My name is Betsy and I am an over-achiever. Some deep shaping events in my past appear to drive me to work, work, work until I drop. My Puritan ancestors would totally relate to this, as would generations of driven, Type A people.
And during spring on our homestead, harnessing this tiny obsessive tendency sure helps me get a lot done. Nick prepares dinner and washes the dishes so I can squeeze in every last minute on the project du jour. This week I was able to check off several big items on my to-do (over-do?) list:
1) Sweet Potato Slips: I am thrilled that I finally figured out how to grow my own sweet potato slips from last year’s tubers (organic and purchased at All Things Local) instead of forking over big bucks to buy wilted ones from a mail-order nursery. I place halved tubers partially buried in a shallow pan of moist potting soil in a bright warm location. This week I detached and potted up more slips than we can accommodate in our garden. Want some? They need to be planted 12 to 18 inches apart in deeply worked, rich warm soil. Like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, they wait to be planted out on Memorial Day or the weeks that follow.
2) Installing Polyculture Guilds: Based on the design recommended by Llani and Evelyn from Broadfork Permaculture, I planted some new bushes this week, then surrounded them with supporting plants. To the north of our fenced vegetable garden I planted two elderberry bushes and three winterberries. There’s one male and two females; the ladies need cross-pollination in order to make their signature red berries, which I envision as part of future Christmas decorations.
Near the patio I planted a flowering quince to form part of a cozy enclosure around that outdoor room. All of these bushes can tolerate the occasional wet conditions and heavy rich clay soil of these sites.
I then planted companion plants, also tolerant of wet and partly shady conditions and fulfilling functions to support each other in a mimic of natural plant communities. The elderberries and winterberries are accompanied by horseradish (deep roots pull up nutrients, leaves for mulch), marsh mallow, an emollient herb (flowers to attract pollinators), dandelion and plantain (nutrient accumulators), red clover (roots fix nitrogen), great lobelia (pollinator attractant) and ajuga (ground cover, pollinator attractant). Choosing these complementary plants is called “guild-build.”
The flowering quince is surrounded by tansy (pest repeller and pollinator attractant), daisy, great lobelia and pulmonaria (pollinator attractant), red clover (nitrogen fixing), daffodils to suppress any grasses creeping in, plantain and dandelion (nutrient accumulators), borage (pollinator attractant and mulch plant). Later I will add some nasturtiums for ground cover and mulch.
3) Rhizome Barriers: Both of these new beds have a little problem with their useful but pushy and intrusive neighbors: mint! So like the farmer in Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” I built a wall — or in this case, rhizome barriers. This involved the hard labor of digging a narrow trench 17 to 18 inches deep to accommodate the 20-inch aluminum flashing. Next I inserted the flashing into the trench and back-filled to within a few inches of the top. Nice solid barrier keeping out those pushy mints.
Caution! The flashing is really sharp, as I learned the hard way yesterday. I was purchasing a 50-foot roll at the hardware store and in an inattentive moment (and without sturdy leather gloves) sliced my tender fingertip – ouch! Very bloody, but soon mended. And in the end, I can agree with Frost’s farmer neighbor, that in this case, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Phew! My aging body is telling me I’ve gone and over-done it again. Time to administer the antidote. I’ll take a few days off, flop on the couch and dive into some of those yummy books I took out of the library. The tides and rhythms of my life follow this pattern of hard work and hard relaxation. That’s what I call the Good Life!