MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Those who live in snow country will have some problems with this article. Do not despair. I have some tips for you first.
FOUR SEASON DELIGHTS
Autumn is the most wonderful season of all for the typical gardener. He can look back on his successes, knowing that the Creator did almost everything. And he can pray for an early snowfall to cover his mistakes. Working in the garden in autumn is often the most rewarding time. The cooling breezes and warm sun make physical labor a real pleasure. The compost bin I located DOWNHILL from the garden was easier to unload in the fall than in the humid summer of New Ulm. Defying the laws of physics, I made a large compost pile in a place where I had to run it uphill in the wheelbarrow to get it in the garden. That alone made me very skeptical that the Egyptians ramped their 200 ton stones to build the Great Pyramid, but that is another story.
Sweating in the summer in the Midwest is no fun. The sweat stays and turns into glue, offering no cooling benefit. In the autumn, hard work is rewarded with breezes that make it convenient to lean on a shovel and relax a few moments.
Autumn gardening is fun because only a few crops are even possible. Spinach can be started for the spring, then covered with the few hard frost. Kale can be grown. Few people try either one.
The gardener’s main concern should be in building the soil. Plants do not feed us. The soil does. Every civilization has been built upon the areas of the planet where the soil creature population is actively engaged in renewing their vast ocean of life. God has created every single denizen of the soil to work together to renew the foundation of life. Fortunately, we do not need to know all the details to make this work. Not a single creature thinks about it, either. They simply do their work if given the proper equipment.
Every fall (even now in the desert valley) I looked for ways to add organic matter to the soil. I praised horses in the hopes of turning up sources for manure, leading to some awkward moments. “You love horses? Do you own them?” I would have to say, “No, but I have a selfish interest in their well being.” The poor horse owner would brighten up and ask, “And what do you mean by that?”
Do not be too quick to smile, gentle reader. When Hitler built his Western Wall in Germany, the rural areas measured a girl’s wealth by the size of the manure pile outside her home. The country lads knew that a prosperous life began with fertile soil.
Although I was amazingly successful in finding sources for manure, I learned that other methods were easier and less likely to encourage uprolling eyeballs, elbow jabs, and repressed smiles. Autumn leaves can be piled on the garden area a foot deep. They can be mowed to encourage faster rotting, held down with tree branches to keep them from blowing all over the neighbor’s lawn. Rotted hay can also be used to build up the soil. Some have access to wood shavings and shovel them onto the garden. The wood will absorb nitrogen in the initial stage of rotting and then release it. In other words, a sawdust mulch (in the spring) is going to use up nitrogen at first and will not serve as well as a winter covering, giving the nitrogen time to return to the soil.
A green manure crop can be planted in late summer, for the sole purpose of generating roots that will rot, opening up the soil and feeding the soil creatures, especially the earthworms. At this point, Rosemary in Ohio will say, “There he goes again with those earthworms.” The matriarch of the CLC wrote to me that I had “an inordinate interest in angle-worms.” Guilty as charged.
Many crops will serve as green manure. If you buy seed the way I do, you can simply plant crops that have no hope of making it through a winter. Legumes (peas, beans) are good, but anything is worth the work. Some use the rye that dies in the winter. It will germinate fast, grow green and tall, then expire during the winter. Every thread of root adds up to miles of subterranean superhighways, food lines for the vegetarians of the deep. Moreover, according to God’s plan, the roots will open up the soil to make it more receptive to spring plants.
The wonder of all this is the assurance that God’s creatures will work through the autumn and into the winter to prepare the garden for next spring. The organic gardener will not bag leaves; he will rake them over the garden and between the bushes. He will not bag grass and then pay a company to spray nitrogen on his lawn. He will leave the clippings in the lawn or compost them. When the autumn rains and snow come, he will imagine the hum of millions of creatures at work on the papery blanket on his garden. In the spring he will have some slippery wads of leaves left, but he will find soft, worm tended soil beneath the mulch. The remaining leaves will quickly become absorbed into the soil during the warm spring rains, even before he can work the garden. Or he can part them and use them as mulch between rows of plants. Or rake them away, plant the garden, and rake them back on. Behold! The seedlings will pop up through the mulch, but the weeds will be suppressed.
Snow gardeners can also leave root crops in the ground and cover them with bales of hay. This will keep the soil warm enough to store the crops, which can be dug up during the winter and enjoyed for their extra sweetness. Carrots are often stored this way. The difference between a fresh carrot from the garden and a grocery store carrot is obvious. The later is more like chewing on a wooden bowling pin.
BACK TO WORK IN THE DESERT GARDEN
The Death-Valley-Days are drawing to a close in Phoenix. The zinnias are thrusting themselves into the air and blooming, heedless of the 110 degree heat fortified with southern Georgia humidity. A rose bush still alive is a thriving one. The most hellish weeds are taking over. But no rest is ahead for the desert gardener.
I had a great time ordering two pounds of seed from Harris Seeds in New York. The phone saleslady was pleasant and helpful. They like big spenders like me. Earlier I despaired because I planted zinnia seeds all over the yard with little apparent result. Later my zinnia drifts began to resemble the peas I grew when I planted one pound and then two pounds of them. (Oh, did we get sick of peas that year. Friends harvested them with glee, since they were magical in their splendor and sweetness. But that meant even more peas. I felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice in “Fantasia.” Make them stop growing! I fed the pea-vines to our rabbits, who converted them instantly to Rabbit-Gro, which I put on the garden, which gave me more peas.)
It is mid-August and truly dreadful outside. But it is time to plant pumpkins, a fall weather crop. I ordered a large envelope of Atlantic Giant pumpkins. They can grow 500 pounds and more. I grew them in Midland and enjoyed their elephant sized leaves and enormous fruit. We split up the seeds at a birthday party for a yearling. Emma Rose just turned one. I bring my buck-o-seed to these gatherings and offer seed to the willing. I often get some packets to try. It works out well. Susan took care of our sheltie, Precious, who ate two of her chickens, so I owed her some extra seed.
I do not know if I am planting the pumpkins early enough. Pumpkins are touchy about cold. They seem lawless in the Midwest, reaching into neighbor’s yards, until the cold weather comes. Then the fruits do not have enough time to ripen, in some cases. We will get cold weather in December, even a light frost. That is 120 days, the time allowed for pumpkins. At the worst I will have some green mulch to gather.
Peas can be planted in September. Those who love peas realize that they like sweet soil, which can be shallow (but must be sweet), and they love cold weather. Minnesota is dependably cold for peas. Snow can fall on newly planted peas and they will thrive. Heat makes them wilt and die. Trying to grow peas here is one of those Midwestern-nostalgia things that plague Phoenix. The worst aspect of this can be found among the sentimental who dump their hardy bulbs in the deep freezer to make them think they are in the Midwest. Oh the webs we weave when first we practice to deceive!
I bought very large amounts of spinach and basil. Spinach also loves cold weather, so I will try to get it going in the cool weather of October. Basil has a wonderful aroma. I doubt whether I will eat much of the basil I grow. Harris tempts me in terrible ways. One packet is about $1 or $2. But one ounce is $3. So I reason, “Everyone can grow basil if I just bump the order up a notch.” So now I have perhaps 2,000 basil seeds. No one wanted basil. I will have basil all over the place and members will say, “What is that beautiful aroma?”
To give you an idea of an ounce, a quarter ounce of zinnia got me 1,000 seeds. That was only $3.50. Only a fool would order less than that, I reason. Add up a few envelopes of seed, each with at least 1,000 seeds, and some very large numbers start to pop up.
KJV 2 Corinthians 9:6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
I bought another ounce of borage, then found an ounce envelope half full. Susan wondered what happened to part of her pea order, then ran into a huge envelope full of the same peas from the last order. If all the seeds bought were planted…
Nevertheless, we are glad to share when we have thousands of each kind of seed. My first purchase of Atlantic Giant cost me about $1 per seed, a packet of 4 seeds! Do you think I divided that envelope up? This time I got an ounce for $8, giving us enough to blanket all our yards. I may try one giant pumpkin in the front yard, just for fun, because the lawn sprinkler sticks on one side of the yard, giving me a desert on one side and a jungle on the other.
I bought more radish seed. Radishes are perfect for the insecure gardener who suffers from planter’s panic. “OH NO! I did something wrong! Nothing is coming up!” Radishes will come up right away and reward the insecure with instant success. They need to be thinned right away, so it is fun to thin radishes and eat them. If they go to seed, the pods make great salad additions. (Susan turned down a portion of my radish stash. Now she is saying, “I forgot about that.”) Radishes will grow quite tall and produce seed pods that are mildly radishy. No one harvests radishes fast enough, so they can be useful as pod producers when the roots have gone wooden and split. If the gardeners ate all the radishes they planted, our mouths would never cool down.
The garden supply houses have my number, my address, my phone, my debit card, my computer cookies. Soon I will get little packets of seed in the mail to get me to order even more garden plants, seed, supplies, and books. I enjoy the sample packages. I dumped some alyssum in one corner of the garden and found a little mound of white flowers growing later. I give away a lot of packets.
One student gave me his packet of morning glory seeds. I planted them and had a tangle of beautiful blue flowers every morning for months. It was fun to see them reach out and cover the telephone utility post I planned to camouflage. In addition, it was not just my morning glory flowers, but his as well.
Gardeners are irrational about buying supplies. They load up in good weather, especially on Saturdays. Rainy Saturdays kill sales. They also stop buying anything in July. Now is the time to look for bargains. The $1 seed packets are going to be 5 cents. Five cents! All kinds of equipment will be discounted. The garden supply aisles are abandoned. The clerks suppress weeping behind their registers.
The same gardeners who neglect the Wal-Marts, hardware stores, and nursery supply stores now will flock to them in the spring, paying more for the same things they ignored a few months before.