Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Harvesting the Intangibles

In The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West, David Wann urges his readers to "harvest the intangibles" (p 50). If a garden does poorly, he argues, don't beat yourself up. Just rip up the evidence, toss it in the compost, and learn from your mistakes.

So today I gave up on the three minuscule tomato plants that didn't already die. I decided the eight-inch tall corn wasn't worth the water. I'm digging it all under and getting ready for a fall planting. Fall plants do better here anyway; in a few weeks I'll put in another round of beets, onions, rutabaga, and other cool season seeds. How do I know it will be different this time (after two summers of a crappy garden)? Because I've learned from my garden what it needs.

I had read somewhere that double digging had become uncool. That it was now regarded by the microbe gardeners as bad as tilling. That lasagna or layered gardening was best, as it didn't mess up the microorganisms and worms. All you need to do, some argue, is aerate by poking a pitch fork down and leaning back.

Those gardeners are right - in California and Missouri. Not so much in the sun-baked clay soil here in the Rocky Mountains. Here is what I learned from observing two years of severely crummy harvest: dry, sunny clay breaks down organic matter so quickly, I have to fluff it and add organic matter yearly, or even seasonally. When I do, my garden does well. When I don't, the clay packs and roots have nowhere to go.

So today I did. I double dug my bed in early July. Very strange time of year to be prepping a garden bed, but it felt therapeutic. I felt the garden soil breathe, and it helped me to breathe. I let go of feeling like I had to follow the gardening trend, and listened to what my garden was telling me it needed. Now maybe in 15 years my clay will have transformed into perfect flaky tilth (like the photo above), but until then, I will double dig. Each garden is different, as is each climate and each gardener.

What is your garden teaching you this year?


For information on
double digging, see:

No comments: