Wednesday, February 1, 2012

where botanicals start and the art of gardening

 The weather was absolutely beautiful this past weekend. A perfect mix of mild temperatures and sunshine. Ideal conditions for a winter barn muck-out! Winter gardening is great - no sweltering heat and no bugs. What does mucking out a barn have to do with gardening? Everything! I am making soil folks. Well nature does the work once I spread the stuff around. And that truly is where all botanical art begins. Whether you draw or paint flowers or vegetables, everything gets started in dirt. (I wish to pause to state that despite what it looks like in the picture, I am NOT six months pregnant! Good heavens...due to a unique combination of shadow and pale green turtle neck colour and I don't know what, one might very well get the wrong idea here, there friends, you do not need to email me, it ain't so...)

The art of making dirt isn't complicated stuff. In the picture I am spreading the animal bedding (which contains goat urine and poo, a fabulous natural fertilizer) over an area of my garden. My goal was to lay down a deep mulch, several inches thick. Once this decomposes, we shall be left with what gardeners call black gold - incredibly rich, black soil. We have lived here four years now and we started building this garden from scratch. We expanded the area last summer to include where I am standing. Fruit trees were planted. On my right you can see our wee plum tree. I won't plant in this area in 2012. I will continue to apply a mulch of bedding material from now until spring and then it will be left alone to rot down over the summer.

Like fine art, the art of gardening is an never ending exploration. There is always something new to learn and new techniques to try. I am excited to implement some new methods of growing food in the coming years. Our goal is to grow as much healthy, organic, nutrient dense food as we can - well, all of the veggies we like. We are not creating a market garden...not yet anyway :-) 

Many people are interested in growing their own food and it really is doable - you don't need a farm. You can grow in containers on a balcony or in raised beds in a city backyard. What stops a lot of people is the idea of committing tons of time and hard work. But what if it wasn't all that time consuming or that difficult???? Sound impossible?

You might wish to check out these two writers. I read One Straw Revolution last year, written in 1975 by Masanobu Fukuoka. This formally trained plant pathologist/scientist spent 65 years developing a system of natural farming that would benefit the world. This book is considered one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement. Specifically, the author teaches a common sense, do nothing technique. He did not plow, did not weed and used no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers. What I enjoyed most in learning about his techniques was how after observing nature, what grew well and where, he started growing vegetables under trees! I had thought this was impossible as vegetables needs sunlight to grow, right? But after reading his book, I am inspired to grow food in and around my fruit trees. 

For a lighter take on the whole subject I have another author to recommend. (Mr. Fukuoka's book was translated into English and it does deal with a lot of Japanese gardening stuff that isn't so applicable, i.e. the climate is different and I am not growing rice crops, but it is still worth reading to get the gist of his philosophies)  The next wise soul is, Ruth Stout, who lived from 1884 until 1980. She lived in cities until she was 45 and then following an unexpected move to the country she tried her hand at gardening. She planted her first garden in the spring of 1930 and for many years she used conventional methods. Tired of waiting for her hired plow man to come one spring she stumbled upon a method of garden that has revolutionized the way many of us think about growing food. After adopting her new method, Ruth said, "I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or irrigate or spray." Sounds very appealing to me. Her method? Year round mulch. Of course if you don't have access to barn muck, mulch can be anything from spoiled or regular hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, sawdust and vegetable matter. Anyone can do this. Even into her late 80s, Ruth continued to grow a years worth of food for two people, doing the work entirely by herself. Ruth's books are a fun read. I have checked out a couple from the library and I am currently reading 'How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back'. Next up is her book entitled 'Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent'. Love that title! Do try to find her youtube videos. Sometimes her videos disappear due to copyright issues but there is one interview currently still available. She is a hoot. I have learned that she used to garden in the nude as she liked the feel of the air on her body, to which I wonder, does Connecticut not have bugs and what about a sun burn? Regardless, I am keeping my clothes on.


Here is what the Christmas trees look like after the goats are done. Notice the stripped bark - we have beaver goats! Eventually, what is left of the trees shall become firewood. The lad on the right is Noah's twin brother, Keeah. His Charlie Chaplin moustache markings are stains from 'beavering' away at the tree trunks. The goats never cease to surprise me.


Ann said...

I love reading about your gardening adventures! And I have heard of Ruth Stout, I should look for her books. The best garden we ever had (at our old house in town, not our present one here in the forest) was when we received sheep manure from farming friends.

Teresa Mallen said...

Hi Ann, you made it through the 'manure' post! You are a trooper indeed. LOL I am enjoying Ruth's books. They are not technical gardening tomes but more like reading a journal. Gentle reading on a winter's night. But didn't you decide that gardening wasn't quite your cup of tea? :-)

Leslie Hawes said...

Hi Teresa...Love this post!

I am a "Dirt Hugger" too.
Words like 'tilth' and compost make me all weak-kneed.
I was with you all the way while you were mucking :)

Teresa Mallen said...

Well woo-hoo Leslie - a kindred spirit!!! Don't want to get too weak kneed though - would make a messy fall! :-) Thanks for taking the time to read my soil making post and for leaving a comment. I shall think of you on the next mucking out the barn day.