I (stupidly) forgot to take any photographs of my rye winter cover crop before Jon tilled my garden for spring planting, but it was impressive. Supposedly, the density of the cover crop will have choked out much of the weeds that have plagued my garden and my sanity for the last two years. At the very least, it added some much-needed organic material to that awful clay soil.
Jon and I drove to JM Mushroom Farm in Miami, Oklahoma over the weekend and picked up a big load of mushroom compost, which everyone around here says is the best. I know there are gardeners out there who swear by it and others who swear to never use it, but I find that when I spend too much time on the internet gathering information, my head swims. Try and fail, try again seems to be the strategy that works for me.
At the very last, the compost was super cheap–only $26/ton. Another guy who was there while we were filling up the back of the truck with compost said that it was super hot compost, but produced great results later on. Me, knowing nothing, assumed that meant it was hot to touch. This seemed reasonable, since the compost piles in their loading dock were literally steaming.
Later, Jon told me it meant that it was still cooking–meaning it hadn’t “finished” forming–and that I would need to add nitrogen to balance it out otherwise it would burn my plants. I’m hoping that the tilled-up rye will be enough nitrogen “feed” for the compost, but I picked up a few bags of organic blood meal just in case.
Anyway, Jon surprised me and unloaded the compost and tilled the garden up that very same day, so I was ready to get to work!
I’ve been playing around with the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner ($25/yr). It is a godsend. The plans are customized according to your zone and frost dates (I consulted our Farmer’s Almanac to enter the predicted patterns for the upcoming year), and then you can layout your garden in any style — rows, raised beds, square-foot gardening — and enter your groceries. Right down to the exact sub-type. And if they don’t have that fabulous and rare Ukranian tomato you’re trying out, you can enter it in manually.
You should try it.
Following my plan down to the inch, I used measuring tape to mark the exact parameters of my plan and drove little stakes into the four corners of the garden and used twine to mark its borders. No more uneven rows for me!
I wish I was the kind of gardener, or just person, for whom this sort of thing comes naturally, but it just doesn’t. I need a process. It helps to be methodical. Perhaps I’m part German.
Once the borders were marked, I unrolled a 3′-wide sheet of landscape fabric to layout my central garden path, which is going to cut through my rows. And then I mulched it. I learned the hard way last year that when the rows are too long, it’s difficult to move through the garden.
These little things — staking the borders, cutting a mobility path– are things probably seem stupidly obvious to seasoned gardeners, but they are somewhat revolutionary to me. I am humbled. And that’s okay.
I have to add, even though the sky is a bit grim in the photos, by the time I dusted off my hands and wrapped up the day, the sun had come out and that late afternoon liquid light was so welcome to me. My god, it felt wonderful to be outside. If anything, starting a garden is good for that single reward — the pleasure of work.