The Dirt on Nicky


Lessons learned during a stressful year

Although it was just another day, the first day of a new year generates a buzz about the year that was and what surprises are waiting up ahead. It’s symbolic, like pulling out faded tomato vines vs. planting the first seeds. Old, exhausted tomato vines rate higher for me on the sympathy scale than our previous year, because it was a yikes! kind of year, yet a careful, patient gardener pays attention and learns from the circumstance.

Here are five lessons learned:

  • Variety is the life of spice, which means seeing how the tried-and-true regular heirlooms do again but put them beside newcomers. I haven’t grown everything in the seed catalogs yet, so I tried new ones, and I found a new appreciation for the many varieties of radishes. Same for peppers. Murasaki peppers and Brazilian starfish peppers are crazy productive and striking specimens in the garden, and last until the end of the season.
  • Preparation during winter makes all the difference for season-long staying-power for the food you are growing. It is time to be applying organic material to the soil because a garden can’t survive on molybdenum alone.

Last summer, woe is me, my tomatoes waned before the appointed wane time because the soil did not get enough good $%!† during winter prep season. Know anybody with chickens or a horse? “Hi, Mrs. cow owner…” I spread wood ashes directly on a different bed every morning until I have covered them all, then I make a pile for later. Leaves of all kinds and compost mixed in plus happy shoveling make for a happy bed, but you’re gonna need some $%!†. I’m just saying $%!† should happen.

  • Every year it becomes more apparent how important it is to listen and pay attention when I am in the garden. There is a lot I can learn if I don’t try not to. Attending to the ground around lettuce seedlings or picking only the longest stems of parsley can replace the jibber-jabber of daily news, and lettuce has its own story to tell.

As you weed around lettuce, look at it and listen. Say hello. You might not disregard these ideas as simplistic or far-fetched if you smell like $%!† but don’t even notice because your attitude is floating down the calmest stream in this quadrant of the cosmos. You listened to the lettuce. Keep listening.

  • There must be a market for horrible, terrible poisons and powders for gardens because some stores have aisles full of them. Monsanto® Avenue. However, I am seeing an increased nod toward stocking organic alternatives – not a demonstrative jumping up-and-down hairband headshake – but a continued affirmative nod toward more of an organic presence on shelves. This trend can continue if we shop accordingly, and if columns like this one provide alternative information about plant care and pest control strategies that won’t kill every bug in the neighborhood. I’ve got a biome, you’ve got a biome, or maybe we’re in the same one, so let’s see what happens next.
  • Every gardener is the best gardener. A local gardener told me she disagreed with some of my gardening ideas, so maybe she is smarter than me. Oh, well. I never claimed to be Mozart, but my dinner this evening included four vegetables from my garden. Different gardeners have different soils, tastes and backgrounds, so I can’t imagine we all garden the same way. Some grow corn but I don’t. This year, I will try sweet potatoes, a new Asian brassica, Goji berries and purple snow peas.

That might not make me the smartest gardener, but I eat well, and my parsley remarked, “Imagine there are no parsley worms; it’s easy if you try…”

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