Saturday, June 9, 2007

Scythe Matters

Since planting our first garden last year, we have learned a ton about what it takes to grow vegetables:

  1. You can't just stick cucumbers and carrots and broccoli and spinach in the ground and expect them to grow. You have to plant the seeds.

  2. Manure makes great fertilizer, but not just any manure. Dog feces may seem like a nice, inexpensive substitute, but it contains almost no nutrients (try telling that to your dog, though).

  3. Roto-tilling via dynamite may seem like a fantastic idea, but first make sure old Mrs. Beasley across the street is in good cardiac health. Beware that she might try to report you as some kind of horticultural terrorist.

Despite these and other missteps, we actually managed to grow some food – enough so we could go two whole months without buying groceries for our colony of Japanese Beetles.

My wife and I did swipe some harvest for ourselves, as well. From one 20-foot row of tomato plants we plucked exactly six delicious tomatoes.

We aren't exactly the sort of people to simply rest on our laurels after such a success. In search of more gardening info and advice, we trucked ourselves down to Unity a couple of weeks ago for the annual Small Farm Field Day, sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Now before you go activating your stereotypes of MOFGA-types being pot-smoking peace-nik hippies, remember that these folks are just like you and me, except they are trying not to actively destroy the ecosystem.

For example, when we got there, several fellows were cutting a field of grass with scythes, lazily swaying the giant blades back and forth in the morning sun, cutting smooth, even swaths through the pasture. They made it look like an easy replacement for my gas-powered push-mower.

Then a tourist (probably an amateur gardener like myself) tried to use one, and I discovered the scythe could also double as a hoe, and, under the right emotional circumstances, a javelin.

The friendly farmers offered helpful suggestions and encouragement, but you know later they were just laughing themselves hoarse over a few bottles of home-brewed ale.

In fact, I bet there's this huge rivalry within MOFGA between the farmers and the gardeners, and the farmers are always pulling these stunts to make the gardeners look silly.

I found further evidence of this during a lecture by a bearded guy named Clayton, who showed a thoughtful-looking audience a garden in which he had deliberately grown weeds so he could scythe them down and use them as mulch.

Right, fella. You want me to grow weeds on purpose. Good thing I'm on to you.

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur. I did find out that you shouldn't use horse manure for fertilizer, which is bad news for those of us who have access to an ample supply (i.e. those who live near horses or near Augusta).

And sawdust is no good for mulching because it invites bacteria that suck all the nitrogen out of the soil. Although, you can -- this is true – urinate on the garden to help restore the nitrogen (“Good morning, Mrs. Beasley! You're up early today!”).

Just to be clear, when the cops show up, blame Clayton, not me. He's the one with all the weed. Uh, I mean, weeds.

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