Garden Notes : Garden investments
The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society welcomes members, supporters, and the public to its Spring Potluck Supper and Social on Saturday, March 28, at Agricultural Hall. Admission is an ample dish for six to share. Entertainment is the film "The End of Suburbia."
Gardeners all over Martha's Vineyard are in various stages of preparing their vegetable patches and readying them for outdoor sowing. For such a small island its diverse areas show great temperature and frost variations. A gardener I know has been recording weeklong overnight lows in the 20s; others in a few favored spots may have already seen the last really serious frost of the season. This is a good time to transplant evergreens and to take hardwood cuttings of shrubs for propagation. Check hemlocks for hemlock woolly adelgid.
Photos by Susan Safford
I believe that now is a good time to make a few key investments pertaining to gardens and the home economy. At the national level there has been much talk of "investing in infrastructure." Consider laying out bucks for something pricey like a pressure canner or a cold frame and thinking of it as investing in your own personal infrastructure.
I have been highly gratified with an investment I made last year in a broadfork (in the pricey tools and equipment category) down at SBS. Although we own a fossil-fueled tiller, for a garden the size of ours, using it is not really part of our garden maintenance goals: soil biology does not benefit by being disturbed. The ideal, I believe, is building deep topsoil that never needs such a machine. Save the Troybilt for turning under a completely new garden, tending a really extensive truck patch, or just maybe, tilling in a cover crop.
The broadfork largely takes over. It has many uses: cultivator, planting jig for seedlings, harvester of beets, carrots, and potatoes. From the website of Red Pig Garden Tools, makers of broadforks: "Broadforks are two handled forks with long widely spaced tines. They are used to loosen soil deeply without inverting it. Doing so maintains the existing soil structure and minimizes disruption of bacterial life while providing aeration that enhances water and nutrient penetration, root spread. It also serves to counteract the compaction caused by water, gravity and other causes.
"To wield a broadfork you force the tines straight down into the earth while holding the handles at arms length. You then pull the handles back and rock them breaking, loosening and crumbling the soil. As with all spading, you take small bites. Spits should be about four inches thick for average soil, thinner for heavy ones and never thicker than six inches."
I picked up this nice piece of garden philosophy from Broadfork Blog, the soapbox of a Tennessee blacksmith of broadforks: "I think demystifying gardening is part of the challenge in getting someone started. From the outside, it seems like so much work, so much equipment, such a miracle to get food to grow in the Earth...[But] when we open the ground and put in a seed and water it, we are simply letting Nature happen." Check out broadforks at SBS; there are several different sizes.
My plan to sow Swiss chard and beets this weekend has been detoured by a competing plan on behalf of a boat. Suddenly digging is ongoing, the vegetable garden bereft of fencing along one side and chickens scratching everywhere inside it. All the planting and garden work done so far seems to be unraveling: top-dressed rhubarb, sprouting sorrel and comfrey - even part rows of garlic - have been moved. In the hierarchy of domestic interests, yachts trump food.