Part of the System

Gardening reminds me of many lessons I have learned in life. All kinds of things. As Spring launches me into activity, I am reminded that I am part of a system. Nature is a giant system and we are part of it, no matter where we live. We can choose to fight the system, but nature is not some weak-kneed government, giving into the wishes of voters (save your hate mail…it is just a general comment). Nope. Nature is in charge.

I could choose to start my seeds anytime. But if I want them to do well, I need to stay in touch with nature. Now I begin to walk around the property daily, to see how things look and to make note of how and where I want to plant things this year. As you can see below, temperatures have begun to climb (over 20C later in the week) and the melt is well underway.

Flies are out, a few butterflies and mosquitoes will soon make an entrance. We make sure the bird feeders are down and garbage is bear-safe (ammonia -not bleach- in the garbage bin and they give it a wide berth. There are a lot of families with dogs in our area, so bears only come around if they are young and curious, or if a yummy smell entices them.

below is the view of our place as you come around the corner

Back to being part of a system. I count on compost. I have been ordering dirt each year to spread, but it is poor in nitrogen and high in carbon. Compost adds nutrients, as well as establishing a healthy environment for insects and microbes that make air pockets and substances that help glue the soil together. I will write something more on composting later in the season, when the compost bin is ready to go.

I used to wheel loads of compost into the greenhouse, as the beds drop considerably each growing season. Then it struck me. One of the main barriers to making compost in the north is a lack of heat. Nighttime temps can drop considerably, even in the summer, and even though we have hot days (+30C), we have less of them than further south.

So I save all of our home compost in the greenhouse over the winter. It is in fully compostable bags. These bags are terrific, as they break down quickly. Quite impressive. So I have this disgusting heap of bags to deal with in the spring. The greenhouse gets HOT. A cold spring day and sunshine will boost the temp to 30C no problem. And the greenhouse retains a lot of that heat with some help.

So now the greenhouse is a composter. First, I move the soil aside from one side of the bed. That was as deep as I could go, as the ground was still frozen (just a few days ago), but I am good with that.

I then take the compost bags and break them apart, spreading them about. Incidentally, I have read in more than one place that eggshells will not break down in a garden. By next year, the soil’s citizens have broken them down. We also have acidic soil, so that helps break them down. Nothing fancy here…the system works. By the time I plant things in the greenhouse (after I empty it of bedding plants in late May) most of this will be broken down considerably. Heat, balanced moisture and microbes are the key to healthy soil and it is not rocket science, but it is science.

Easy peasy. I rake the soil back over. I figure you do not need pics of me doing both sides, but this is the pic when I am finished. No sign of the compostables and now we are ready to get to work with some seeds.

Heat needs to be supplied this time of year. I use soil heating cables and stake them onto the soil. Perfection is not required and life is easier if you ignore the weirdness of it all.

I then cover the cables with cardboard. Water is touch and go in the spring, since my water has to come by hose from the house. Frozen hoses are a pain in the ass, but such is life at present. I am considering running a permanent line underground and have some ideas, but this is now. Cardboard helps retain water and keeps me from snagging on the hose. I have read that some people use thermostats to control heat, but I have had great success with this method.

I use cardboard a lot, since it breaks down into the soil when it has outlived its usefulness. Again, I have read that cardboard is not a good mulch, but I have not found this to be the case. Sometimes I will cover it will some grass or a little dirt, but it breaks down really quickly. Tape is an issue, but if it does not come off when you place it, it will fall off later, and is easily thrown out. If a large outdoor area is being covered, it is best to put lots of holes in the cardboard to help water get through.

On the outside beds, I cover the soil with the cardboard before planting and then simply cut holes in it to plant. Cut a large hole so the plant has plenty of room to grow. As the plant grows, it will choke out most weeds, which is especially important when plants are beginning to grow.

When I plant my seeds, I keep a map of what is where, as well as labelling some pots. You can see they sit nicely on top of the cardboard. The heating cables direct their heat to the roots and help the plants germinate, as well as keeping them warm on cold nights (lots of those left).

Back to the beginning…we are part of a system. And, within that system, we exist forever in one form or another. One day we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder and the next we are feeding the microbes.

I hope my tips are helpful to you. If you have any questions, just leave me a note and I will get back to you as I have opportunity.

St. John of the Asylum

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