It’s a little after 7AM as I look out the window into the still-gray morning. I can see the backyard from my temporary desk indoors – a plastic folding table beneath the window, on which I have my computer and a cup of strong black coffee. Oaks and magnolias loom over the patchy grass, while a huge pile of brush comprised of the fallen limbs of their brethren waits to be burned.
On top of the pile of brush is a pile of boxes from our move. These will burn with the pile, like the boats of Hernán Cortés.
In a couple of hours I will strike a match and send the remains of our big move up in flames.
My friend Greg is coming over soon. He rented us his family property and home so we could settle here in Alabama. Along with Greg, a tractor is coming as well. With a big tiller on the back.
I don’t have time to mess around hand-digging a big garden. Nor do I feel like doing it again after abandoning my old garden in Grenada, which was 7,000ft2 of laboriously dug beds. Instead, I give in to the lure of the 128-year-old mechanized marvel that powers America’s big farms. A tractor can do in a few minutes what would take me a week. I’ve already bought seeds for a big fall garden along with enough for a big area of fall and winter cover crops which can be tilled under to feed my spring garden. I’ve also purchased a mix of various nutrients recommended by Steve Solomon, with whom I have been carrying on complicated Skype conversations about esoteric amendments like sodium molybdate, Potassium sulfate, gypsum and boron. He has promised that if I follow his recommendations, my turnips will be the best-tasting in Baldwin County – and who am I to disagree with Steve Solomon, the original “intelligent gardener?”
Here’s the backyard right now:
We’re going to push that brush pile over the grass and burn it, then turn it under. The arrangement of trees are a bit weird and don’t allow a giant clear area to work, so we’ll be moving the beds around them as need be so we can avoid cutting down shade. In an Alabama summer, we’re gonna want that shade.
To the left of the image above is another big clear area of grass. We’re going to till that too, for a combined garden space of about 12,000ft2 – over a quarter acre. This will be the biggest garden yet.
Soon we’ll head out and get some stakes and strings to arrange beds, along with a big load of cottonseed meal from a local cotton gin. The stakes and strings will help me space out my beds and the cottonseed meal will provide nitrogen and some organic matter to the soil.
I’m sure the sandy soil is acidic here, since blueberries and pines abound. Yet I don’t think it’s really terrible nutritionally, as the sand is dark and loamy:
It’s time to do the old “jar test” and figure out what’s in the ground. I’ll also send a soil sample to Logan Labs and find out the exact mineral composition of the garden area.
But even without that, with some lime and cottonseed meal, plus Steve’s witch’s brew of weird elements, this acid sand should grow good vegetables. I’ve already got an order for turnips and mustard from the neighbor down the road. The pressure is on. Here I am in a new climate with new soil and I’m already making commitments and attacking a huge garden space in a rental property.
And I love every minute of it. It’s good to garden in sand again and play the game of “beating the frost.” It’s great to be back in a place surrounded by people that understand and encourage what I do. It’s amazing to have a landlord with a tractor who calls me up and says “hey, can I come over tomorrow and till you up a big garden?”
All the moving, the worry, the vehicle-hunting, the crazy search for plane tickets, the search for a home… it’s over. It’s gardening time again, and I feel happier than I’ve felt since I first got back to the states and drove to Taco Bell for some good old-fashioned 7-layer burritos and a Mountain Dew.
We’re gonna plant a huge fall garden. And don’t worry – I’ll have my camera out there and we’ll make sure the process ends up on YouTube and Unauthorized. Finally, at long last, I’ll be planting seeds again. And it’s in a safe place, surrounded by my own people.
But enough about all that. It’s time to git! The garden is calling.