Margaret Atwood reputedly said: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Who is Margaret anyway? Born on 18 November 1939, Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher and environmental activist. (Read “busy girl”.) She has strong views on environmental issues, and celebrated her 70th birthday at a gala dinner at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, which has been home to one of Canada’s most ambitious environmental reclamation programs, where she said: “When people ask if there’s hope (for the environment), I say, if Sudbury can do it, so can you. Having been a symbol of desolation, it’s become a symbol of hope.” (Source Wikipedia) She is also known to have said: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”, but I will leave it up to your imagination how to apply that to a gardening context (he says as he starts up the mulcher).
Well, in our case that bit about smelling like dirt is very apt! Some days I just can’t get all the dirt from under my nails and I have to go to my day job in the city hoping I don’t have any client meetings. Mmmm, too much information… So what did we get up to?
Our biggest priority was (and still is) to get the beds prepared for spring sowing. For quite a few days in a row I followed this gruelling little schedule:
- load cart directly with “green stuff” (mostly weeds, oops, I mean “Opportunistic Plants”) while methodically clearing vegetable beds
- drag cart to the Homeland compost piles (even for the Dreamland beds, as I still need to build proper compost bins at Dreamland. Patricia started her own little makeshift compost pile there with some enthusiastic bed clearing – and she even selected the appropriate spot. But I removed that to Homeland as well, as I am just not ready with compost bins at Dreamland yet!)
- straight from the cart, process the green stuff through the chipper onto the next “new” compost pile (and then sort-of even it out with a rake)
- using the wheelbarrow and a strong plank, pile a load of “old” compost over the new green stuff (and then sort-of even it out again with a rake)
- pull the empty cart back to same / next bed that needs clearing. There were such enthusiastic growth by all these opportunistic plants that the same bed was returned to multiple times before moving on to a new one. (We had some very interesting discussions about fumitory on the Ballarat Permaculture Guild recently. We have a LOT of those!)
- take a swig of tea and/or water, repeat, repeat, repeat!
It is a very arduous little process, but working directly into and out of the cart saves me from picking the green stuff up twice, and as part of the same process I got all the compost heaps, which have gone cold during our absence, turned and mixed with fresh “green stuff”.
- I didn’t count the loads as I worked – that would be too monotonous – but each compost heap takes about 8 carts, intermixed with 8 wheelbarrows of old compost. Throughout the process I re-filled all 6 compost bins. Each cart load takes more than half a cubic meter of green stuff. In my maths, that’s a lot of “healthy organic stuff” recycled as future vegetable and fruit tree food.
- Reworking the cold compost heaps in this manner seems to work – I’m now getting the heaps warming at to 55 – 73⁰C. That should get rid of the majority of weed seeds.
We didn’t quite map out all our planting on the planning board before we planted, because in some cases it was better to plan on the beds, see what the particular bed actually looks like, and then plant and update the board accordingly. But Patricia got a lot planted (read “busy girl”):
- In the greenhouse she planted everything that still needs some protection from the cold evenings, which requires a bit more heat to germinate and which could be polished off by critters like worms and slugs if they germinated in the ground. These include tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, lettuce, onions, some herbs, etc. She also sowed some pumpkins, watermelons and rockmelons in seed trays trying to get a head start on these even though you can sow them directly when the ground is warmed enough. As she sowed the seeds, we calculated the lead times for germination and transplanting, and then we updated the planning board accordingly. I’m happy to report, firstly, we used our “own” seedling mix, as I learnt on the market gardening course, and secondly, the greenhouse is chockers!
- Next she needs to plant the “ready to go” beds with the seeds we can plant directly. We are just waiting for the last of the frost and a little warmer weather. This includes corn, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, rockmelons and also crops like oats for chicken feed. It doesn’t help we plant all this good stuff but we have to buy in chicken food.
Of course, the world doesn’t stand still because we are planting. In between these we had the usual on-going activities:
- Removing all the frost covers, while hoping and praying we don’t get any more serious frosts (I may do a frost protection review post soon).
- Checking and testing the irrigation – it seems that we are having a very dry spring and we may need these sooner than in previous years. I surely hope we get some more good rains before the dry summer heat sets in – our tanks aren’t full yet and last summer we just came out – and that was running off tanks that were still pretty full at the start of December. And we’re planting to grow way more intensively this season…
- Preparing and spraying biodynamic preparations for soil enrichment.
- Soil and foliar feeding of the citrus and other fruit trees.
- Blasting aphids off with water from some of the early budding fruit trees (a Patricia speciality, stand back!)
- Fighting excessive algae in the duck pond (more about this in a future post.)
- And all the other routine stuff that goes on…
The season of growth
I could end with some more slightly irrelevant quotes about the season of growth, about the start of summer, about the joy of working outside at this time, and so on – as all these are true, but I guess I’ve filled up my corny quota already. So, happy spring to everyone in the Southern Hemisphere. Our spring always starts quite a while after 1 September, so this is not a standard calendar-driven spring message. May you have good germination and good growth!