The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

I Love to Run Garden Soil Through My Fingers

March 9th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Posted in garden


A trench for leeks. Notice the mounds of dirt on either side

A trench for leeks. Notice the mounds of dirt on either side

Eating home-grown vegetables is fine. But my favorite part of gardening isn’t at the end of the growing process, it’s at the beginning.

After the snow has melted and the soil can be worked, I get busy in our sunniest garden bed, heaving the soil a little with my forked spade. Then I get down on my knees and start picking out the weeds and the debris from last year. I break up the clods with my hands, run the soil through my fingers.

I cover the surface with a thin layer of the compost I’ve stored over the winter, work it into the soil with my stirrup hoe. Then I’m down on my knees again, leveling the surface with my hands and breaking up any new clods I find. No farmer can give this kind of attention to his soil. But I like to feel it, see the earthworms squirming to the surface, see how fine and dark my soil has become after years of adding our home-made compost. Just think: I’ve run my entire garden through these fingers. More than once.

Do I add enough compost? That’s the question I ask with each new crop. How much do I need to do to maintain the fertility of my soil? The soil can’t tell me. I can only judge from how my plantings perform. And up to now, the plants seem to be quite happy. But I think about it a lot.

This year I am determined to grow leeks. It makes sense to grow things that cost a lot to purchase from others. After working the soil, I dug a trench the length of the bed. Leeks need to be covered with a certain amount of soil to produce the tender white part for which they are so famous. Digging a trench makes the covering part easier. But when the trench was dug–about six inches deep–I had two impossible mounds of dirt on either side. The mounds took up so much room, I decided they had to go. I nearly filled a big trash can with the soil, but I’ll save it until the leeks need to be covered.

Mounds removed. More room for planting other things

Mounds removed. More room for planting other things

This is also a good time of year to plant fava beans. I looked back through my garden journal and realized that I’ve been starting my garden almost every year on the same date: March 8. Pure coincidence. It just seems to work out that way. So I planted my fava beans, as well as a long row of snap peas, and lettuce, and radishes, and Hakurei turnips, escarole, collards.

Radishes germinate quickly. Before the end of the week, we should have little sprouts poking through the soil. That will be a fine thing to see.

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