 1. Don’t plan to do too much this first year.
Because we are starting two new businesses, which includes Husband’s art gallery and studio, and a rental apartment above the studio, and because we are having the outside of the house painted in the spring, I cannot plant everything I would like this first year.

I will not be planning or planting anything that is next to the house. I’m going to let the painters come and go as they will, trample anything they want, and I will not be biting my fist in an attempt to stop screaming. I will let this area go entirely.

I have planned 11 flowerbeds out in the back field, and I will be happy if I get 4 of those beds up and running this year.

Step 2: Know the enemy — earth.
What is under that lovely dark, formerly-a-horse-farm soil that I have out back? Is it rich dark loam, enriched over the years by those long-gone horses? Or is it one or two inches of dirt sitting on top of rock ledge? We have lots of granite rearing up that we can see, and that I’m already planning to use as flooring or backdrop for seating in the garden.

But the rest of that vast expanse….will I be able to dig beds there, or will I be begging Husband to supervise the construction of 11 raised beds?

Husband prefers I dig into the ground rather than go to the expense of building raised beds. So as soon as the ground thaws (April?) we will be out there with a metal spike and a mallet, and will tap our way across the field, trying to determine how deep the soil is. We will be graphing the underground lay of the land.

Step 3: Put my thoughts on paper.
Done. I filled several pages in my notebook with lists of the plants I wanted, with the goal of having something blooming all season long. Here’s a look at one corner of one page:

NotebookPageClose

Step 4: Shuffle the cards, and stack the “beds”.
After I write, I need to see. I wrote the name of each plant on an index card, and borrowed Husband’s colored pencils to mark the color of the bloom. Here are the pencils he so graciously loaned me:

ColoredPencilsClear

I mixed and shuffled and reshuffled these cards for days and days. I wanted the tallest of the plants at the top of the stack, with the spring-bulbs at the bottom. Once I was happy with the 11 stacks of cards, I taped them together so that I could then move the “beds” around and arrange them.

CardsOfElevenBeds

And here’s a closer look at a few of the “beds” I have planned:

BorageCardClose

LilacCardClose

WitchHazelCardClose

I am planning to scatter shade-loving woodland plants under the trees at the southeast corner of the garden. While I have these gathered into a “bed” stack, I’m going to plant them individually. Here’s what I’ve chosen:

SweetWoodruffCardClose

Step 5: Know the enemy – roots
I want a bed of mints, which means I need to plan ahead to thwart the invasive roots of these plants. I figured I would gang them up in one area, and install some kind of gulag around them. I’m planning to have monarda didyma to welcome the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and flank it with lemon balm, and mint. While I wanted peppermint and spearmint specifically, I now know that mint plants do not produce true from seed, and so my seed packet is labeled, humbly, “Common Mint.” If I want specific mints, I will have to buy plants. I may do that.

AstersCardClose

Step 6: Think tall.
I ordered some shrubs, trees, and plants from FedCo, a cooperative seed and garden supply company in Waterville, Maine. My neighbors rave about them. My garden heroes (Barbara Damrosch, for one) recommend them. FedCo offers the plants and shrubs and trees that I want, and their catalog is jammed with wonderful advice. And their prices are astounding. I had to exercise enormous restraint when filling out my order form. I got all of my taller plants from them.

FedcoCatalogClose

Step 7: Know the enemy – Odocoileus virginianus and Meteagris gallopava silvestris.
These super villains have secret identities: white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys. They have free run of the place when my dogs are inside.

I need to keep the deer out of my garden at night, and the turkeys out of the garden during the day. I have considered and rejected installing an electric fence. I am concerned, of course, with the safety of our garden’s guests, but truthfully, the most likely casualty of an electric fence ZAP would be me. I tend to look down when I am in the garden, and I’m certain I would walk directly into that fence daily.

The plan, for now, is to buy yards and yards and yards of deer netting, and fasten it to the trees on 3 sides of the garden. If that isn’t effective, I will add a 4th stretch of netting across the house-side of the garden, and will add another chore to the daily list: walking the “4th wall” across the garden and fastening it at the end of each day. I will be, I guess, tucking my garden in for the night.

And so there you have it, my Plan to-date. What’s next? My favorite task of the year: Making soil cubes and planting seeds. That will happen in mid-March, and I am counting the days.

This last plan solves T.S. Eliot’s dark observation of the despair and frustration gardeners feel each April: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

My plan is to thwart cruel April by tending my seedlings inside. When May comes, I will have my memories of gardens past, and my desire answered by the seedlings. I will be ready.

Stay tuned.

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I am starting to say good-bye. My garden is part of my very essence. We came to this home five years ago: a lovely house, and an untended yard. Husband built me a 50 X 40′ garden on a south-facing slope. It was perfectly positioned, with rich, black soil. We planted, tended, harvested, and breathed. Here is how this garden fed me, body and soul for the last 5 years.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.


The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

After one year, I’d settled in, and 2010 was the most spectacular year in the garden. I had enough time on the weekends and during the week to tend to the garden. I planted, experimented, harvested, stored, shared, and reveled.

2010: Lush!

2010: Lush!

Here are a few of my favorite crops:

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of dry shelling bean.  I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of a dry shelling bean. I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled.  A feast for the eyes, too!

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled. A feast for the eyes, too!


Broccoli, dicicco, the Italian variety.  I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

Broccoli, the Italian variety. I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

I chose flowers, herbs, and vegetables for many reasons. One of the most delightful was to attract pollinators:

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings.  It is living art.

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings. It is living art.


Bumblebee on Marigold.  I'm also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I've seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

Bumblebee on Marigold. I’m also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I’ve seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

I experimented with different techniques in planting, staking, and harvesting. My favorite exploration was with the Florida Weave: a method of staking tomato plants that supports their branches at regular intervals by weaving string between posts.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

I did battle with pests. Let’s start with the insect variety. I learned that products that show the initials OMRI on the label are environmentally safe to use. I used Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew to rescue my brassicas from the ravages of moth larvae:

BEFORE:  Ravaged kale.

BEFORE: Ravaged kale.


AFTER:  The recovery was dramatic.

AFTER: The recovery was dramatic.

I did epic battle with chipmunks. The little varmints discovered my delicious, young bean plants one year, and completely wiped me out.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year.  NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year. NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.


I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks.  MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks. MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I discovered and used fabulous tools. My favorites:

Compost Turner:  Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift.  The compost is fluffed and aerated.  I admit it, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

Compost Turner: Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift. The compost is fluffed and aerated. I admit, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.


The broadfork.  It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth.  Place, step down, rock back, remove.  Again, thrilling.

The broadfork. It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth. Place, step down, rock back, remove. Again, thrilling!

I made cloches out of milk jugs to get a jump-start on the growing season. I cut off the bottom of the jugs, cut a hole in the handle, pressed a stake through the handle into the earth, and made a mini-greenhouse around delicate seedlings. My neighbor asked if I was growing a crop of heavy cream. 🙂

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

I took great delight in starting seeds indoors and Husband made me gorgeous wooden seed trays. Like everything he puts his mind to, the results were both functional and beautiful:

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.


The trays in place, by my office window.

The trays in place, by my office window.

Another fabulous tool is the soil-block press. This particular one makes four 2″ square cubes at a time. These cubes allow the seedlings to grow without becoming root bound.

The first soil cubes go into the tray.  Ready for planting!

The first soil cubes go into the tray. Ready for planting!

I had bountiful harvests. We ate like kings, I had more than enough to share, and I tried my hand at canning. An enormous amount of work up-front, but we reaped the rewards all winter long. Another benefit of canning: you do not fear power outtages and losing an entire harvest in the defrosted freezer. Here are a few photos of the bounty:

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.


Harvested green, because frost threatened that night.  These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night. These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.


Too many tomatoes to can immediately?  I froze them, and canned at my leisure.  They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Too many tomatoes to can immediately? I froze them, and canned at my leisure. They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Jar after jar of pickles.  Dill and sweet!

Jar after jar of pickles. Dill and sweet!


Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety.  I froze many and canned even more.

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety. I froze many and canned even more.

I took the overflow into my office on a regular basis. Here is one morning’s offering:

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive!  I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive! I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

I experimented with craft projects from my gardens. Two of my favorites:

Ristra peppers became...

Ristra peppers became…

...a curtain of sorts.  I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows.  They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

…a curtain of sorts. I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows. They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

And then there were the decorative gourds that became bird houses:

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.


I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

And yes, we had birds move in!

I had the Summer of the Snakes. 2011 was the year when Black Rat snakes made frequent appearances, getting tangled in deer netting, and tangling our heart strings. Husband and I rescued 4 and had to bury two. It was emotional, more than a little unnerving, and ultimately gratifying to see the survivors slide away. MacKenzie was a little too interested in these events, and was banished inside the house.

Going back to where he belongs.

Going back to where he belongs.


Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Of course, the most wonderful part of having a garden is sharing it. No one shared it more regularly, and with so much enthusiasm as my dogs. Gordon, Puppy Extreme, sometimes was a little too enthusiastic, and had to be banished, for the safety of the seedlings:

On the wrong side of the fence.

On the wrong side of the fence.

And sweet MacKenzie just wanted to be near me. As long as a bed wasn’t planted, I had no objection to her using it as, well, a bed.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

All of these topics have been discussed in past posts. You can find more info and more photos by searching for key words/phrases.

My beautiful garden. I am leaving you! I hear the new owners are thrilled with what they saw when they came to see the house, and I hope they feel about this small patch of soil as I do:

It is a place of beauty, food, scent, and solace. I hope to carry what I have learned and felt to my new garden, one gardening zone north, and a whole new Life away.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

–Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) British horticulturist, garden designer, writer

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Get In Line!

On the 4th anniversary of digging my garden, Husband announced, “It is time to re-lay those beds.”

Sigh. That meant stakes, string, tripping over string, and lots of long, hard work. The end result? As (infuriatingly) always: perfection. Husband is an artist, and to him that means straight lines, clean edges, order — at least when it comes to building furniture or landscaping. There was no point in arguing. He was right, and I trotted along behind, toting tools, holding the tape measure, and trying not to trip.

Because my garden is on a gentle slope, and because my beds are not raised, or contained in any way by boards, they do tend to sag a bit. I tried not to draw analogies between my advancing years and my accompanying sag, and instead cheerfully helped Husband get my garden back in line.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the precision of this operation:

The top of the garden. Note the neat edges of the bed that will hold the carrots and beets this year.

And this is the pea bed. I asked for this first, as the peas were going in first:

The pea bed. I asked for this first, as the peas were going in first.

The far edge of the garden that borders Good Neighbor is also the source of poison ivy. I already have a case of it, as I went in to clear the edges and I forgot that the leafless vines were poison ivy vines. I guess it is a small price to pay for a clear flower bed for Red Spider zinnias, but it doesn’t feel like it right now. Here is the bed marked with string:

The newspapers are placed between the strings.  They will suppress the weeds.  The zinnias will go to the right of the paper.

The newspapers are placed between the strings. They will suppress the weeds. The zinnias will go to the right of the paper. Then I put straw on top of the newspaper, to give me a cushion-y place to walk, and to have it look nicer than a path of faded NYTimes.

Then I put straw on top of the newspaper, also to suppress the weeds, but also to give me a cushion-y place to walk, and to have it look nicer than a path of faded NYTimes.

Then I saw that my garlic, planted last fall, was Husband’s perfect evidence for the need to re-lay out the garden: I’d not paid attention to the bed’s intended borders, and (gasp!) a few garlic plants were placed OUTSIDE THE BED. Horrors.

Here it is: Garlic Out Of Line:

Rogue garlic.

And, huge relief: Garlic, relocated:

Garlic, relocated.

It was getting late. I was getting tired. Gordon, the new puppy (to be introduced to you soon in a post tentatively titled “Staff”), likes to dig (as he is part terrier, we think), and he “helped” by trying to dig.

Gordon Between The Strings, thinking about digging:

Gordon Between The Strings, thinking about digging.

And then, Gordon with his nose down, getting ready to dig:

Gordon with his nose down, getting ready to dig.

And finally, Gordon, broken-hearted, on the wrong side of the gate. Sorry, Gordon, but I chose my garden today over your feelings.

Gordon, broken-hearted, on the wrong side of the gate.  Sorry, Gordon, but I choose my garden today over your feelings.

As I said, it was becoming a very long day, with disciplined Husbands, undisciplined dogs, and Practical Amy, who just wanted to plant seeds in the dirt and stand back. I was trying to ignore the fact that I was starting to lose it, when I noticed a shadow of the cherry tree on the ground. The shadow looks like a crazy woman in the garden. I think it is MY shadow.

The shadow looks like a crazy woman in the garden. I think it is MY shadow.

Straight lines don’t really matter that much to me, although I do appreciate them. My garden already looks nicer, darn it. This beauty stuff, this Good Results stuff, always encourages Husband. I just have to accept that fact.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“When builders lay out straight lines, they use stakes and string. Although stakes and strings are low-tech, they’re almost fool proof: The shortest distance between any two points is always a straight line, even if the points are stakes driven in the ground.”

— From Home Depot, Canada, website

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Here we go: planting indoors for my 2012 Outdoor garden!

I made my potting mix, used my nifty soil-block cube tool, and placed chunky dirt cubes into my beautiful seedling trays. I planted with my treasured seeds, watered, placed on the seed rack up in my office, and have felt like the luckiest person ever since. It has been Only Happy Times since March 18th. Here is what happened:

I started with materials:

And following the advice of Eliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower,” I assembled compost, sand, and topsoil in my wheelbarrow:

Still following his worthy advice, I added soil amendments (See “Field Notes”):

Cottonseed meal, phosphate rock, and greensand.

And I sprinkled them atop the soil mix:

I mixed these ingredients thoroughly with a hoe, and added some water to create a moist mix that held together politely.

Time for my wonderful soil-block cube maker, tool from Johnny’s Selected Seeds:

I pressed the cube maker firmly into the dirt, turned it 90 degrees and lifted it up. There were a few hapless worms in the compost, and I promise I made every effort to remove each one gently and deposit them in my pea-bed in the garden.

The first cubes went into the first tray:

I continued to fill the trays with dirt cubes. It seems the maximum number of cubes, and therefore seedlings, that each tray will hold is 54. Not bad, when you consider that I have 8 of these trays. That’s 432 plants, if I get 100% germination! (happy happy happy)

After assembling each tray’s cubes, I dropped one seed into each dibbled hole (the cube-maker automatically adds the dibble):

Can you see the dimpled hemisphere, ready to be applied when I push down on the plunger to release the soil?

Seeds for red peppers and green peppers.

And a closer look at the seeds for the yellow pepper plants.

I planted three kinds of peppers, and thyme. I will now water gently as needed, and try to be patient until April 3, when the calendar tells me I am allowed to make more soil cubes and plant again! Stay tuned….

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“It was Hans Jenny, a soil scientist, who first pointed out that there is often more life below and within the soil than there is above it, including Homo sapiens. This inversion of soil as medium to soil as life itself should be enough to convince any agri-scientist to adopt only those means of agriculture that support and nurture this life.”

— Paul Hawken

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Beautiful Trays

They could just as easily have been discarded cookie sheets.

Instead, when I confessed to Husband that I am both greedy and cheap, and so wanted EIGHT trays for my soil cubes (that I use to plant seeds), and I didn’t want to pay for cookie sheets, he said, “Hmm, hmm, hmm.”

Translation: He’s about to make something for me.

He disappeared into the workshop, and later that day, presented me with a beautiful tray:

And then I learned the best news of all. There were 8 beautiful trays:

“Now you just have to polyurethane-the-heck out of them,” he said. (Except he didn’t say “heck.”) The polyurethane is to waterproof the trays; necessary, as I will be loading them up with moist blocks of potting mix: a blend of compost, sand, soil, and amendments. I was delighted. I would indeed treat them like heck.

Enter the tools:

In this photo: MinWax, polyurethane supreme; a screwdriver to open the lid, a brush for the poly, and a hammer to tap the lid back down.

And so I started:

The tack cloth removed the dust created from assembly. It's pink!

Then I applied the first of 4 coats of polyurethane:

I love how the polyurethane darkens the color of the wood and brings out the grain.

It took several days. Husband and I took turns applying the coats, flipping the trays over, until all were completely sealed against the damp.

