Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Am the Groundhog

I finally got a good day of gardening in today! Since my last post, I've been leading a groundhog-like existence, vegetating in the house, trying to get back in shape musically and making (and eating) lots of kimchi. Which is better than sitting around eating cheesecake in the long run, but still the steadily greening view below kept reminding me that there was a lot to do before I could start planting!

And we still have March to get through... March is fickle; in Turkish there's a saying about March:

Kapıdan baktıran, kazma kürek yaktıran ay
The month that has you looking out the door, and burning your picks and shovels.

...the jist being that the warm weather encourages you to go out, but it could just as easily be wintery cold that has you burning whatever is left because your winter fuel has run out! And since you never know what's coming, it's best not to look out on the weed-filled expanse and say "I'll do it tomorrow..."

The snow was not the last of the things keeping me out of the garden. It was followed by several weeks of non-freezing but consistently wet weather -- I think three days was the most we had without rain at any given point. I did take advantage of that three-day spell to get the worst of the weeds out of the vegetable garden, and as the soil was marginally workable, I managed to get half of my cover crop of fava beans planted. I'd wanted to do that as soon as I got back from Seattle in November but well, it was late November, and winter had kicked in. Now I have a dense growth of favas an inch high covering half the garden. I'll leave a couple rows to fruit as I love fresh fava beans, but the rest will get dug into the soil that will support this year's expanse of squash, tatsoi, garlic chives, rainbow chard, amaranth and sunflowers. Oh, and big Korean radishes!

Today was devoted to other pursuits - I weeded my neighbors' garden. Now before you think "what a good neighbor, I wish he lived next to my garden," I should note that I weeded only very selectively, and with a clear ulterior motive.

I mentioned in a very old post that the yard had a plethora of borage in it. There's so much that it forms carpets in some areas, as in the photo above. And my neighbors are very much fair-weather gardeners; they won't be out tilling the soil till the warmth of April, which gives lots of weeds a glorious opportunity to reseed themselves abundantly, and grow big before they're hacked out.

They also tend to overfertilize. While this makes for astounding growth of their tomato plants, it also means that the weeds turn into a veritable forest. They can keep the mallow, the Arum (the arrowhead leaved clumps in the front), the dock, the poison hemlock, the mystery weed that smells so bad that even goats won't eat it, the chickweed and veronica, but the borage is mine! There was enough borage growing there, multi-branched with stems over an inch wide, to make several piles three feet high. And since the rain and mud had foiled my cover cropping plans, what better way to have a nice layer of green manure than to import it from 30 feet away?

Of course, growing a cover crop serves a dual purpose - not only does it provide organic matter and friability when dug into the soil, it also shades out weeds and makes it more difficult for them to grow. Since I missed the boat on that, I decided not to dig the borage in right away, but to spread it all over the non-planted side of the garden and let it break down, all the while covering the weeds. I'd already gone through and dug out all the buttercups and arum I could. I also pulled lamium (dead nettle) I could before it has a chance to set seed. It's all over the lower garden but there's relatively little of it in the middle section, and I'd like to keep it that way. It produces millions of seeds that lay dormant in the soil for years, just waiting for their chance in the sun. And when they get their chance, they come up in a dense green carpet that you can turn under repeatedly, only to watch it renew itself as ever more seeds are exposed to the sun. It's an effective evolutionary strategy used by plants that can't normally compete well with neighboring plants. When they are suddenly exposed to the sun it normally means disturbed soil and therefore the elimination of their immediate competition. This is the reason that plowed fields in Europe throw up a dense carpet of brilliant red poppies in the spring.

I'm not sure if borage concentrates potassium in its roots like its relative comfrey, but it certianly provides the bulk if its happy. Another plus is that it's an annual, where with comfrey you have to be careful or you'll turn your garden into a comfrey long as you yank the borage (and even large plants are very easy to yank) before it sets seed you won't have an invasion the coming year.

But fortunately borage is also a beautiful plant, so I let it grow to its heart's content in the non-cultivated/cultivable parts of the garden, where it delights with its sky-blue flowers each spring. I also left several developing plants in the neighbors' garden so that I can raid it again next year....

No comments: