How to have the best spring garden ever
Every gardener knows what fall means.
Gardeners live by the weather, not the reports of it, but the feel of it. A gardener knows when the days are even one minute shorter, not by the news, but by the way his garden responds to it. A good gardener feels the slow down of the hot season and the expanding darkness shows in his crop.
The winter squash are off the vine, the tomatoes long gone from their romance with the sun. Maybe the kale and cabbages are still pushing ahead in the cool nights and short days, but not for long.
Time to get the garden ready for winter, and time to think ahead, for spring.
When you live in the wet part of Oregon, winter means short and very wet days. But it means that when spring comes, the ground is well saturated, and ripe for planting.
Being what I thought was a seasoned gardener; I knew that putting the vegetable patch to bed for the winter was the first step to being ready for spring. Until I met Terry, I thought that meant cleaning out summer’s leftovers, and waiting to turn the soil in spring. Any veteran gardener knows that adding organic matter, like compost, is the first rule of good produce. That means adding more each year before planting.
Here in Portland, we are very lucky. The city has many community gardens, and for just a small fee to cover water, you can get a large plot. All you have to do is bring the seeds and the sweat equity. Those who use chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides are banned. Organic gardens are required.
That was where I first met Terry. His plot was just a few feet from mine. And he never, ever worked as hard as I did weeding, hoeing, cultivating or keeping his plot clean. He just spent a few minutes a week waiting, and watching for the right moment to harvest.
You can’t spend long watching a work free gardener without asking “what does he know that I don’t?”
For starters, his soil was unbelievably light, and a handful would drift out of your hands and would never clump. No weeds could ever last for long in that soft soil. A broom would uproot them!
His vegetables were incredible. Carrots, beets, tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant that were bigger, healthier and fresher than anyone else’s. And all with far less effort.
Finally, after he sent me home with the best winter squash I ever tasted, I had to know his secret.
Before I could even ask, the answer was given to me as I watched him prepare his plot for winter.
Sure, I had noticed that his plot was at least one foot higher than anyone else’s, but until fall came, I did not know why. And I did not know, until then, that was his secret.
When I was cleaning out my summer crop and the plants left standing, he came with a truck full of cast off rubbish. All of the leaves, branches and other garden refuse from his house were piled in a truck to dump on his garden. He said he had a large home lot, and saved his trash for his garden. He dumped 3 feet of leaves and other garden leftovers on his entire garden. He said he came from a family of farmers, and this was their tradition.
When I asked, he said he did that every fall. And it showed in both the rich, dark, loose soil in his plot, and the perfect vegetables he took out of it.
Terry disappeared for the winter. During the time he was gone, I watched as the entire load of organic matter broke down with no effort on his part. That three foot mountain became just six inches of rich, dark loam waiting for him to return.
When spring came, the rest of the gardeners did what I did. Tilled, cultivated, added compost and planted. Not Terry.
He just showed up, gave his plot a few turns of a pitchfork, and planted. And the cycle started again. His plot blossomed again from the abundance of the winter’s leavings. While the rest of us worked hard.
From here on out, I will follow his lead. If I don’t have enough leaves and leavings from the garden on my own, I will go begging. The neighbors are more than happy to have their refuse taken away. Until I get at least 2 feet of “leftovers” on my plot, I will keep adding more. It will take a while to get my garden up to the soil level of his, but it will be worth it.
When it comes to compost and adding organic matter, Terry taught me that moderation is not always best.
Now, where did I leave my dump truck?