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Plugin by Hendrik Bahr.
I’ve learned a lot about weeds over the decades, but I was never given the ominous warning “one year of seed, seven years of weed” until last year. I think every novice gardener should be given a t-shirt with this bit of wisdom. On the other hand that bit of wisdom might be too discouraging for a beginner.
The truth is that if you are a gardener, you will have weeds. All kinds of weeds, and all are fascinating in their own right.
Today I was trying to weed around the Rose Walk. The weeds here are very familiar to me. First there is the prettiest weed, galium or bedstraw. When I first noticed this weed many years ago I thought it was so pretty coming up in the middle of a rose bush that I hardly bothered to pull it out. I thought it turned the whole rose bush into a bouquet, like adding a bit of baby’s breath, gypsophilia, to a handful of flowers. Unfortunately, the variety of galium growing in my garden, Galium mollugo, has invaded thousands of acres of pastures and hayfields and been an enormous problem for farmers. In spite of the legend that Galium aparine was in the manger where the Christ Child was laid on Christmas, leading to the name Lady’s bedstraw, cows won’t eat this bedstraw. Do not be seduced by the delicacy of the foliage and flowers; galium is a bad weed.
Another pretty weed is purple vetch. Vetch in my garden is fighting with the bedstraw on the Daylily Bank, right next to the Rose Bank. Purple vetch, like the galium has long loose stems with tendrils and fine foliage that will climb up and through other plants. I have to find an end of a vetch vine, and plow my way down the stem, through the heavy daylily foliage until I can put it out by the root. If I don’t weed it out, the whole daylily bank will be covered with a purple haze of the flowers – and then the seed pods will drop hundreds more seeds into the soil.
Less pretty is the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Children who spend any time in a garden learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick. Every part of the stinging nettle plant has tiny hairs that are like little hypodermic needles that release a venom into your skin. The sting will vary in intensity person to person.
A traditional soothing agent is the crushed leaves of curled (or curly) dock, Rumex crispus, which often grows near nettles. I can testify that curled dock does indeed grow near nettles in my garden. Dock is tall, about four or five feet, with narrow lanced shaped leaves, large at the base and smaller near the top. It took me a long time to recognize that the upright spike sections were made of scores of tiny flowers. There are many surprises when you really get to know your weeds.
Nettles are easy to pull out of the ground when wearing gloves, but dock is something else. The roots are tenacious and greenish-brown stems are very fibrous requiring a garden clippers to cut.
Nettles sting, but burdock grabs you and won’t let go. The burrs on burdock are one of the ways Mother Nature make sure seeds are carried hither and yon. You don’t have to be a gardener to recognize burdock. These weeds are everywhere.
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is one of the commonest weeds in the vegetable garden. I can never rid my Herb Bed of purslane. When I read Charles Dudley Warner’s delightful and humorous book My Summer in a Garden about the trials and tribulations of a vegetable gardener, I echoed his complaints about “pussley” which was the scourge the garden. Purslane is a succulent weed that creeps along the ground that produces tiny white flowers that will quickly turn to seed. But I have found that if I leave the tiniest bit of root or a leaf of purslane in my soil it will never be eradicated.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a weed is just a plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” According to that definition most of these plants are not weeds because generations of gardeners, herbalists and apothecaries have found them useful and full of virtue.
Galium aparine has been used in spring drinks to purify the blood for centuries, and treated skin complaints including psoriasis. Its been used as a diuretic and as a remedy for scalds and burns – as well as many other medical problems. Dock shares many medicinal properties with Galium aparine.
Nettles were once used to make linen even as late at World War I when many materials were in short supply. Dried nettles and nettle seed have been used as feed or cows, horses and birds. They have numerous medicinal properties, treating conditions as different as arthritis and migraines. Nettles have also been used for nutritious soup or in puddings. Purslane, too, is edible and nutritious, but has fewer medicinal uses.
