A walk in the forest is most enjoyable yet, when you get hungry, you long for the presence of a peach or a plum or an apple tree among the pines. You realize that forest trees are a wonderful gift, especially since you don’t have to do anything to help them grow. Yet, if you want sweet fruit to personally pluck from a tree, you will probably have to plant that tree yourself.
In a world where instant gratification of almost every desire is increasingly in demand — and not more than a computer click away — it would appear that gardening may be one of the last places to demonstrate that true happiness is proportional to the effort involved in pursuing it.
In this context, “low-maintenance garden” is an oxymoron. An oxymoron consists of two words that bring opposites together and, intentionally or not, create a humorous or ironic effect. “Ice water,” “doing nothing,” “ill health,” “adult children,” “pretty ugly,” and “clean dirt” (this last example especially meant for gardeners) give you a feeling for how oxymorons, upon close examination, really make no sense and require further explanation to reveal their meaning.
The Garden of Eden was the only truly low-maintenance garden in human history and Adam and Eve were kicked out of it less than a day after they went in.
Ever since Eden, to be a farmer or a gardener has meant toil and sweat and even blood in the event that you have a lot of roses to prune and, now and again, are inevitably gored by a thorn. I don’t care if you are growing natives or cacti that require no water, constant surveillance for weeds and pests and plants growing into one another is needed to keep your garden in prime condition, and continual applications of mulch make everything grow so much better. A pile that consists of your garden trimmings, dead leaves, and kitchen scraps (excluding meat and milk products), once it breaks down into compost, makes the best soil amendment and mulch.
If you are growing vegetables and you aspire to the absolute best quality crops, you must embark on double digging (do an Internet search for details), a laborious but definitely worthwhile endeavor since it allows you to create, over time, the soil of your dreams, “a living sponge cake” to a depth of 2 feet, as described by John Jeavons, the legendary backyard gardener.
The bed you are going to build for vegetable production should be no smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet. These minimal dimensions are required to create the proper plant density and accompanying microclimate above the soil surface, as well as sufficient area for the proliferation of beneficial microbial life below the soil surface. The bed should not be more than 5 feet wide, allowing you to reach anywhere in the bed without having to step on and compact the prepared soil. The finished bed will be several inches higher than ground level since, in the process of double digging and aerating the soil to a 2 foot depth, the volume of air in the soil will have increased significantly.
Tip of the week
According to John Jeavons, you should think of building a compost pile as you would a lasagna.
Construct the pile by alternating 2-inch layers of brown (dead leaves, wood chips, straw) and green (leafy trimmings, grass clippings, kitchen scraps), moistening each layer before adding the next. When the pile is 3 feet tall, cover it with a thin layer of soil.
Soil contains the aerobic bacteria that push the decomposition process forward. Soil will also help the pile hold moisture, keep down odors and slow decomposition of the vegetation, making the pile easier to manage. However, this pile must be kept moist and turned over every now and then to supply the water and oxygen required by the aerobic bacteria that transform the pile into that soft, crumbly, sweet-smelling substance known as compost.
Before starting, loosen the earth where the pile will stand to a 1-foot depth. The base of the pile should be a square, 3 to 5 feet per side.