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Archive for March, 2013

Dirty Deeds

It may be blowing snow outside, with a 36-hour forecast for wintry mix, but dang it’s spring at last. Even if the weatherman says otherwise, my muscles tell me so. Spring has arrived. The implements of destruction have been awoken from their slumber, or at least some of them. I had a devil of a time trying to get the fire to light in my “little hoe.” The little beast is twenty years old and no amount of cussin’ and yankin’ would stir her to life. So much for tilling the day away. So I grabbed a pitchfork and a spade and trundled off to break ground the hard way. After wading through the winter’s growth in the backyard I decided to adjust my plan of attack.

Back up the hill I went. Who needs a Stairmaster when you live in the mountains? No treadmills needed, just forget a tool and burn some calories hiking back up the hill to the tool shed. This time the machine I needed started, so no excuse to not bag mow the jungle. Gassed and as ready to get grassed as a Colorado pothead, I let the mower sit while I went to the garden. Even though I couldn’t till I still had compost bins to empty and spread on the beds. Two hours later I had pitched forked my way almost to China, and I had a covered the corn beds with a healthy layer of decayed organic material. Ahh, the cycle of life, all that once was thriving and green, now was dead and brown, and ready to feed new life. Gardening is such a symbolic activity, life started blossomed, harvested, consumed and then decayed in one cycle of calendar.

Next up was mowing. It is amazing how tall grass can grow during the winter. Especially during a mild winter like we had here in the North Carolina mountains. It was way too tall to use the tractor; I would have needed a hay bailer to pick up the clippings. Just the thought of it reminded me of a sight I saw a few summers ago while riding to Sturgis. I was passing through vast farmland and came along what must have been an Amish farm where they were harvesting hay by hand into huge mounds that dotted the immense field. It was like riding in a pastoral painting from centuries ago. No little green mountains of grass for me today, I was past my pitchfork quota.

Mid-season if I keep to a timely schedule, I can mow almost a full lap of the backyard and have a stuffed bag without bogging down or stalling the mower. This time I couldn’t make it halfway along one side before the machine protested and stalled. This is where an empty compost bin is worth the forking. As it usually happens with compost I had a modest pile of dried debris than was not decomposed during the last cycle. Perfection. I was able to get the compost building season off to a nice start with layers of fresh green and dried brown. A little sprinkle of composted starter and “Shazam!” my pile would be cooking in no time.

This process of start the mower, fill the bag, stop the mower, empty the bag, repeat, was punctuated by rounds of pitch forking. By the time I had conquered the lawn the large compost bin was nearly half full.

After the first cut of the year is the perfect time to plant grass seed in the dead areas of the lawn. So I took a three-pronged cultivator and scrapped up the dead grass and loosened the soil. A good sprinkle of Rebel brand grass seed and all I needed was some topsoil to cover the seed. I really like the grass that Rebel seed produces it is dark green, fine bladed and grows very thick but not too tall. Since it is both pretty to look at, easy to mow and drought resistant, it works for me. Seed spread and it was time for covering them with some topsoil. I normally would have driven to the garden store for a big bag or two of topsoil and maybe some mushroom compost, that combo works great to start grass seed and improve the Carolina red clay of the lawn. But, after all my work in the compost and mowing I was unfit for mingling with the washed masses. So I improvised. Last fall Mary had tried an experiment of growing potatoes in fiber tubs, like soft planters the size of wine barrel halves. They were full of good topsoil and had to be move soon so I dumped them in the wheelbarrow. As I was shoveling the soil out of the wheelbarrow and spreading it over the new seed I spied something white in the black soil. I reached in and pulled out a beautiful Kennebec potato. By the time I had finished spreading the soil I had harvested a nice pile of fresh potatoes. Enough to make two messes of the tastiest potatoes for dinner that night and for lunch the next day. That was my pay for the day’s dirty deeds done dirt cheap.