Friday, May 22, 2009

Garden Sprawl Friday

This is what the backyard soil looks like here without being amended. Once it has been in the sun as pictured it can look deceiving. Put a shovel down in there and you'll turn up quite black, heavy, alkaline soil. Beneath that, about a foot and a half down, you get the straight grey clay. I dug this patch by hand down to where the two feet of clay starts to give way to something else beneath it. It's like your hitting hidden springs. At some points I noticed beneath the grey clay there is a stratum of extremely black, beautiful silt, some even with as yet-not-decomposed dead grass and wood in it. I guess under all that clay no air can reach, and thus no decomposition.

Anyhow I dug down that far simply to bury the turf I peeled off of the surface. I threw a bunch of compost in as well, digging in sections, then burying it, then digging up another section and so on. [I don't have a backhoe or a rototiller] Useless labour? Bah; how else does a garden get blessed? So, as you can see there's now lots of the pure clay brought to the surface, broken up. This will be amended over time, to which end I will go to the beach and harvest lots sea weed. In autumn the obligatory leaves will go in; throughout summer, lawn clippings (we don't use any chemicals on the lawn, so it's fine to use them).

Oh, and there was lots of rocks; wonderful rocks that can be used in landscaping.

Cucumbers and pumpkins and sunflowers will go in here. I'm just sort of regarding it right now as 'the fun patch', since it wasn't really planned; I just started digging it up.

The ever-reliable, first-to-pry radish. Even radishes require a bit of vigilance. If I had simply gone outside one night (when the slugs come out, especially after or during rain) and skewered the bastards - instead of skewering (and salting) them one night later - then some of the radishes' root tops would not have been chewed away.

Nonetheless, even those you can still use, just cutting off the eaten portions a bit below the chewed sections. I've heard things about snails and slugs carrying bacteria, so I would make sure to cut well below the eaten parts, though at the same time not waste any.

These radishes are an heirloom variety, called French Breakfast. If I had left these in the ground a bit longer (which I would have were the tops not eaten by slugs) the radishes would have actually been longer yet, with more blunted tips, and a greater portion red, tapering off to the white.

As far as radishes go, they taste good. They're milder than your usual radish. Though they are still radishes. The only thing radish goes well with is salt.

Getting back to those slugs. I've noticed a less pervasive presence of them this year. By the way, where I live is slug central. Up through Oregon, on through Washington, into British Columbia: slug central - at least the parts near the coast.

Big ones. You'll be walking through the woods on a wet day and: hey ho- watch out for that big piece of dog crap - oh wait, that's a slug…

I've been trying different methods. I will list them. First, you can't beat simply killing them when you see them; taking just a few minutes at night to go out and kill them as you see them. Second, there is copper. Copper stripping, copper wire, copper: it causes some kind of electric shock to slugs. It really does. I tried it. That slug went off of the copper strip as fast as you'll ever see a slug move - which was still pretty slow, but you get the picture. Problem with copper is the cost; but if you have coils of copper wire you can use it, like a border around whatever you want protected. Third, coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are by no means a mighty slug killer, but more like slug prevention. In fact, I think, and intuit, and observe, that coffee grounds are just a real good all round pest deterrent. I should emphasize: it is not full-proof, but it certainly does something. Ask yourself: who likes the smell of old coffee grounds? I know I'm not terribly deterred by the smell; I actually kind of like it. But really, no animal or insect is going to be attracted by the smell - though I've heard fruit flies can hover around them. I scattered many used grounds inside the small greenhouse late winter/early spring. Once that sun starts pounding into the greenhouse you can bet the smell of old coffee grounds fills it like you wouldn't believe. I have read that the caffeine in the grounds will poison slugs or any other creep-crawly dumb enough to eat it. But that's the other thing. You do have to be careful about what you put the coffee grounds around, if you decide to use them. I have raised beds, and I scatter them also around the outside of the beds. I would not put it among the crops I grow. I understand that there are select plants that like having coffee grounds in their soil - rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries, lilies - but not all acid-loving plants like coffee grounds. If you don't drink coffee and want to use coffee grounds, or if you do drink coffee and want more coffee grounds, go to a Starbucks and ask them for theirs. They should oblige you with big bags of the stuff for free - lots of them. They overprice their unused grounds, but the used ones are free.

