Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attentionโ€”The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

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Meatless Monday in a Book

The past few months have flown by in a confetti tornado of many more activities than my introvert-self typically likes, but I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed myself…most of the time. In true hermit fashion however, I’m settling back in at home for the winter–if it ever actually arrives–and thinking about all the comforting meals I’d like to create.

Tonight’s meatless Monday meal was simple and delicious, yet unnoteworthy. But one of my Christmas 20151228_212206-1.jpgpresents isย absolutely worth talking about. The beautiful book by Hugh Acheson, The Broad Fork. It’s an entire collection of recipes for fruits and vegetables broken down by season. I try to eat seasonally as much as I can, so I instantly appreciated the set up of this book.

Apparently, the idea all started with his neighbor asking him, “What the hell do with kohlrabi?” Great question. Although I know what kohlrabi is, I’ve wondered before what I would do with it were I to bring some home. In the contents lists, kohlrabi was among a few others I was drawn to learning about such as salsify, sunchokes, fiddleheads, and yacon.

20151228_213904-1.jpgI will delve into those “oddities” later, but what caught my attention most immediately were the recipes for Brussels sprouts. Being that we are in the season for them, and I adore them, I went straight to that section. My eye quickly found the fried Brussels with a lime vinaigrette recipe, and I plan on making that as a side for my New Year’s eve meal.

It’s hard not to sit here and read through this entire book tonight. The photographs are20151228_214204-1.jpg gorgeous and the recipes are the perfect instructional length. Look at that radicchio! I don’t even like this stuff, but I want to tear this page out and chomp it. The pictures throughout bring on the uncontrolled drool factor. I love vegetables, so I don’t need help with eating and preparing them in all the ways, but I can see how someone who is leary about what to do with them would find this book inspiring.

I’ll be starting with the Brussels recipe, but I’m sure that I will be trying many more throughout the seasons.