Monday, April 6, 2015

What we did for Easter

Yesterday, neighbors up and down our street were dressed in their Sunday best, heading to and from church, hunting for eggs, and playing games. Meanwhile, Brian and I were dressed in our grungiest gardening clothes, covered in dirt and grass stains, hauling buckets of compost to and fro. Because while for many people, Easter Sunday means candy and new dresses, for a gardener, it means it's almost time to start setting your first transplants out in the garden—and in order to do that, you've got to get the beds properly prepared. So while our gaily dressed neighbors feasted and frolicked, we spent the whole morning and a good chunk of the afternoon toiling in the fields.

By the time we finally went inside, around 3pm, we were both pretty tired and pretty grungy, but we'd accomplished quite a lot:
  • Brian hauled out the rain barrel from the shed and set it back up on its pad. This job included removing and storing away the drainpipe extension that we used throughout the winter to divert water away from the house, and replacing it with the shorter pipe that routes water from the gutter into the barrel. Once he had it back in its place, however, he found himself wondering whether the empty barrel was too light to resist blowing over in a high wind. He actually considered turning on the outside water to add just enough to the barrel to give it some ballast, but it seemed a bit silly to use household water to fill up the barrel whose whole purpose is to save on our household water use. Since there's rain in the forecast for later this week, he figured the barrel could take its chances until then; it only takes one good rainfall to fill it pretty full.
  • We pulled all the leaves and other debris off the garden beds (stashing it in buckets since there was no more room in the compost bin) and gave all the beds a good weeding. This includes the permanent beds where we keep the asparagus and rhubarb, and the mulched areas surrounding the cherry bushes and the new hardy kiwi vines. I'd been noticing ever since the snow melted that the boundary between the cherry bushes and the surrounding lawn had been growing a bit blurry as weeds gradually encroached on the mulch area, so I took the opportunity to realign the border of smooth stones that separates the two. I ceded a bit of territory to the lawn, but the line of demarcation is now clear again.
  • While we were doing this, Brian noticed that a branch had broken off one of our neighbor's trees and was now dangling by a shred of bark, at risk of coming down in our yard in the next high wind. So, rather than leave this sword of Damocles hanging over our yard, he fetched out the ladder and the handsaw and brought it down with a few well-placed strokes. Then, of course, he had this whole big dead branch he had to cut up, and while he was doing that we figured we might as well go ahead and bundle all the other woody material we had lying around the yard: sticks pulled out of the compost bin, leftover evergreen boughs from last year's Christmas decorations, heaps of dried branches and leaves trimmed off our massive sage plant, and, most hazardous of all, the prickly canes of last year's raspberries that we cut down to make room for this year's new growth. To wrap these up safely, we practiced what Brian termed "bundle engineering": padding the outside of the bundle with some thick evergreen or soft sage boughs and squirreling the prickly stuff away in the middle. That made the bundles reasonably safe to handle, though we still had to be very careful while wrapping them. Turns out those little prickers are sharp enough to go through standard garden gloves. We ended up with six big bundles of brush, waiting for the next bulk trash pick-up. (Pity to let all that wood go to waste, but we made an attempt a few years back at home chipping, and the small electric machine just wasn't up to the job.)
  • Next came the dirtiest part of the work, as Brian opened up the compost bin that had been heaped to overflowing all through the cold winter months. He dug out all the rich, black compost way down at the bottom and shoveled it into buckets, which I hauled down to the garden and spread on the beds. We eventually managed to extract about four buckets of compost per bed—enough to give each of them a thin coating, though definitely not the 1-inch layer that gardening experts recommend. We also added about one bucketful to the asparagus bed. In the process, Brian ended up removing pretty much the entire contents of the bin and then pitching it back in, with all the weeds and other debris we'd removed from the garden thrown in on top. So the bed has now had its annual turning, which is about all it gets from us, since we prefer the "cold compost" (aka "lazy") method. (By the way, those plants you can see still lingering in the beds are last year's Brussels sprouts. They hadn't produced any sprouts by the time winter came, and we never got around to hauling them out of the beds—but when the snow finally melted last month, we saw that they were still alive and starting to form tiny sprouts. So we figured we'd just leave the plants there until we actually need to plant something else in that space, and see whether the sprouts manage to get big enough to eat.)
  • While Brian was setting the compost bin back to rights, I busied myself with the old trash barrel containing the last of the bulk batch of mulch we bought last fall. By tipping it onto its side and scooping out the contents with the shovel, I was able to extract enough to spread a nice inch or two on the asparagus bed. Then Brian helped me haul the barrel up to the front yard and renew the mulch "doughnuts" around our three plum trees. The little bit that was left got dumped onto a stray corner of the raspberry bed that was looking a bit bare.
Our grubbing in the dirt made an amusing contrast with our neighbors' finery and festivity, but it occurred to me as we worked that, really, what we were doing was entirely appropriate for the Easter season. After all, the holiday is all about two things: rebirth and redemption. What could be a better celebration of rebirth than waking up the garden after its long winter's sleep and preparing it to receive another season's plants? And what could be a better symbol of redemption than the transformation of kitchen and yard waste, dead and decaying vegetable matter, into rich, dark, lush compost that will nourish new growth?

Of course, I don't actually celebrate Easter myself; I'm in the middle of Passover right now. But personally, I think gardening is an appropriate way to celebrate that holiday too. It might seem like, if the whole point of the festival is to celebrate being freed from slavery in Egypt, it would be most appropriate to spend the eight days relaxing and not having to work at all—but work isn't slavery when you're doing it for your own benefit. Being able to work hard at a job you've chosen yourself, knowing that you will enjoy the fruits of your labors come the harvest—now that's a celebration of freedom.

So happy Easter and Passover, respectively, to all those who celebrate them. And to everyone else, happy spring!
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