Where was I? Slugs. Number four: slug bait; the kind you buy at the nursery. It goes without saying, if you have dogs or cats, do your research before laying the stuff out. There are chemically harmful ones, and ones that are safe to use, including around plants; though I still would not use the safe stuff on the same soil as edible crops. Does the slug bait work? Hell yes it does.

Five: I haven't tried the beer method. The money that could go into purchasing cheap beer could be used instead to buy good beer that I would drink. Never used it; probably never will. Besides, you can make the same trap using yeast/sugar water. There are simple recipes out there.

On to other things. The Nordmann fir seeds, the ones that I did a post on last year, found right here, have been exciting to watch do their thing:

Here are some beach strawberries growing from seed that I planted last year. Keeping an eye on the wee guys (they were quite smaller than pictured here at their latest) through winter was a little strenuous. [Are they really going to make it? I can't believe they're still green…]

The plants will get larger and produce small strawberries, unlike the ones we see at the market. But their taste is ten times better. This strawberry actually was one of the ones that went into making the hybrid we buy at the market.

Now I could easily buy these same strawberry plants from a nursery, fully grown, and get berries sooner. But from seed is better. Why? Because whenever you grow something from seed, you are "imprinting" on that plant, from its embryo stage on, the gist of your regional climate and conditions. It thereby becomes more resistant to certain diseases and does not require any adjusting stage, which stresses a plant.

From seed is also the 100% guarantee that you are not bringing diseases to your neck of the woods from the nursery - or from the place the stuff grew at before it came to the nursery. Plants are grown to sell, and they are grown under the most "favourable" conditions, that is, greenhouses that are monitored for temperature control, dryness and humidity. Where profit is concerned, you do not have the time to start everything from seed and grow it slowly, slowly under more natural conditions. It is grafting, cuttings, tissue culture, and favourable conditions.

There's nothing wrong with grafting, cuttings, and tissue culture per say. But there is a reason why so many species produce seed - and produce so much of it. There's something even to still be learned, I think, from species that produce seed that "reverts" when germinated, or doesn't come true to type. After all, isn't that the process from which all our varieties of apple came from, or has as its foundation?

That long, rambling, rollicking process by which the fruits we take for granted came about has been largely forgotten.

It is obvious, I think, that we have strayed away from the obvious: the key to "improving", or honing a fruit or crop - which is something I believe God left in His creation for the participation of man - is found not in cold genetics. It is found by submitting in wonder to the process itself by which species reproduce.

We make the symphony better, not by rewriting the score, nor in fact by trying to make it "better", but by hearkening to it and giving ourselves over to it in worship of its composer, whose creation does not require the utility of our improvements, yet is wholly open to the otherness of further creation by our joining in as His creatures. It is within that submission that our craft produces the unforeseen yet deeply desired fruit.

Next week on Garden Sprawl Friday: I don't know.


Jim Janknegt said...

I am trying my hand at vermiculture and the one thing I am feeding my worms so far is coffee grounds. They seem to love it. I can imagine all those worms hyped up on caffiene. I am using the worm castings to start seeds in mixed with perlite and some goat manure compost. I just planted the seeds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for our fall garden.

We don't have a big problem with slugs. Another solution for slugs is ducks. I have heard the love slugs. We have 6 ducks and I love them. They are so much fun to watch. We also have guinea hens that are insect eating machines. The one insect that we have that I detest is the squash vine borer. One moth can lay over 200 eggs an once the borer gets into the squash it is just a matter of time until the whole plant is dead.

Paul Stilwell said...

I wish I had the room for ducks. Though I wonder, maybe I do...

Those quinea hens sound nice too.

Worm castings, perlite and goat manure. If there ever was a good seed starting medium, I imagine it would be that. We have two black plastic composting bins; they're alright, but they're vertical-standing and it makes it awkward to get in there and turn the compost. I wouldn't mind getting hold of a nice deep old school tub, or a couple of them.

Do you put shredded paper into your compost as well, as an aerator and so the compost doesn't get too wet? I just read about it today, having looked up "vermiculture" after reading your comment, and so I went and put a huge bag of shredded office paper (we have a paper shredder) into the compost bin.

It works quite nicely. And thank God we have lots of worms where we are.

Egg-laying moths...grrr. I always thought those bouncy white ones (which I'm told are actually butterflies) were so beautiful...and then I learned they're one of the ones that lay eggs on cabbages.

Now they're not so nice.