Burdock is a big imposing plant each part has been used medicinally. Decoctions of the seeds are said to improve the skin, bruised leaves will soothe various bruises, swellings and even gout. In the Middle Ages burdock leaves macerated in wine were considered a cure for leprosy. The roots are still used as a vegetable, most frequently in Japan.
That leaves us with the pretty and useless vetch. Do not eat it. It is toxic.
Useful or not, all the weeds I have pulled or dug these past few days have been dumped in the weed pile.
Visitors to the Last Rose Viewing at the End of Knott Rd in Heath on Sunday, June 27 from 1-4 pm will surely find more weeds, but we can celebrate everything – summer, roses and weeds.
Between the Rows June 28, 2015
The Last Rose Viewing has come and gone, but it was an unforgettable day – Rain! I always said ‘It never rains on the Rose Viewing’ but that record was broken on Sunday when there was mist – and then real rain. But hardy souls turned up anyway dressed in slickers and boots, umbrellas at the ready.
It was not only raining, it was cold. Those little girls were not happy. This was not their scene. However, before everyone left we enjoyed a tribute to the roses, sung by two very creative and musical friends, Dave Gott and Ted Watt, to the tune of The Last Rose of Summer. Poet Thomas Moore wrote the original poem, but it was much too sad for even a day washed with rain.
“T’is the last Heath Rose Viewing/ In a wold drenched with rain/ But kind friends have here gathered/ To give tribute again.
To the love of pure beauty/ That this garden brings to all/ Thank you dear Pat and Henry/ for your gifts great and small.
We have swooned over Mabel/ Red Knockout and White Dawn/ Coveted Cuisse de Nymph/ Carefree Beauty and Champlain.
We have rambled this hill top/ Paradise so close to heaven/ May we all cherish memories/ Of these times we have been given.
Granddaughters Tricia and Caitlin kept the hot tea flowing by the fireside. The traditional menu of cookies and strawberries was at hand.
There will be roses at the Greenfield house, but it will be a while before they are ready for viewing.
Now that I have planted Greenfield hellstrip I can make the official announcement: we are the proud owners of a small house with a small yard in Greenfield. The house has garden space on the south side and a rectangular back yard, but there is only a small front yard plus a hellstrip, which a polite person might call a curbside garden. Once it is planted.
The house does come with a few small plantings of lovely perennials, but essentially we are being given a blank slate to design a whole new garden. Where to begin?
I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new space, even a temporary motel room on vacation, I have the need to mark my space. The result in a motel room can be pretty messy, but the result in a new house is achieved differently. For example, the living room and dining room in the new house were respectively bright yellow and sage-y green. Perfectly fine colors. Was I happy? No.
So to mark my space I enlisted a young friend to help me paint those two rooms. Eva painted the living room a slightly different shade of sage-y green, very similar to our Heath living room, while I painted the dining room a glowing peach color. When I look into that room I feel like the sun is shining even when it is not. I have marked my space and the house begins to feel like home.
The yard is small compared to the cultivated landscape around the Heath house, but it is still too large to handle without a lot of thought and lots of work. I needed a small space to help me mark this landscape as my own. The hellstrip was the answer.
Here in the countryside we don’t have hellstrips, but they are very common in urban areas. The area between the roadway and the sidewalk often officially belongs to the town. Trees on the hellstrip are usually the town responsibility. It is unrealistic to think that a town administration can care for all these spaces and most of them remain grass, mowed by the homeowner.
Over the past few years, however, I have noticed that some home owners have taken ownership of the hellstrips and turned them into curbside gardens. Some of them have tough low groundcovers with a few flowers, and some have riotous displays. Last summer Timber Press sent me a new book to review, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb. This is a comprehensive book that includes inspiring gardens in different climes, how to handle difficult situations from road maintenance to laws and covenants, how to choose plants and reduce your labor, as well as a list of “curbside worthy plants.”
I turned to this book for a refresher course and set to work. To say I started with a plan would be inaccurate, but I am happy with what I have done so far.
