Monday, March 9, 2009

We start the garden...

March brought babies, a new pregnancy for me, financial woes, and the need to plant the garden. Two academics and their offspring were in for a reality check. It started with the garden...

Reality is never as tidy as the dream. When the Swiss woman planted her garden and inspired the dream we were trying to live, I was amazed at the fine raking and patient measuring she applied to what had been a pile of topsoil. Now we faced thawing sod that consisted of patches of greening grass mixed with mud or large expanses of rock-like still-frozen brownish turf. And who knew what underneath!

We had planned the location and size of the first garden, so on the first warm Saturday afternoon we laid it out by hammering 2x1's into the soil at the four corners, and every 10 feet or so in between. Then we ran string from one to the next, and John started up the new rototiller.

This beast of a machine made a huge noise even when it was in idle. The idea was to lift it up so the heavy tines in the rear didn't reach the sod until it was in the garden area. Then it was to be let down. In that position it would chop and lift and stir the top 8 inches of soil or so.

So John did quite a bit and I did some, and back and forth we went down the 45 feet of length and eventually from side to side. Rocks flew all over, and the kids picked them up. The garden was 3 feet inside the property line and parallel to it, so we put the thousands of rocks, most of them from ancient glaciers, right on the edge of the garden inside the property line.

It was not sufficient to till it once. It took a couple of passes to break up the loam and incorporate the dead grass into the soil and also make sure none of it took root. We were pleased to see that we actually had a large depth of topsoil, deeper than the tiller could cut.

Unfortunately at the house end of the garden John ran into ledge, a massive piece of granite that started just a few inches below the ground. When he hit this unseen piece of bedrock, the tiller leaped forward and threw him out of balance and wrenched his shoulders. It tapered gradually so that by the time it got a dozen feet or so into the length of the garden is was sufficiently below ground level that the tiller didn't hit it. (Later we found that nothing grew well in that area.)

The garden required several more passes with the tiller over days and weeks. The garden needed to dry out and then be retilled. And the weed seeds needed to sprout and then be plowed under. It took nearly a month to get the garden to the stage where it could be planted.

The boys and John had also grubbed out the winter's accumulation in the barn. John, who counts everything, reported that he had wheeled 50 loads of manure and bedding to the garden by the time the job was done. Then it had to be spread out, and tilled in. Several more passes were required to incorporate it fully.

By then April was full upon us. We needed to hurry and begin the planting.

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