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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Gardening is psychotherapy; time to think about getting hands in that good dirt

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

The human mind is an interesting thing.  You can do anything with it you’d like.  You can decide to be depressed, happy, sick, miserable, elated, jealous, angry….the list is endless.

Soil test report from a previous year. Time to do it again and compare results. This gives you an idea of the exact nature of your soil and how you have changed the characteristics.

Now I do know that there are people who cannot control these things, but the rest of us who can —we must try to engage in keeping the line to the center.  We must try to avoid extremes — whether it be plummeting down a snake hole of despair or having that odd, decidedly elevated sensation that spending $100,000 on a sports car will make everything alright.  Actually, the hangover from that sensation will most likely require a visit to the snake-hole soon enough.

Before you have pinned me as a manic-depressive, which I am not, I am putting forth the simple thought that gardening should be elevated to a serious technique in psychotherapy.  Dirt is good for you!  I know this first hand.

Actually, it is the lack of gardening during the Winter months that makes my life seem a little flat and boring.  I need dirt.

Why, even that great dilettante’s handbook, the Google search, says so!  Many websites provide information that tout microbes in soil as being beneficial for helping to alleviate depression and aid with mental health. 

That’s right…just plunge your arms in mud up to your elbows and all will be right with the world!  And just never mind that you could contract Tetanus through an open wound.

I actually have something a little more modest (and tidier) in mind and now is the time of year to begin.  

Start thinking about having a garden.  Right now.  If you have one already, this will be preaching to the choir.  But even still, this exhortation may prompt you to turn your thoughts to it a little earlier.   (I have got to stop reading so much bad, culturally outdated 19th. century literature).

Certainly, the arrival of the first seed catalogues will remind you.

Last year’s soil samples labeled and ready to be delivered.

This is the time of year that a literal land-fill of seed catalogues will hit my mailbox.  Even as early as right before Christmas they start showing up.  I can almost feel the tension from my mailman as he realizes that the months ahead are going to be one long grind delivering my seed catalogues.  He is, of course, far too polite to mention this.

The seed catalogues are bright and pretty and have everything in them that lifts my spirits…..produce,  lots of produce!  Like a magpie spotting a shiny penny, I zero in and suddenly my life has purpose again.

So, if you want to be happy in Winter, get seed catalogues!  This thought, does however, exempt the mailman.

And speaking of dirt . . .this is the time to start thinking about that too.  Novice and experienced gardeners alike should, right now, make a vow to get a soil test — a New Year’s resolution.  This is infinitely easier to do than joining a gym, and much cheaper, too.

The information provided in the soil test analysis will be your first step toward learning about soil science and how to prepare your garden for its optimum productivity.

You may procure an analysis from a commercial soil-testing lab, but I prefer to take advantage of this service provided (for free!) by the Kenton County Cooperative Extension Office.  Just deliver it to them and they will send you an analysis of your soil with recommendations on amendments needed to provide a good nutritional foundation for your plants.

This year’s beginning of the catalogue deliveries. Twenty-two and counting. Poor Doug the Mailman!

All you have to do is get two cups of dry soil from your garden.   A spade sunk into the ground to about six to 10 inches will be a good representative sample.  If your garden is bigger, you may want to take several samples and combine them to be more representative of the total area.  If your garden is huge, having different soil conditions in different areas, and you know that, submit a sample for each one.  Just make sure you have a system for identifying the samples and where they were taken from.

Of course, with the onerous temperatures we have been experiencing, we will have to wait for nature to allow us to proceed.  As soon as you can break ground, get the sample(s) and, if they are wet, allow them to dry out before you deliver them.

The sooner you get your results and the sooner you amend your soil, the better off it will be.  The amendments will have time to integrate into the soil bed and be optimally available to your plants.  But, once again, nature will be holding the reins on this progress.  

Actually, Mother Nature always holds the reins. This hurry-up-and-wait business always seems to be the source of my Winter malaise.  

At least I can check out the “shiny pennies” in the seed catalogues and stick my hands in the soil samples to get my microbe fix.  Gardener’s therapy.  It does work!


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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