This year will go down as the do-or-die digging marathon. Remember those four plots I've undertaken to tame and plant this summer? Here it is, mid-July and then some, and I'm still at it.
The first of the four was by far the simplest. Which may be a good thing, as it therefore got planted before the growing season was half over. Of course, there may be a difference of opinion about just how simple the job was; a certain brother-in-law of mine may be inclined to point out that I can call it simple because I didn't do most of the work. Do not listen to him.
Plot 1 was the last (of six) to be tamed in a garden its owners had given up on. They simply got too busy to garden, and several seasons back, they said sure, I could garden there, if only I'd tackle the weeds. Here's what it looked like when I started:
As of this summer:
Not to blow my own horn or anything, but– Ta-dah!
The last of the six plots–the one on the far left under the white hoops–received a sudden and thorough going over in April, when my brother-in-law Jeff was visiting. While he dug, I sifted some of the earth for weeds and returned it to the plot, where Jeff amended it with compost, fertilizer, and spruce duff. (I'm pretty sure he'll never again visit in April.) When we were done, I covered the earth with black plastic to discourage the weeds we'd inevitably have missed.
Then it started to rain. A huge load of earth remained heaped at the north end of that plot, waiting for me to sift it for weed roots, primarily creeping bellflower. I did some of that a couple of weeks later, but the dirt (it really doesn't deserve the name of “earth”) was so heavy and wet that it stuck to everything. Indeed, I don't remember doing anything so mucky, yucky, and gucky since kindergarten.
I was a camp counselor, in my distant youth, and one summer it rained all through the first two-week session. We played a great deal of Winkum that session, and we also spent a fair amount of time on a mudslide down to the lake
My appearance this spring, trying to go through that pile of earth for bellflower roots, wasn't much different than it was that long-ago summer after a good hour on the mudslide. Except in one particular: during the mudslide summer, it may have rained, but at least it was warm, and we could run around in our bathing suits.
Not so in Montana in April: I wore a full rain suit, from which I would scrape a couple of pounds of mud before going inside. My boots (thank God for Wellies!) carried an inch-wide rim of heavy clay; I don't know what sort of animal my footprints suggested. As for my gloves, they were so clay-coated, I had difficulty shaking loose the roots once I got hold of them.
After a session or two of this rather awful activity, I got the message: this was not worth the time. It would be much easier to do later in the season, after the earth dried. Furthermore, it did not have to be done now. So, in a rare display of good sense and maturity, I gave up.
Now, such a sudden departure from my obsessive norm could not be effected instantaneously; I couldn't just walk away. But instead of searching for each tiny root-thread, I settled for rooting out the worst offenders, the biggest, most obvious carrot-sized bellflower roots. Then I set out to move the unsightly heap from my neighbor' yard to mine. Not that I love looking at piles of wet dirt, but since these folks are letting me grow vegetables on their land, the least I can do is (occasionally) clean up after myself. Besides, the pile was sitting on space designated for carrots and peas. It was in the way.
So I started hauling the remaining dirt away. That dirt was so water-logged that I could only fill the wheel-barrow about half-full, and even so, I wavered and wove my way across the alley, grunting and groaning as I struggled to hang onto the shafts with my slippery gloves. Eventually, though, it all got dumped on my revolving earth pile, out of sight behind the lilacs.
No doubt the bell flower is going nuts in there, but at least the plot is now available—and planted, primarily in potatoes, though there's also a narrow, experimental border of peas and carrots. It kept raining so long and so hard after the potatoes went in, that I feared they'd rot, so I covered the plot with plastic. Any extra heat generated during the fifteen or so minutes of sunshine that we were getting each day would be good for the plants.
It all appears to have worked: as the photo at the top of the page shows, the potatoes are lush and just starting to flower. The photo doesn't show the carrots and peas around the perimeterl, but they're coming along well too.
So, thank you, Jeff. That week of help gave me the kick-start I needed to get into the garden this spring.