Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Simple Garden Routine - useful for bad backs, no time, short budgets:

My current garden routine began evolving when I became too ill to work, approximately two and a half years ago. In the last year, after a bad car accident, I have been fine tuning that routine. The fine tune is something that will probably be in progress the rest of my gardening life, as my capacity for working in the garden ebbs and flows.

I call it a simple routine, because it is definitely simple compared to any garden routine I have had in the past. While I was not gardening much in the few years preceding my illness, I have been an avid gardener most of my life. Finding solace in the soil, being able to grow a significant portion of my food is my therapy, my medicine, my passion.

This routine could easily be adopted and adapted by other folks with mild to moderate disabilities that live in temperate climates. A necessity for making this work, is to be able to garden year around. If your ground is not frozen solid, not covered in a blanket of snow, if you have weeds in the winter – you probably can garden year round. We do get hard frosts and occasional snow here. However, many winter vegetables are adapted to the cold.

If you were to observe my gardening routine, it would be hard to determine where exactly the starting place is. At the center, perhaps, is an ordinary nursery flat of seedlings, mostly planted in six packs. I find that I am able to take care of this one nursery flat. I can lift it and bring it in at night, where it sleeps on top of the washing machine. It spends the day outside, either on the porch during storms, in the sun - if it is out in winter, and in the shade at least part of the day in the summer.

I start the seeds at different times, so only a few seedlings get planted out in the garden on any particular day. After I am able to plant out a few starts, I access how many empty cells I have in the six packs. I also take a look at what varieties are not yet big enough to plant. There are a few things I successively start by hand. As soon as the seedlings of these plants are ready to plant out in the garden I start seeds of them again.

If I don’t need to start any of my successively sown seeds, I examine the mix in my flat. I want a nice selection of seasonal veggies, a few ornamentals, and some really tall specimens for the back of borders or for the side yard where I plan to grow a mixed tall border and eventually a hedgerow.

Almost all the seeds for the nursery flat are started on wet paper towels tucked into a zip lock bag. This saves space, keeps them protected from insects and soil borne disease, keeps them evenly moist, and I can keep a close eye on them. Once they show signs of germination I transfer them to empty cells in the six packs and let them grow out there until they are ready to be planted out in the garden.

Part of my routine involves feeding the worms. I do not keep my worms in bins. They are free in the soil and as such they are able to regulate their own pH, temperature, moisture level, etc. by their movements through the soil. I do save all my compostables for worm food. When I have collected enough I dig one hole in the yard – about 18” deep. We have nice flood plain silt – so the digging is easy enough. I bury those compostables, and any presents left in my yard by wandering creatures - under 4 inches of soil.

I have a plethora of red worms and night crawlers. The night crawlers are up to a foot long, and sometimes even longer. They are the fattest worms I have ever seen (and no you can’t come dig around in my yard for your fishing adventures). These worms are pretty dang tame too. When they sense me digging out there, they come and watch me, flop themselves into the hole before I am done, stick their little heads out and wait, and other wise make a nuisance of themselves.

When I get done burying the worms’ dinner, I plant one or more of my starts in the soil crumbled on top of the hole. The plants love it, the worms love it, and I have a pace my body can live with. Generally I dig one hole every day or two or three. Occasionally I get backed up and dig two holes a day. (Right after the accident – my son dug the holes for me.) But pretty much it works out that I have a seedling (or two or three) ready to plant at the same time I have food for the worms. (And the extra soil is saved for raised beds.)

During the coldest months of the year, when the seedlings grow very slow, I supplement the seeds I start with bulbs and other divisions. I am able to trade for these with divisions from my own garden. In warmer weather I can rely on my own seedlings. And in warm weather - I often mulch around the seedlings when I plant them out. For mulch I use grass clippings, garden trimmings, or the free wood chips from Dave’s Tree Service. (Contact your local tree service and your utility company – you may find a source of free wood chips in your area.)

This makes a nice circular routine. By the end of the season, when the plants are finished and ready to be replaced, the worms have turned all the compostables into the most beautiful batch of worm castings you have ever seen. Spots where I have been using this technique for a year or two no longer require a shovel to turn the soil. I can literally reach my bare hands down to 18 inches, the tilth is that fine. And the wonderful thing for me is, I can do it.

Even though I am not capable of running a rototiller, double digging a raised bed, starting or weeding a whole garden on a weekend, or even turning a compost pile, I can do it. The main soil amendment is produced by worms from materials I would otherwise throw away. Most of my seeds are free. I save some myself and also trade with other gardeners. Gardening does not have to be expensive. Depending on where you live, your own inclinations and limitations, your garden routine might look very different than mine – but I am sure you can find a way to garden if you really try.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell


beverlee said...

Goodness Harvest, worms that come to watch you? Ha ha ha, I am amazed....ha ha ha. You really have tickled me. And oh my gosh, the size of the worms. Almost a foot long!!! I am not sure those are worms. Ha ha ha I know if I were sitting down next to a hole and one of those worms came out, I would certainly get up and scream! Or maybe they would make good hotdogs. ha ha
Hey, you forgot to say what type of seeds you are planting out there during this worm feeding frenzy. Or where you just speaking generally about this past summer. Surely those worms don't come out in the winter?

Carla said...

I like your method of pacing your gardening to your abilities. Even those of us who haven't been injured could learn from that example.
When I moved to Georgia I was shocked at finding worms over a foot long. They are also very pale compared to the brown earth worms I know from up north.
The worms that live under my compost tumbler have surprised me at times by surging out of the ground when I rotate the tumbler (very rumbly tumbler on legs). I don't know why they do it sometimes and not others.
May the rain and sun bless your garden in good measure.

Harvest said...

I recently heard a program on the radio about a worm grunting competition. They hammer a metal rod into the ground and then they use another piece of metal to rub the top--like playing a fiddle. It makes a noise that causes the worms to think a mole is hot on their trail and they all pour out of the ground. Worm grunting is used by folks who collect worms to sell for bait. Now, we will have to wonder how much those worms come flying out of their burrows because the noise is threatening, and how much it is because they associate it with the yummy compost juice that might drip out . . .

Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your worm story . . .

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