by Charlene Burgi
You can always tell when a garden is healthy. It teems with life. You can hear bees busy procuring nectar. Their collection process pollinates the abundant masses of flowers found among vegetables and fruiting blossoms. Frogs or toads hop around in search of juicy insects and dragonflies. Butterflies and birds flit about like bits of living garden art decorating their surroundings. The late evening skies come alive with the aerobatics of bats swooping and gliding like graceful dancers while removing pesky mosquitoes from the surrounding area.
This past week I was invited to visit such a garden in Modoc County. The garden belonged to an older woman who knew all the secrets of what made her garden come alive. She composted all her trimmings. Within her compost pile lived tens of thousands of wiggly red worms that feasted on the garden debris. She fed her plants with an organic fertilizer that she concocted herself using a simple recipe*. Her garden was beautiful to the eye. Microclimates were well thought out. Mulches protected the root systems of her plants and fed the soil as they broke down.
Within her garden were cold frames much like the hoop house that Jack built for me last year; however, hers were on a much smaller scale. The 3-foot-square frames were filled with rich soil and abundant vegetables. Wire hoops were secured on a hinged frame that rested on the lower frame when closed. She covered the wire hoops with a gauze-like material to protect the plants from the hot sun. The cloth also helped retain humidity for the plants long after irrigation.
| Monarch butterfly
Nitrogen-fixing cover crops grew along the west garden fence line. Her plan was to add legumes to this area next spring to continue meeting the soil's high demand for nitrogen. Sunflowers grew close by, where their strong root systems helped break down resistant clay-based soils. Marigolds and borage were intermixed with vegetables that filled the planting beds and overflowed from the well-worked soil. The flowers added color and function to bring beneficial insects for pollination.
I experienced an energy within upon leaving her garden. I couldn't wait to get home to employ some of her practices. I wonder how many share that energy in their gardens or in gardens they have visited?
*Organic fertilizer recipe:
Fill a bucket with 5 gallons of water. Add 1½ cups of alfalfa pellets, 2½
tablespoons of Epsom salts, and 2½ tablespoons of fish emulsion. Stir well and pour onto the root systems of your plants.