18 March 2014

Inspired by a garden visit

Late last year Ian's colleague came to visit us, and as a keen gardener herself duly went outside for an appreciation session. My clear impression - perhaps due to her open mouth and unusually quiet demeanor - was that there was horror rather than appreciation humming through her veins upon the sight of our rampant jungle.

Why? She is a row person, and I knew that. Rows of broccoli, cabbages, etc. We are not row gardeners.

Then a few weeks ago we visited her garden, and I had occasion to realise, yet again, that we really have no idea what others think of us (or our gardens). Enter Robbie Burns:
"And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!" 

Because, you see, she mentioned to her mother, who was also there, that our garden is more of a permaculture garden, and that she'd love to garden more like that, but she can't bring herself to! Control is important to her.

Regardless of the difference between our gardens, I loved visiting hers. I learnt a few things.

1. She gets carrot seeds to sprout reliably by covering them with a piece of wood and checking daily to see when they have sprouted, then removing it. The wood keeps the seeds moist, and it is drying out that leads to the notorious bad luck gardeners have with carrot seeds. To shade the new seedlings, she then covers the seedlings with an onion bag suspended on sticks.

2. Chickens jumping over the fence? String a couple of lines of pantyhose or rags above the fence. It fools them into thinking the fence is higher than it is.

3. Mulch the soil. How did I forget this one? The soil under her tomatoes was damp, rich and friable although it was the hottest, driest time of the year. Ours, in contrast, showed evidence of desertification. I'd been put off mulching by the information that purchased peastraw is killed by Roundup (that's how they make it brown) and by the slug and snail damage that mulch brings with it. I'm working on a solution to those things.

4. Plant supply. She has this down pat. She sows small amounts of seed regularly so her family is constantly supplied with vegetables, rather than having a glut. She sprouts them indoors under fluorescent tubes fitted with daylight bulbs. The heat from the lights sprouts seeds astoundingly fast, then the light gets the seedlings growing fast.

(Here I must mention that this woman works full-time outside the home and has two young children. Yes, she is supremely organised.)

As my family will attest, I was so inspired by the visit that I've become consumed by growing vegetables and fruit. The truth is that over summer I had just lost interest in the garden. Ian, however, compensated by gardening almost every day. Now that I'm out the back a lot, he's inside resting. Why does that happen? I've noticed it over the years: the minute I get into lazy mode, he whips into action, and when I get going he retreats. He doesn't even notice he's doing it.

For now, I'm chief gardener. The carrots have sprouted, the chickens have a low fence with pantyhose and old leggings strung above it, and the most recently planted garden is mulched and thriving accordingly.

I've abandoned any thought of rows, fueled my reading of a permaculture book, Gaia's Garden. It may be hippy stuff, but there is so much sense to it! I did a one-day permaculture course about 20 years ago and had forgotten much of it.

Now I realise that the comment about our garden being like permaculture was a compliment to our garden and an insult to permaculture. (Sorry garden, I still love you dearly, but we can do so much more!) However, I'm working on changing that, starting with the soil, which permaculture puts a lot of emphasis on improving. Hello, anti-cancer vegetables. More next post....


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