Sunday, January 25, 2009

Listening to the Soil

The soil has been calling to me. It’s probably been calling to me in my sleep because a few days ago when went for a run to Lowe’s to pick up supplies for our interior home improvements I also grabbed packets of vegetable seeds. This evening after all the other painting and scraping and interior work was done for the day and I was outside cleaning brushes I walked over to sad and empty vegetable garden area and the soil whispered loudly: “You MUST plant something in me. TODAY!”

I love playing in the dirt. For me it is a religious experience. I also find it calming and healing. I was a mess from the other work I had done that day. I had packets of seeds. I had daylight left, which was a miracle in its own right because lately my interior home improvements have gone on deep into the night. I had more than 20 large black garbage bags of sandy top soil that my singer, actor, husband salvaged from the set of a play, Macbeth at the Gate, in which the entire set was made of top soil, mixed with hay. I had bags of bald cypress mulch that were raked from a friend’s yard. So I thought : “Why not?”

I scrounged up all the seed packs, the new, the old, the saved from previous seasons, grabbed the amazing tool I recently found that is perfect for digging in my heavy clay soil. It’s not a shovel but more like a claw that you twist to break up the dirt. The vegetable garden area has been fallow since late summer. There is usually no excuse for letting a New Orleans’ garden lie fallow in the fall. This is a great time for planting. But the exterior of our house was being sanded and painted in September and October and then once the outside was done, we had work to do on the inside that kept us inside. So the only thing I got around to doing in the garden was pulling down and mulching the plants that were played out and had died. I’ve been doing what I call “growing dirt” for about 5 years. Now the very heavy clay soil is lighter and easier to work. But the combination of additional FREE and perfectly sandy soil and the right tool, made me more hopeful that these seeds would end up a happy harvest. I was also hoping that I could get the seeds into the ground before it got dark on me and that maybe I could sleep at night because the soil would stop calling to me.

I planted Dill, Fennel, a Mesclun mix, Radishes, Onions, Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Cucumber, Snow Peas, Banana (or Hungarian) & Bell Peppers. I twisted the claw and planted Snow Peas along the sides in the back half of the garden with Radishes as an edge covering them with a new layer of the sandy soil. I mulched the walkway with the cypress mulch so that later when it gets mucky from watering I don’t come in with an inch of clay on my clogs. I twisted the claw and barely worked the dirt in the back center and dropped in cantaloupe seeds so that they can have a large area to spread and play as they grow. I lightly covered this with some left pine needle mulch my mom brought with her from the NorthShore. The pine needle mulch arrived the same time she brought the rampantly growing Blackberries she had dug up and stuck in pots hoping they would take. For years I have been trying to grow thornless blackberries from shoots purchased online, with no luck. I finally gave up and set aside a larger section of the vegetable garden for blackberries, figuring anyone who loves roses can deal with thorns. I have had little to no luck with tomatoes planted in the ground. So this time took 3 black plastic pots (left over from the blackberries) and sunk them into my clay soil and filled them with only the good sandy soil and planted Romas and Creoles. I twisted the claw and planted yellow bell peppers in one section and banana peppers in another. I worked from the back of the garden, where my blackberries are up against the back wall, forward planting and sprinkling cypress mulch to mark the walkways. The radishes, onions, dill and fennel are at the front of the garden. When I got to the gate, I realized that I didn’t have room for the honeydew, so I worked the area just outside the back of the fence where the blackberries are and planted the honeydew outside the fence, using 2 bags of dirt on them to make up for the fact that they weren’t being planted in an optimal location. I sprinkled some cypress mulch on them and hoped that they would grow strong before the fig tree fully leafs out.

I’m giving the fig tree once last chance before I get rid of it. It is an LSU Purple, supposedly bred to do well in our area. But while the tree has grown, and what fruit we get is large and delicious, and the tree actually has an early summer and early fall season, the harvests have been small. Last fall, partially to help make room for the ladders needed to sand and paint the house and partially to see if I could get the tree to send out branches where we could actually reach what fruit it produced, I cut the fig tree back hard. It has branch sprouts waiting to explode and I am hopeful, now that it knows this is its last chance, that this year will be bountiful.

It was just past dusk, a little before 6PM, when I finished planting. I had been at it for about 2 hours. The bags of cypress mulch were gone. Most of the seeds in the seed packets were planted. There was no room left to plant anything inside the fence. I had started out tired from a day of working inside and was physically tired but also rejuvenated from working in the soil. ("There is a healing power in the Earth and a vital force.") As I walked back and forth picking up bags and paper from the seed packets and putting the tool away I realized that it was very close to the dark of the moon. So I said a little prayer to the Dark Goddess and asked her to bless the seeds and make them strong and healthy and productive. I went inside to take the shower I had earned.

Later that beautiful, slightly cool evening, I went back outside to stand at the garden gate and look and listen. Even in the dark it was easy to tell the dark planted areas from the lighter mulched areas. The soil with the seeds tucked in was humming, happy and contented. I slept soundly.


Sunspot (del Vecchio) said...

I have to comment on your "growing soil for five years." I have to chuckle, since I don't have clay to deal with, I have sand. I'm in Florida, and you know what we say about soil in Florida; it would be nice to have some. So my composter has been cooking leaves and veggie scraps and then goes into beds for seedlings. The basil, oregano, and thyme have done well this winter despite a hard freeze which took out my bananna plant. I haven't found the perfect spot for tomatoes yet. The sun gets too hot in a few months to keep them in too much late afternoon exposure, and the shade won't work either. I took a few garlic bulbs that were beginning to sprout and planted them last week. Also an onion that was past it's prime also went into the garden and I see a possumn decided to give the green shoot a taste during the night but figured out it wasn't as tasty as the cat food left for the all black ferril tom cat. Yes, this is the time of year past the cold and not yet into the humidity and heat where the bursts of energy drive me right outside and into the dirt. So good luck with your plantings, you are the blessing you are giving your earth.

Nola said...

Try planting your tomatoes in plastic pots with potting soil and then "planting the pots" 3/4 of the way into the actual dirt (since you don't have soil... now if you had some of my clay and I had some of your sand... ah the balance). By "planting the pot" you have ensured perfect soil for the tomato AND that the temperature and moisture of the pot will not vary as much in the heat. This way you can keep the tomatoes in the full sun they tend to like.

Lavender is virtually impossible to grow here in New Orleans. But I have used the process of "planting the pot" for lavender and been very successful. I have to use clay pots and sandy soil to satisfy the Lavender. But once the pot with the lavender perfect soil is planted, I end up with happy plants. The only other trick to growing lavender here is that it needs a good trim before spring or it gets confused when it trys to put on new growth and this confusion can cause it to give up and die.

Good Luck working with your sand! Nola