Then came the day to bring them back into the house, and place them on the seed rack by my office window. Look how pretty:

And two more views:

And so, the garden of 2012 began weeks earlier than I expected. I thought my Starting Pistol would fire on March 20th, when I mixed the potting soil, set the formed cubes on rusty cookie sheets, and planted my peppers and thyme seeds. Instead, I had the great fun of helping to finish the beautiful trays for the soil cubes 4 weeks earlier. I was reminded of the quote that appears in “Words From Others,” appreciating once again Mr. Wright’s crystal clear reality. I was very willing to start my walking early, and look what I found at the end of the journey!

Almost a shame to fill these trays with dirt. (Except that this dirt is going to be GORgeous!)

WORDS FROM OTHERS

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

— Steven Wright, American comedian, actor (1955- )

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The Sweeter Side of Soil

I love my dirt. Actually, I am proud to say that I don’t really have dirt in my garden, I have soil. For evidence, I offer these definitions (both from thefreedictionary.com):

dirt (dûrt)
n.
1. Earth or soil.
2.
a. A filthy or soiling substance, such as mud or dust.
b. Excrement.
3. A squalid or filthy condition.
4. One that is mean, contemptible, or vile.
5.
a. Obscene language or subject matter.
b. Malicious or scandalous gossip.
c. Information that embarrasses or accuses.
6. Unethical behavior or practice; corruption.
7. Material, such as gravel or slag, from which metal is extracted in mining.

[Middle English, variant of drit, excrement, filth, mud, from Old Norse.]

Honestly, after you get past the first definition, why would anyone claim to garden in the dirt? Now look at the second definition:

soil 1 (soil)
n.
1. The top layer of the earth’s surface, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter.
2. A particular kind of earth or ground: sandy soil.
3. Country; land: native soil.
4. The agricultural life: a man of the soil.
5. A place or condition favorable to growth; a breeding ground.

[Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, a piece of ground (influenced in meaning by Latin solum, soil), from Latin solium, seat; see sed- in Indo-European roots.]

I claim the latter!

It started with my compost bin. I grace it with kitchen scraps several times a week, and grass clippings as often as my husband fulfills his footnote in the marriage vows.

Here is what the inside of my compost bin looks like:

Note the cavity below. That's because I recently removed several shovelfuls of beautiful compost and spread it on the bed formerly known as Zephyr Squash.

All of these ingredients cook away, and are aided by red wiggler worms. I have only seen these worms in my compost bin, never in the wilds of my garden. It is as if they spontaneously generate from coffee grounds and egg shells. They are slim, red, and they do wiggle.

Two, wiggling on my trowel. I'm certain they wiggle because they are proud of their fine work.

I planted several rows of potatoes this year, and as I harvested them, I was delighted to find a second harvest: worm castings. The earthworms are good neighbors to the potatoes, turning the soil under and over, aerating, fertilizing, and making it a powerhouse for whatever will be planted there next. Look at what I found this afternoon when I went looking for a side dish for the family:

If a Red Wiggler is a Lamborghini, then this guy is a Yukon Denali.

Look at the beautiful job this worm has done, turning dirt into soil:

Dark, crumbly, as pretty as soil gets!

When the soil is this loose and fluffy, you can harvest potatoes by hand. In fact, it is easier to do so, because your hands can feel the potatoes, whereas a trowel cannot.

Like all births, this red potato has a messy entrance into the world.

In closing, I want to share a quote from Thomas Jefferson that begins one of my favorite books, “Small-Scale Livestock Farming: A Grass-Based Approach for Health, Sustainability, and Profit,” by Carol Ekarius. Published by Storey Books in 1999, it describes and instructs the art of raising animals on grass. It reads like Truth.

And Jefferson could have been speaking of our times today. Listen to his thoughts on what work should be done by Americans, and what might be best left for others, and his thoughts on the value of citizens that love the earth…and I’m certain he was thinking soil, and not dirt.

“While we have land to labor, then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff. Carpenters, masons, smiths are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our workshops remain in Europe…. The loss by the transportation of commodities across the Atlantic will be made up in happiness and permanence of government. The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do the strength of the human body.

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.”

— Thomas Jefferson

I feel proud.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus.”

–E.B. White

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