However you put it, I like it when I can see rich black dirt and plop baby plants or seeds into it.
New Mexico has no dirt. But we do have sand. Lots. And clay. Lots--but never interspersed nicely together as that would be too nice for drainage.
Having said that, my personal weapon against the lack of dirt is through a plethora of compost.
Ode to Compost
Thou art sweeter than a summer's day
And far better than any sand or clay.
But take so long for to become
The substance that I know and love.
We get a box of fruits and veggies a week through our CSA, I have a little bit of grass at the new house, and there are all the non-seed/spiny weeds that just BEG to be food for my future crops. Why put all that wonderful goodness into our landfill when I can lazily toss it into our compost bin and ignore it for a while? After a few months (or many months since the compost bin is done on laziness and neglect rather than by quicker methods) I strike gold!
We just moved into a new-to-us house, with gardens out back, grass out front (more on that later) and flowers all around. The old house had a compost bin full of scraps that had been working for some 9 months now. My dear housemate gave me the best present in the world in the form of two big bags of perfect-plant-food from the bottom of the bin. The rest of it we just tossed back in the composter to give it some more time. As for those two bags of goodness: one I spread over all the garden beds to give a little umph to the babies since it is warming up here again for the summer. The other bag I am saving for when we transplant three grape vines (and hopefully two fig trees) from my parent's house.
Now back to dirt--and where compost comes in.
It occurred to me when I was digging up various plots in the garden that there were definite zones in my property:
- sandy (water runs into and right out of it)
- clay concrete (water sits on top of it and tilling it requires lots of work)
- fertilized soil (not much of this)
I don't mind pesticides as a last resort, but I would much rather try starting out with improving the whole area and putting in plants that are stronger than the pests to be semi-weed-free. This poses two problems--I only have one of me and a third of an acre to keep free of spiny/sappy/poisonous invaders, and that I want to squeeze as much produce as I can out of what I do plant...with as little effort as possible and no commercial fertilizers.
So I spend some money now on a bale of oat straw, a few bags of commercial compost, and what I can get out of my own bin so that eventually, several years down the road I can have an easier time growing what works here in the desert...but in good soils.
Now back to that grass. I am in a desert and green grass is a bit of a pest to keep green, mowed, and not taken over by russian thistles or other plants. I am tempted to rip it up and ... then would have open dirt with more thistles. Instead I am going to try a method that has worked so far in the past and may work here: neglect. I plan to occasionally toss some water on it if it looks really really sad, but otherwise ignore it and just keep it mowed--weeds and all. I do make weekly sweeps for thistles and other weeds since I am allergic to them and want them out of my property. (Mostly I do the weed sweeps to prevent the evil puncture vine, or goathead, from invading. That plant is my arch-nemesis.) We will see how this experiment works.
I hope to be free of frosts from here on in, even though three days ago we had a low of 34. Today the high was 90 degrees, so I am hoping that the weather makes up its mind and leaves us with a little more spring time coolness before the real heat settles in. I am prepared for the evil heat though, and the summer plants are in the ground (with watchful eyes for frost). The watermelons and squash, along with the tomatoes, up and starting to look large... the pepper plants even have their first flower buds. Unfortunately the peas and carrots are also just starting to look good and the heat is just about high enough to kill them off before I get anything off of them! At least I can say that the garden is a success as I have spinach, chard and radishes from it in my salads now.
As a side note on salads--I am trying an experiment by replanting the root stock of spinach plants that my CSA sent me. They were thinning out their fields for the second crops to come in (like tomatoes) so they plucked and sent me the whole plants. I chopped off the leaves (and should have left one or two on them probably, but we will see) and planted them in my garden by where the other spinach is happily growing. I am hoping that at least one of the six plants takes root so that we have more home grown spinach from what otherwise would just be tossed in the compost bin.
Well, that was a rather rambling post... oh well, at least it was a post at all! I hope to have pictures of the happy garden up here in a few days now that college classes are out for the season and moving has calmed down. Until then, happy gardening!