older than dirt

The median age of the world’s population is 29.4 years.

That means that I’m more than twice as old as most people. ‘Older than dirt’, I think, is the saying.  The little pains pop up, the slight numbness in strange places, and I think, “I don’t feel old inside. I’m still the same person I was when I smelled the grass that my Dad mowed. I still like the lights on the Christmas tree. Low-class jokes still make me laugh.”

But the truth is, I’m old. My body’s degrading. Yours is too. It’s natural and unavoidable. And not bad.

The organisms of time are at work on you non-stop, transforming muscle and skin and hair.  And as you age, you’re also leaving behind little bits of yourself that are dispersed into the world around you. Not bits of muscle and skin…that comes later.  Bits of yourself.  Like a leaf in the garden.

A leaf in the garden takes its time changing, being transformed by the microscopic life that surrounds it. Pieces break off and become smaller pieces. The leaf eventually ceases to be a leaf. But it isn’t nothing.  It’s more than it was.

change is hard

There’s been a lot of talk about permaculture in the last few years and even longer.  The concept sounds solid and good.  At the same time it also seems (to me anyway) trendy, fashionable, like the cultural concept of the week.  I know the idea’s been around for ages, but I associate it with eco-enthusiasts and sometimes outright zealots.  That’s not me.

But then it’s hard to change when you’re deeply routine in your thinking and ways, like me.

I might be more likely to embrace the term and the concept of permanent mulch.  Not so socially-encompassing.  It, too has been around for ages.  Ruth Stout was its champion, and it’s very simple; you put what you have directly on the garden and leave it to decay in place.  It creates an undisturbed system that mimics how nature generates life and death, and I’m absolutely certain it would be better for the garden.  Not to mention easier.

But it’s hard for me to make this jump.

I love to mess with the soil.  I like to see it black and tilled.  I enjoy collecting stuff to compost and creating the witch’s brew piles that heat up in the middle to blistering temperatures.  I like to see the dirt.

Right now I’m considering the change.  A permanent mulch that continually decomposes right on the garden.  No compost bins.  No tilling.  Hmm.  At the very least, it gives me something to obsess about next to the wood stove while the snow flies.

soil test

Well happy day.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had ignorantly been dumping wood stove ashes on my garden, thinking that they would provide concentrated nutrients for my soil.  They were natural, what harm could there be?  And then the Extension agent talked to me about the soil sample I had sent in, and it turned out that my assumption was wrong.  Too many ashes aren’t good for the soil, just like too much manure.  My soil tested pretty alkaline.

I spent a while actually researching what to do to organically lower soil pH and found that elemental sulfur would be my best bet.  So at the end of the season this year, I added the recommended amount of sulfur.

Yesterday I completed a home soil test.  It shouldn’t have made me so happy, but I’m simple.  The pH reading was in the neutral range.  I know most vegetables like a slightly acidic soil, but I’ll take neutral.

soil test

garden experiments my way

That ‘barely a clue’ thing in my tagline? Not just a catchy phrase.

When I embark on a new scientific test, it’s always with good intentions. The problem comes when I have to chose a control plant, the one that stays as is, the normal one.

The reasoning usually goes like, “Ok, I won’t do anything to this plant so I can compare the results of adding extra [insert weird test here] to the other ones. But I don’t have that many plants. What if my theory works and this idea is fantastic. Then this control plant won’t be as good as the other ones.”

So nine out of ten times, there aren’t any conclusions to draw from my science.

I started out last season with a battery of experients for my tomatoes; pet fur in one hole, dead fish in a couple of others. But then I wanted to try banana peels and tums and diluted pee and epsom salts…

Winter-killed bass from our pond

Winter-killed bass from our pond for a tomato hole

Yeah, it got out of control.

And so I didn’t have enough tomato plants to experiment with. Might as well use the control plant. It was the only choice.

Long story short, all of the tomato plants did fantastically. But the experiments were basically null and void. And I did learn something; if you put junk in tomato holes, it’s possible that they’ll do well.

but first…

You’d think after 38 years worth of organic vegetable gardening, I’d be able to hang up my ‘Dr. Garden’ plaque and smile at the junior peach fuzz apprentice gardeners.

Almost the opposite.

When I semi-retired two years ago I realized that I had been doing a great job of recycling; recycling a lot of my own wrong-headed ideas and practices.

And then I decided that I would start learning. From others, from my own mistakes and successes, from nature.

The first thing that I learned, the thing that a wiser person would have caught on to decades earlier, was that soil comes first. You feed the soil, not the plant. Sounds so basic, but it was enlightenment.

The second thing, a thing I sensed but hadn’t quantified, was that nature won’t tolerate a void. Soil left bare will fill itself with weeds or grass. If you don’t plant it or mulch it, nature has its own party in the breach.

The challenge is to set one’s own party agenda.