My hellstrip was all grass. I asked my husband to zip it down to the soil with a weed wacker. Then we took turns digging out the sod. We did this by stages, and of course, I neglected to take a before photo before we began. However, I am sure you all know what a grassy hellstrip looks like.
I dug up the first three foot section at both ends of the hellstrip, dug in some good compost and planted white astilbes and Stella d’Oro daylilies dug up from the front yard. Since these plants were dug, and replanted within minutes they suffered very little shock and I do not think I have lost any bloom.
My husband looked at these two plantings and reminded me that they shouldn’t be too symmetrical. He knows me so well. When I dug the next section I planted clumps of a chrysanthemum and bee balm from Heath as well as the annual Salvia Hot Lips when has already brought a little color to the strip.
More digging, removing sod and incorporating compost before more planting. This time I added daylilies, yarrow and cone flowers from Heath, more astilbe and an aster from the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.
I am not quite done planting. I need to pick up some new daylilies from the local Silver Garden Daylilies, and see what else I can bring from my own garden to finish. Please notice that many of these plants will support the pollinator population with their nectar and pollen. All will be cut down in the fall. Any plowed snow that is pushed on them will do no harm.
My new curbside garden has two sections. The third section is an extension of the walkway from the side walk to the porch steps. That will provide a path for the passenger from a car parking right in front of the house. I will have to think of a way to keep it weed free. Peastone? Wood chips? Big paving stone? That will require more thought.
So here we are, just a month into our new ownership and I feel I have marked our space. In the past when I have moved I have felt that if I had a few pots and pans and a box of books easily accessible I would feel comfortable and able to operate. This move has required more. Pots and pans, and boxes of books are already in place. Two rooms are painted with my own chosen colors.
Now the bit of (almost) finished garden in front of the house marks my outside space and makes me comfortable, but it also tells my neighbors, who we are slowly meeting, something about us and one of the ways we want to become a part of the neighborhood.
Keep watching for more developments as we slowly make a new garden.
Between the Rows June 20, 2015
This year the Annual Rose Viewing will be the Last Rose Viewing – at the End of Knott Road in Heath. The Rachel Rose, named for one of Heath’s grand dames, will be holding court with other notables like The Queen of Denmark and Madame Plantier.
The rugosas are among the first roses to bloom in June. Fragrant Mount Blanc is one of my favorites.
Thomas Affleck does not have the promised fragrance (at least not in my garden) but he does bloom energetically early and late in the season.
The Rose Viewing is always the last Sunday in June because these hardy and old fashioned roses bloom for such a short season, and the end of June is when I can count on most of them to be strutting their stuff. This year that is June 28 from 1-4 pm. Cookies and lemonade will be served. The weatherman is predicting rain, but so far it has never rained on the Rose Viewing. We’ll see.
The Amherst Historical Society is helping the Garden Club of Amherst celebrate their 100th anniversary – in its own way. The Amherst Historical Society will hold its Annual Garden Tour June 27 from 10:00-4:00. Tickets are available at A.J. Hastings, Andrews Greenhouse, Amherst Books and Hadley Garden Center. For more information click here.
100 YEARS! In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Garden Club of Amherst is holding a lecture by Roger Swain, the former host of PBS Victory Garden, Sunday June 28, 2:00 p.m. at the Yiddish Book Center with a reception to follow. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased at A.J. Hastings, Andrew’s Greenhouse, Bay State Perennial Farm, and Hadley Garden Center. Come hear “the man with the red suspenders”!
Ruah Donnelly’s house overlooks a wooded ravine, a tapestry of shades of green and shifting light. There is not a flower in sight. Donnelly says that over her years as a gardener she has experienced a growing struggle between wanting art in the garden and wanting to conserve the landscape. While she thinks conservation is winning the battle, any visitor to this garden and landscape will see no struggle, only beauty.
Donnelly’s garden is only one of the unique private gardens, and farms, on the Franklin Land Trust Garden Tour that is open to visitors on Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm.
