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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Recharging, gardening is sure-shot therapy; right now, it’s sit back and wait

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

A new year ahead.  New possibilities and new directions, not just in gardening, but in life, as well. 

Gardening, as always, is my haven.  It’s my place to go to recharge, be curious, learn, work hard physically, and several times over the course of my life, burrow in and lick my wounds. 

Last year, 2016, was a particularly busy gardening year.  All kinds of new things happened in the back yard of the Italianate on Russell St.  I didn’t do much writing because I just simply had to DO gardening and not report it.  

Gardening is a sure-shot therapy.  My wounds are licked and I am ready to carry on.  There is plenty to write about.

Here is the little Serpent Mound in my back yard with little asparagus spines.

Here is the little Serpent Mound in my back yard with little asparagus spines.

The big excitement of this past year was the establishment of my second asparagus bed.  If you read this column, you may recall that I detailed the beginning part of this process in May

I started the plants from seed, a departure from the typical approach of planting one-year crowns.  This plan added an additional year to the usual two-year wait before harvesting even one little spear. At this point, I hope I live long enough to enjoy it.  I think I will.  I HOPE I will after all of the time and effort I’ve put into this bed.  I think Rome took less time to build.  

Gardening is a process — at least the way I do it.  After the bed started to come on and each little plant started to assert itself, the obsessing began.  Everyday, each little plant was inspected.  “Is that one going to make it?”  “Is the dirt on that end of the bed good enough?”  “Why isn’t that one putting out new shoots?”

I stage-mothered 24 little asparagus plants — and they just didn’t care at all.

Towards the end of the season, I realized that I should probably add more dirt to the raised mound-like bed that I had established.  The plants would need more insulation and buffering from the cold of Winter.
Ah, the project continued to complicate!

First off, I had to go get dirt.  I went to my favorite dirt store, Jackson Florist and Garden Center in Latonia.  Tony Works, owner and man of the hour, helped me load around thirty-five 40 pound bags of dirt into my Jeep.  That was the easy part, as Tony and an assistant did most of the heavy lifting.  I must say, it is an interesting sensation driving a Jeep loaded with around 3/4 of a ton of dirt in it in an urban area.  What if I had a wreck?  What a mess.

When I got home, the dirt-moving began.  Three bags at a time were loaded into one of my Radio Flyer wagons, pulled out to the side of the bed and off-loaded.  It took about twelve trips.  Ugh.

Then, I had to cut each bag open and dump it into place on either side of the established plants.  Ugh.

Here are my loyal strawberries suffering through the cold.

Here are my loyal strawberries suffering through the cold.

After spreading the dirt around the plants and over the sides of the raised bed, I covered the whole thing with two layers of newspaper and a good layer of straw.   Ok, not to be nebulous, “good” means about three or four inches.

Now, here’s another word thing to ponder — “Good.”  When referring to something as “good,” what does it mean exactly? — particularly when referring to something that can be quantifiable in a known measure.    I run across this reference point fairly often when perusing old garden books and cookbooks.  Before the introduction of standardized measures in recipes, started by the Fanny Farmer Cookbook published in 1896, these directions would be offered up:  “Use a good amount of flour about the size of a large egg (!).”  What size egg?  It reminds me of when I hear someone refer to a “mess of greens.”  How much is a “mess”?  Or does “mess” mean that the greens are emotionally distraught?  And does this matter?!  This is a question for greater minds to sort out.  Maybe Emeril Legasse or Paul Prudhomme can settle that one for us.

And then, of course, there’s that business of referring to someone as a “good boy” or “good girl.”  All of us know how wildly differing opinions can be on that.  Even I, myself, was referred as a “good girl” at one point.  Hmm.

Back to gardening.

As the season wore on and the plants started to close down for the winter months, I trimmed back some of the excess foliage and made sure each crown was protected.  Each little plant had the blanket pulled up and tucked around it’s little. . .whatever.  If nothing else, I am a good stage mother to a bunch of plants—plants that won’t even give me anything for two more years!  The universe is consistent in its job descriptions.  Apparently motherhood and instant gratification are incompatible.

The bed is now asleep for the winter months.  It looks like a mini Serpent Mound with little ferns popping out of its backbone.  Martha Stewart would not be impressed.  It is, however, beautiful to me.

I hope I don’t lose any of my little wards.  There is, after all, a show to be put on next Spring and I don’t want any gaps in the chorus.

Another big exciting thing that I did this past season was build and establish two new raised beds.  It seems that one project begets another.  Details on this project were reported by your Intrepid Urban Farmer in April.

Since I had cleared out the area ear-marked for the new asparagus patch, I had to do something with the long-standing strawberry bed that occupied it.  One of the new  raised beds would be the new home.  Actually, only one raised bed was originally planned solely for the strawberries.  Of course, that idea got more complicated, as well.  Now there are two.  I am consistent.

And here’s a little eye candy.  Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the king in winter.

And here’s a little eye candy. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the king in winter.

I was committed to these strawberries.  They are old friends.  When I moved to Covington in 1988, I lived in the house next door to me.  The strawberries came with the house and were situated in a bed along the South side.  I had a privacy fence installed right next them.  That, of course, blocked the sun to the them (and so began my trajectory of learning gardening the hard way).  They suffered, naturally, and I puzzled as to what happened!  I am not kidding.

About five years went by, and I moved into my current address, right next door.  I didn’t see too much of any strawberries until then.  Then, amazingly, I noticed them along the North side of my yard.  The tenacious little stinkers had migrated under the fence in search of the Sun.  They moved with me!  This kind of loyalty must not be overlooked!  I haven’t even had cats this loyal — but then, who has?

I moved the strawberries to the new bed and they are thriving.  They don’t look so hot right now, with the temperatures well below freezing, but I know they’ll deliver the goods in the Spring.

I am really looking forward to the new season and its revelations regarding asparagus and strawberries.

For now, though, I can only sit back and hope that Winter is not too ugly to my little charges.  Time will tell.  

I think this enforced inactivity is a very good thing because I have an enormous stack of seed catalogues just staring at me, and getting through all of those is a project in itself.  

But, there is no complete rest for the wicked.  My overachieving friend, Holly, is ALREADY starting seed.  Inexplicably, this makes me anxious.  Lord.  Can I get no peace?

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