Wednesday, April 30, 2008
That's not a recent picture, I'm just not very good at taking pictures. I do like to look at pictures of the garden over time because they are a useful reminder of the changes taking place. My father did use the rototiller in his garden on Monday, so one of the garden plots looks just like that. Every fall he plants a crop of rye and then tills it into the soil in the spring. I'm not such a fan of rototilling as he is, so that lower garden bed hasn't been tilled in years.
One of the reasons I call myself an incompetent gardener is that in general I seem to make decisions that seem a wasteful or foolish to others. I'm quite accustomed to people not taking me seriously, which is quite a gift in the sense that it relieves pressure to take myself very seriously. So for example my father can't figure out why I don't like my garden beds runover with a tractor pulling a rototiller. The simple explanation is that it seems so much work. With a hoe and a rake I can plant what little I want and plan on some scheme for tending it. The tending part is what gets to me and long rows mean a lot of tending. I seem to get more done with smaller plots, planted one at a time. The beautifully planted farmers' fields of corn, wheat, hay, and oats seem all the more an accomplishment to one who's put a spade in the ground. The efficiency is remarkable. But when it comes to small gardens, hand tools seem the right tools to me.
The farmer who plants the fields plants in rotation. We've lived here for almost thirty years and over the years the front edge of the property bounding on the fields has been a question. My mother always imagined a fence. My father never wanted a fence, probably in no small part because of the expense. I've wanted to plant along the edge. Part of my reasoning for the planting is an idea that it's a good plan to design from the boundaries inward, or at least for many years doing just the opposite that's the conclusion I've come to.
Then again I'm pretty unrealistic about so many things in the garden. Lots of the soil around here when dry has the consistency of cement, and in the rockier places more like concrete. But the idea for that front boundary planting was nixed years ago.
The farmer is getting up in years. Last year while plowing a lever of the plow was down and he didn't notice making a furrow along the front edge of our property. I thought he did it on purpose to mark the boundary, but he insisted it was just a mistake. This year he had a young guy plow and when he plowed a field close to the house he seems to have used last year's furrow as a mark. The problem is that the tractor turning on our little stretch of ground busted up the sod with the tires, and harrow and left a very uneven line of disturbed soil along the edge. This made a big problem to mow with my lawnmower.
This is a dilemma for me: For more than thirty years the farmer has turned his tractor on a little stretch of our property. In the past there has been minor damage and inconvenience, but nothing really to speak of. This year's problem really stems from plowing just a few feet closer than they have in the past, but the damage was considerable from my perspective having to deal with it with garden tools, as opposed to farm-scale equipment. I told my father I was going to plant along our line in response. The prospect rather horrified him, but I don't think he really imagined I would; because it requires so much work.
I've got the sod removed from a section about 150 feet long by about 6 feet wide. There's an old white lilac in the front that had suckered under a tall canopy of fir trees. I've dug some up some of the suckers and planted them closely along the front edge of the bed. Last night he came out and his jaw dropped.
I haven't told him my plan to plant sunflowers all along the edge yet. Probably my favorite seed company is J. L. Hudson. This year they're offering a Russian variety, Peredovik, grown for making vegetable oil. They may not be the most fashionable flower, although I'm sure they'll look good, but will provide a useful seed for saving. The birds, of course will welcome them too.
I've still got about half the line to prepare, and it's slow going. The soil is compacted, and the best approach seems not to till all the grass into the soil. One reason is the sod with most of the soil shook loose is quite useful for adjusting the grade in another section of the boundary line. A second reason is there's a good deal of rhizomous grass and annuals like dandelions in the sod and tilling simply increases them.
I won't have enough of the lilac seedlings for the whole line as close as I'm planting them. Next year, if all goes well, I can dig up some of the lilacs, spacing them a little further apart to complete the whole line. I'll probably seed grass on the field side next spring too, so I'll have a narrow swath to mow on the public side of the hedge.
In several years, one May Day someone will look out from the road and see a hedge of white lilacs, a football field's length. It will be a splendid vista. It' isn't quite fair to say I planned it. Basically, I was mad about work the farmer's plowing caused me this Spring and wanted to do something to prevent it in the future. I spied the available plant material, the white lilacs, and set about to make a hedge with them. The plan make sense to me, even imagining the mature lilacs gives me a feeling of excitement. I also know that mostly people will think it a crazy or stupid idea, at least now the lilac seedlings look very insignificant. But the line is marked, something I've wanted for a long time, and never found a persuasive reason to argue about it in the past.
Most of the world celebrates May 1st as Labour Day. Through a quirk in history Labor Day here in the USA is celebrated in September. May Day is a wonderful holiday and a chance to reflect on and be grateful for the improvement in all our lives solidarity between working people has made. I wish everyone a wonderful May Day.