My daughter and I planted potatoes by the light of the moon tonight. We weren't honoring any peasant superstition handed down from our foremothers. It was simply a matter of convenience: When I picked up the daughter from preschool, she was covered in topsoil from the raised beds they have in the play area, and I thought, "Well, she's already dirty. What's one more layer of compost?"
By the time I got Trix her dinner, picked up Phil from the ferry and came home, night was falling. But nobody focuses like a three-year-old who's been promised something fun, and my child thinks gardening is fun. So do I.
I am a lazy gardener: I rip up my lawns in every house I live in because I'd rather put in perennials that take care of themselves; I plant containers because there's less weeding; I do raised beds because I don't like to bend over.
One of the most popular raised-bed methods is Square Foot Gardening, and the eponymous growing medium espoused by Mel Bartholomew is a mix of compost, vermiculite and peat moss. I like the idea behind SFG -- lots of plants, very little space, even less weeding. I use a modified version of "Mel's Mix" in my square raised beds. Instead of a 1:1:1 ratio of each component, it's two units of compost for every unit of peat moss and perlite.
So the first thing we did tonight was mix our growing medium. I spread out a plastic tarp, dumped out the bags of compost, perlite and peat moss, and told the kiddo, "Now, we mix it up." Done in five minutes! Having the chance to gleefully churn through a pile of dirt with no negative consequences is preschooler nirvana.
Then we opened our potato bag, scooped in four inches of soil, and planted potatoes. (The seed potatoes were a bag of baby yukons I had not used for the last four months. It seemed wasteful not to find some way to use them, and they had sent out shoots a foot long, so ... seed potatoes!)
Then my child was finished with gardening, because she's three. I still had plenty of planting mix left, so I dumped it into one of our fallow raised beds, hoed it all up, put in the woody herbs -- French thyme, purple sage and golden sage, italian oregano, rosemary -- that the kiddo and I had bought earlier in the week. At our old house, I had turned a side yard into our perennial herb garden, using a layout modified from The Kitchen Garden: Simple Projects for the Weekend Gardner. I miss that garden. I miss being able to go outside and snip the herbs I need. For the past 18 months, every herb purchase from the farmers' market or grocery store has felt like a reprimand.
Gardening is fun, but it's fun only because I don't rely on it to feed my family. I read Spring Warren's The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, And Fed My Family for a Year, and I had a bad case of vicarious stress.
Growing food is serious business: It's a lot of planning, a lot of work, a lot of hoping for the best, a lot of rolling with the worst. Spring Warren had already convinced me I didn't want to restrict my diet to what I could cram on my lot, but then I read about that Russian family that lived in isolation for decades, and how they ended up guarding a single stalk of rye to rebuild their grain stores and the mother of the family deliberately starved herself to death to buy everyone else time, and I was like, " ... So I'll be raising my daughter to worship farmers as benevolent, food-granting gods then."
One of my daughter's favorite books is Two Little Gardeners, and man, just reading that exhausts me. The kids hoe the ground until it's friable, sow an impressive variety of crops, water them, weed them, stake and string them, put up scarecrows, harvest the crops, then can and jar them.
I suspect they're home-schooled.
The book is notable for how nothing in the garden goes wrong. Last year, I bought four organic heirloom tomato plants from Ploughshares Nursery. I planted them in a raised bed, surrounded them with marigolds (to deter pests, a-ha ha ha ha), nurtured them ... and watched them fall prey to nematodes. Fifty feet away, a grape tomato plant sprung up out of nowhere, clearly the result of some salad tomato we tossed at the fence. We didn't do a damn thing for that plant and it pumped out pint after pint after pint after pint of tomatoes from June through October.
In theory, gardening is satisfying for how it rewards simple diligence: Plan your plots, get the soil right, time your plantings, pay attention, be consistent in your tending, anticipate problems and react with alacrity, and you'll be rewarded. But the weird stuff is why I really love gardening.
I am fairly sure the herb garden will be fine: it's sited well, it gets sun all year 'round, I'll water it and those little 3" plants will thrive. But man, I think our potatoes are going to be weird and I can't wait to see how.