The soil where we have our garden plot is mostly clay. Despite being gardened for over fifty years, I still pull chunks of clay out of the ground that could go straight to a potter’s wheel. Since we started working it I have made a concerted effort to dig in organic matter every chance I get. The garden committee occasionally purchases and resells compost at cost, but I rely almost entirely on a massive leaf pile collected from the curbsides of the village adjacent to the university where our garden is. Sometimes there are additional organic matter opportunities such as a mixture of manure and bedding from the riding club’s stables. The latest source of organic matter dumped in the communal area is lake weeds.
To reduce the nutrient load in a large nearby lake and make the shore areas more attractive and usable large machines harvest the weeds growing there. The stuff reeks, but it’s full of nutrients and organic matter and even the occasional small fish that I’m happy to take.
I had one bed that was mostly done for the moment so I tore out the finished broccoli and the kale that we’ve decided just isn’t our thing. I dug out the soil down to a depth of about eight inches in a third of the bed at a time and spread the glorious gunk in the bottom and then covered it completely. Remember? The smell? What I noticed as I was working and made me so happy was something that’s becoming apparent here and there throughout the plot. The soil is getting better. It’s less sticky and clumpy than it was when we took over and though we had had a two-inch rainfall over a couple of the previous days it was nicely and evenly moist for the depth that I dug out.
Once I’d interred all of the gunk I mulched the bed with shredded leaves. I’ve got some Chinese cabbage and baby bok choi seedlings I may set out here in the next few days. I hope they don’t experience any ill effects if/when their roots reach the gunk layer.
At the end of the season I’ll chop down any cover crops I may have going and haul in more leaves and spade everything in to each fallow bed. It’s a bit of physical work but I’m encouraged by the results we’re getting and feel like it’s all worthwhile.
In other news, I had terrible germination from the snap peas I planted a while ago so I resorted to a trick I’d used in the past for black-eyed peas. I soaked and sprouted the seeds and then sowed the ones that sprouted. I don’t know if the problem was the heat that we were having at the time or, more likely, the rodents that plague the gardens. In any case, I at least know these were viable seeds at one point. The crop was so good last spring–and made my co-workers happy–that I’m trying a fall crop for the first time. I hope there’s time for them to grow. The cool days we are suddenly having make me wonder.