Our vegetable garden feeds us during the summer and fall, and to a lesser extent in the winter and spring. Wednesday, we peeled, cut up and sauteed our last butternut squash, Thursday I used three quarts of canned tomatoes from last year’s garden to make soup, and Friday we roasted the final sweet potatoes from the 2015 garden.
But who feeds the garden? This backyard bounty doesn’t just spring forth from the earth. Sure, we plant the seeds and water the transplants, pull the weeds and put down mulch, but where do the garden’s nutrients come from? Don’t we have to give something to get something?
Yesterday, I spent a few hours putting compost in a wheelbarrow and spreading it over the beds where our vegetable plants will go next month. I mixed it with the existing soil so the soil life can digest these nutrients. Last month, I did the same thing with beds where I planted the early crops: peas, carrots, lettuce, bok choy, spinach, chard and rutabagas.
We have five compost enclosures of different types, for different stages of decomposition. We have two Earth Machines, which are off-season receptacles for our kitchen waste (and that of some neighbors) mixed with leaves. In the spring, I start to get grass clippings from a neighbor and animal manure from a friend, and layer that with the contents of the Earth Machines in separate piles enclosed by stacked-up cinder blocks.
One of my favorite garden tools is a compost thermometer. It’s great fun to watch the temperature of a pile rise, and it gives me feedback on how successfully I’ve combined the essential ingredients: carbon, nitrogen, water and air. The compost usually sits and cooks for nine to 12 months before I put in on the garden.
Another spring chore Betsy and I did recently was to cut up and transport some downed trees that have been sitting off the ground deep into our backyard, perhaps for several years. We attached about 60 feet of extension cord to our small, electric chainsaw and cut the wood to stove length.
We don’t know what kind of wood it is, because the bark was long gone, and it probably isn’t of high heat value. But we liked clearing it out, the wood will be very dry when we burn it next fall, and it’s fun to get firewood from your backyard.
I enjoyed splitting it and stacking it off the ground. We have a much bigger supply of maple and birch wood that municipal employees cut down on a neighbor’s property. They were happy to plop the logs in our front yard. This will require more serious chainsaw work, but will provide hours of enjoyment when I split and stack it this summer.
With the compost and the firewood, I’m getting valuable resources without leaving our property. You can’t get more local than that!
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