For the past 15 years Donnelly has been gardening on what is considered the site of the oldest farm in Conway. She loves the New England landscape where she has spent most of her life, and has dedicated great energy to its beauty by serving on the boards of TowerHillBotanical Garden, the New England Wildflower Society and the Franklin Land Trust. When she began planning the Conway landscape she said, “I wanted to figure this out. I didn’t want it to look like New Jersey. I wanted to let nature have something to say, without too much pruning, or too many flowers.” She also said that at this time of her life she needed to make it sustainable. She cannot be out in the garden doing everything all the time.
Donnelly’s garden is essentially a woodland garden. There is the Grove, a stand of trees that has grown up around the cellar hole of the original house. It has been ‘edited’ so that you can see the form of the trees and stroll through the grove which is underplanted thousands of daffodils that have naturalized and bloom in the spring, as well as native groundcovers like epimediums, and ferns. One of the striking shrubs growing beneath the trees is a large Calycanthus floridus which has graceful lax limbs and fragrant, wine red fragrant flowers that are responsible for its common name sweetshrub.
There is art in the grove as well a very large black and yellow container holding shining yellow begonias. “Yellow is an accent in the grove, and points up the beauty of all the green.”’
Even so, beyond the desire for some ornamental plantings, “What makes me happy is the deeper question, of finding ways to make the landscape more beautiful in ways that are good for the land. I want to bring out the best in the woodland; that is something beyond my own pleasure,” she said.
Donnelly took me on a long walk across a lawn that edges an unmowed field that hides the road, through the Grove on paths that allow you to see the plants, across more lawn to an old barn surrounded by lilacs and peonies and other old fashioned plants, past ancient apple trees, to a planting of new apple trees. We walked towards another woodland at the edge of the ravine. Some of the trees had been pruned recently and the branches and limbs were chipped to make a mulch. That wood chip mulch will eventually rot and provide nourishment for the soil. This sounds a lot like “let the carbon stay where it falls”, which I have mentioned before.
We sat beneath the trees on one of the well placed benches, and watched the large swath of hay scented ferns, bowing in the breeze like waves on the sea. But still more sections of the garden were urging us onward. We wandered back towards the house, under the silverbell tree where we were surrounded by fragrance, admired the espaliered star magnolia behind an herb garden, and on toward more magnolias.
I did not realize that so many magnolias were hardy in our area but Donnelly explained that many native species are hardier than the more ornamental hybrids that have been developed.
Donnelly has written two books, The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New England and The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New York and New Jersey, about interesting nurseries that sell natives and other interesting, less common plants. The books are somewhat outdated, as nurseries have gone out of business, but you can find the books online and many nurseries, like Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst are still going strong. One nursery she recommended is the Broken Arrow nursery in Hamden, Connecticut which specializes in mountain laurels, and other unusual plants like the sweetshrub. Also she reminded me that Nasami Farm in Whately, the propagating wing of the New England Wildflower Society, is now open every weekend, all season long, and offers many native flowers, shrubs and trees
There are other treats in Donnelly’s garden: a vegetable, herb, and flower potager surrounded by a wattle fence, and a hedge made of living basket willows woven together. There is also a Witches’ Walk, a woodland allee of witch hazels, something you will not see anywhere else. I love the way gardeners find a way to share their sense of humor as well as their gardens.
This year the Franklin County Land Trust Garden Tour is featuring gardens and farms in Ashfield and Conway. Tickets, $15 for members, and $20 for non-members, may be purchased any weekday at the FLT office at 5 Mechanic Street, ShelburneFalls or on the morning of the event at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market, Ashfield Town Common. Lunch tickets for an additional $15 are available with a reservation. The FLT website, www.franklinlandtrust.org has more information about the Land Trust mission, and about the tour. For still more information e-mail or call Mary with questions: email@example.com or 413.625.9151
Between the Rows June 13, 2015
On this June Garden Bloggers Bloom Day we feel summer has finally come to our hill in western Massachusetts. Consistent warm weather has been a long time coming and some plants show cold damage that arrived all too late in the season. This section of our lawn remains a flowery mead because I have planted daffodils here and we have to wait this long before mowing down the spent daffodil foliage.
At this time of the garden season we are madly preparing for the Annual Rose Viewing on June 28. This year it is the Last Rose Viewing because we will be moving to Greenfield very soon. This rugosa rose, Apart, is as beautiful and fragrant as ever, but the bush did take a winter beating and is rather smaller than usual.
Harrison’s Yellow is one of the earliest bloomers. There won’t be much left by the Rose Viewing.
Therese Bugnet has the delightful energetic spread of the rugosas, but her foliage is a bit smaller and finer. She is wonderfully fragrant. Other roses aare blooming, Dart’s Dash rugosa, two unamed but vigorous roses, one low and one tall, Rosa Rubrifolia (or Glauca), yellow Alchymist, Woodslawn Pink, and Purinton Pink.
Thomas Affleck is an astonishing rose, blooming early and late. I planted him near the door because the catalog promised fragrance, but that has never appeared. You can see there is a little cold damage from a night or two ago. More roses have yet to bloom.
This isn’t a great photo of my favorite white rugosa, tall and fragrant Mount Blanc, or the iris, but I wanted to give them both credit for helping with bloom day. There are white and blue Siberian irises blooming here and there. I’ll take some to Greenfield for the new garden.
Years ago I moved all the peonies I had planted right in front of the house. Somehow I left a bit of peony root – which has grown into this beautiful clump, surrounded by weeds, right next to the vegetable garden – also in dire need of weeding. The very pretty white lady’s bedstraw is a curse. Many of the peonies in the ‘new’ Peony Bed are late varieties – so chosen to make sure there is another spectacular plant in bloom for the Rose Viewing.
These foxgloves were given to me by a friend in the middle of last summer. They endured transplanting at an inauspicious season and are beautiful in this season.
This is the first daylily to bloom on the Daylily Bank in front of the house. This will start to be a full Bank of Bloom once we get into July. I have brought a couple of these plants to the new garden in Greenfield.
As you can see, this clump of Joan Elliott has not been deterred by dividing and removing. Bits of root continue to grow and make flowers. I’m taking a bit of Joan from the lawn to Greenfield as well.
Several native columbines are blooming here and there. These are not the fancy columbines, but I treasure these – in white, pink and purple as well as this red and yellow. Garden Bloggers Bloom Day gives me a chance to praise these modest flowers.
I can’t find the name of this tall, large allium. I won’t plant it among the peonies ever again.
The blue of ‘May Night’ seems blue-er this spring.
This clump of Trollius is paler than others, but lovely all the same.
The large mock orange is planted at the corner of the Cottage Ornee where its fragrance can waft inside.
Every day we are closer to the Last Rose Viewing. Applejack will greet visitors as they arrive. This is one of the oldest roses at the End of the Road.
This is the last June Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at the End of the Road, but there will be many more to come in Greenfield. I thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for giving us all the chance to show off our bloomers all across this great land. To see more click here.
Virginia Rechtschaffen has always loved trees. She and her husband Rob even once owned a house in Belchertown that came complete with an orchard. Lots of trees. For the past 20 years she and Rob have lived in Northampton and accomplished something I would have thought impossible. Their in-town garden is embraced by a ring of large trees with a heart of sunshine at its center. How did they do it?
Virginia said when they moved into the house she felt she needed some help with a Plan. They hired a designer, but in the end they only used the design for the front of the house which is lovely in its simplicity. A boxwood hedge borders the sidewalk marking off the private space around the house. A trident maple which will grow to about 35 feet is surrounded by groundcovers like epimediums and pulmonaria, and geranium macrorrhizum. All of these bloom in early spring. Virginia said she loved the delicate flowers of each, and the spotted foliage of the pulmoniaria.
A lamp post is surrounded by white Siberian irises, just beginning to bloom when I visited. The lush foliage of the groundcovers and the elegance of the irises point out that even familiar plants can make a beautiful statement when planted en masse.
There was also a large old sugar maple in front of the house which had to be removed, but it was replaced last week with a young Katsura tree, just in time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13.
Another striking element of the front garden is the placement of several large stones, nestled among the plantings. There is a subtle art in knowing how to arrange stones in a garden so that they look like they belong, and give a sense of timelessness to the garden.
Blooming shrubs including rhododendrons and azaleas hug the house. A grassy walk between the house and a shrub border lead to the back garden. When I visited the garden was filled with birds that came to the birdbath and to peck away at bugs in areas of soil, left uncovered and unplanted just for them.
The garden is all curves, beds holding trees like the Acer triflorium which produces small spring flowers in clusters of three, accounting for its name as three flowered maple. It also has handsome exfoliating bark and good autumn color. The golden rain tree showers its flower petals to the ground accounting for its common name. Both these trees grow to between 20 and 30 feet tall, which some count as small trees, but which are large in a small garden.
Still, around the very edges of the property are shrubs and really large trees like a Katsura they planted in 1996 and a tall weeping conifer.
The Rechtschaffens have several different Japanese maples. Full Moon, which indeed has the shape of a full moon, stands opposite the golden rain tree at the entry of the social area, a firepit and chairs where the Rechtschaffens frequently enjoy solitude or friends around the fire.
They chose the plants and designed arrangement of these garden beds themselves because the plans created by the designers were too formal and symmetrical. That formality did not reflect the way they live or the way they look at the natural world.
As we looked at the clusters of winged maple seeds, properly called samaras, but often called helicopters or whirlybirds, Virginia said, “Even the smallest things in the garden are beautiful.
Those of us who attend garden tours are always looking to spend a day in beautiful spaces and to learn about techniques and plants we might use in our own gardens. Host gardeners also have their own desires. “What I would like is that when people leave our garden they will want to go a plant a tree in their garden,” Virginia said. I think she will very well get her desire.
The Rechtschaffen’s garden is just one of six beautiful and unique gardens on the Friends of the Forbes Library Annual Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am – 3 pm, rain or shine. Advance tickets are available for $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, HadleyGardenCenter, North Country Landscapes and State Street Fruit Store. Tickets on Saturday will be $20. Tickets come with a map for this self guided tour. There will be descriptions and guides at each garden to answer questions
The Garden Tour Season is upon us! The entry garden above is one of the gardens on the 22nd Forbes Library Garden Tour which will be held on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am to 3 pm. Your ticket is a map of the six varied gardens on this self guided tour. Tickets are $15, but $20 the day of the tour, and are available at Forbes Library and businesses like Bay State Perennial Farm and State Street Fruit Market. Rain or Shine. Proceeds benefit the Forbes Library.
Garden Tour Season continues through the end of June. The Franklin Land Trust Tour will be featuring gardens and farms in Conway and Ashfield. Have you ever seen a woven willow hedge? This is only one of the wonders on this tour Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. There is also a lunch available by reservation for an additional $15. Proceeds from the tour support the conservaation mission of the Franklin Land Trust
Garden Tour Season is crowded on Saturday, June 27 when the Greenfield Garden Club holds their annual tour from 9 am – 4 pm. Tickets are $12 and will be on sale at the Trap Plain garden at the intersection of Federal and Silver Streets and will be on sale all morning. Please do not bring your pets. Proceeds from the tour help fund the Club’s grant program for local schools.
Garden tours give gardeners to share their gardens, and give other gardeners a chance to fine some inspiration and gain a little education. All tours are rain or shine and a good time is guaranteed. MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Many of us take soil for granted. I just spoke to my daughter who said she broke sod for a tiny new vegetable garden. After taking away the sod she said she filled that space with good dirt. When I asked what good dirt was she said bags of organic dirt from Home Depot. We’re still talking dirt, even though she talked about good and bad dirt, soil.
I may get dirty while working in my garden, but I love my soil. The forester who made our forest management plan told us we were lucky because our area has good soil. And he had the soil map to prove it. And over the years I have improved the good soil.
Around 2000 we moved the vegetable garden and made it much smaller, 10×10 feet, because I was having so much trouble with my hip – all replaced in 2003. In that new space I started with my good soil and added my own compost to each planting bed.
Now you must have guessed I wouldn’t be happy with a 10×10 garden for long. We added another 10×10 space for a raspberry patch, and added more compost, plus some rock phosphate for phosphorous and greensand for potassium, two of the three major nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. Nitrogen is the third nutrient in the NPK ratio you see when you buy fertilizer.
I also sprinkle lime from time to time to keep the soil from being too acid. I was not very scientific about any of these amounts, just sprinkling it on the soil when the mood came on me. You can imagine how happy I was when I sent my soil to the University of Massachusetts five years ago and found out that the vegetable garden had good soil with nine percent organic matter.
Any soil is made up of inorganic material like sand and silt, then organic matter. Think of the forest floor where leaves fall on the ground and rot, birds and animals die and they rot into the soil. There is water in the soil, and even, almost forgotten, air. A good and productive soil is about 50% air. But we are not done. The soil is also alive with fungi and bacteria that break down all that organic material and turn it into humus. The food web decrees that these fungi and bacteria will be eaten by tiny creatures like nematodes and springtails. In turn they will be eaten by beetles and ants and earthworms. All of them are adding to the richness of the soil, with their dead bodies, and their poop. They are also aerating the soil and making it possible for the water to penetrate.
How do we get good soil? We try to follow Mother Nature’s routine, by eliminating poisonous pesticides that will kill all those living creatures in the soil, and
adding more organic material, otherwise known as compost. We feed the soil, just like Mother Nature instead of later trying to feed our plants with chemical fertilizers.
I was talking to a friend who told me that she went to a permaculture workshop where one motto was “Let the carbon stay where it falls.” That means when you cut back plants in the fall you can leave the debris in the garden. It is not neat and pretty, but you are following the natural routine. The debris will rot and enrich the soil. You and the debris are feeding the soil.
I am not a purist of any system, but I spent an afternoon pruning deadwood out of my roses and let some of the smaller twigs fall invisibly into the center of the rose bush to rot over time. I confess I did take many larger branches off to a brush pile to rot at a more leisurely pace.
I have made a fair amount of compost over the years. Some I make in a plastic bin I got from some organization. So long ago, I don’t remember who, possibly the Franklin County Waste Management? Compost adds nutrients and the organic matter improves the structure of the soil.
I also make compost piles contained within wire fencing or, in my circular black plastic potato bin with holes in the sides for the potato plants to reach through to the sun if they are so inclined. I turned that potato bin into a compost bin. I can turn my compost pile by heaving it from one bin to the other.
I also have a plain old compost pile that I don’t turn regularly or fuss with. Eventually that pile turns into compost. I am never in a hurry.
I put all my kitchen peelings into my compost, autumn leaves, weeds, chicken manure when I have it, and debris from the garden in the fall when I am getting ready for winter. From now on I may leave some of that autumnal carbon where it falls.
I am getting ready to start a new garden in Greenfield. The first thing I will do is send a soil sample to UMass so they can tell me what my soil particularly needs. I don’t know whether it is bad dirt or good soil, but I will find out. Currently I only know it grows a lot of grass, and I have a lot of space to fill with new plants.
I don’t have the necessary amounts of homemade compost for this new garden, so I have ordered a truck load, a major gift from my husband. I will use this compost when planting all the new trees and shrubs I am thinking of, as well as for top dressing on existing plantings.
We are fortunate to have two compost farms nearby, Martin’s Farm in Greenfield and Bear Path Farm in Whately. By feeding the soil with compost I’ll improve the structure and fertility of my soil. If it isn’t good soil to begin, it will be soon.
What next? I have to decide what to plant in this new garden. Do you think there will be roses? Keep watching.
Between the Rows May 30, 2015
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