Tag Archives: Garden Assistant

Mulch Your Center

13 Jun

Pine branches to be used for mulch

In the hope of increasing my water conservation efforts, and because I am not around all day long to watch for signs of evaporating water from the garden, last weekend I layed down a layer of mulch.

I considered various kinds of mulch, straw, pine needles, dried leaves, rocks, plastic sheets. In the end, because I want everything to be of use and to give back to the garden, I opted for pine needles. This year the plot is mostly comprised of tomatoes, peppers, chilis, and eggplants. Everything else in the ground is a friend to these stars, like the borage, the basil, the catnip, and the marigolds. Pine needles seemed the best option for my acidic-soil loving plants.

On Saturday morning, armed with determination, I strutted to the back of the backyard to cut down some branches off the pine tree. I sat down comfortably and proceeded to strip the branches of their pine needles. Yes, I thought this was a brilliant idea.

The Garden Assistant helping to strip pine needles from the branches

An hour later, and the temperatures rising well into the 90s, I had enough pine needles to cover maybe one plant. Great, I thought, only fifteen plants to go. The heat was becoming unbearable. Desperation was increasingly building inside of me. “The plants! The plants! They will die of thirst! Hurry with those pine needles! You won’t have enough time! Why did you procrastinate so much!” These thoughts were sounding louder and louder. “Enough” I said, as I noticed the yelling in my ears. “Look around. What else can you use?” and just like that, I was guided to the farthest corner of the yard. There, hidden behind some broken branches I discovered a mound of grass clippings pushed against the fence. Perfect!

I grabbed the biggest bucket I could find, and carefully sorted through the clippings to make sure there were no weeds hidden among them. So, I now have dried grass clippings as mulch. Eventhough it was a desperate deviation from the plan, I still love it and so do my plants.

Back section of garden plot after mulch was laid down.

It always takes me aback how impressive is the decrease in water needs once there is mulch in the ground. It reduces the evaporation of water from the ground, protects the soil from erosion, prevents weeds from sprouting, and if using organic mulch it also feeds the soil as the material decomposes.

Mulch around my growing Anaheim Chili plant.

The experience reinforced in me the need to adapt to the flow of life, instead of succumbing to desperation and anxiety, calm yourself. Find your center and you will find an answer. Pine needles were my original goal, but the glass clippings work well and were certainly a lot less work than breaking up pine needles from a branch. When we allow our intuition to guide us, we end up with the right answer at the right time, and in this case, one step closer to sustainability in the garden.

Toddler at Work

10 Jun

The Garden Assistant when he was six months old after a sowing. (2011)

Toddlers are naturally curious. The world and everything in it is fairly new to them. Now that they have mobility and a developing hand eye foot coordination, it’s only natural that they want to touch, grab, taste, figure out how things work, and just investigate the world that surrounds them. Unfortunately for a mama gardener, that also means touching, hitting, digging and swatting at plants, often the plants that we put so much effort into growing. So, how to keep a toddler from destroying the garden? Enlist their help!

Working with his soil

I set aside a bag of soil for him to play with, along with his own pots, a pail and a shovel. This keeps him entertained while I repot or transplant plants. I sometimes ask him to help put the real soil in the real pots I am about to use. With supervision, I also let him water some of the plants with his own watercan. The trick is to pay as much attention to him as the plants.

Watering the Eucalyptus

On occasion, if my attention favors the plants, he has acted out by hitting a plant. He has particular contempt for my Eucalyptus plant for some reason. In that instance, after the terror bells go off in my head over the poor plant, I call him over and in my sweetest calmest voice go over the spiel for tantrums (I realize you’re angry, can you tell me what you would like? etc) and once his needs are met, I explain to him that it’s an owie for the plant. This usually has him blow kisses to it with his apologetic eyes. I’ve gone so far as to explain photosynthesis to him and the importance of loving and caring for plants and trees for the survival of our species. I know this goes over his head now, but I hope that as we continue the dialogue well into his childhood, some of it sticks.

“Helping” make holes in a tin can

I hope to impart my love of gardening to him. I hope someday he shares my feelings about gardening. That it’s not just a fun hobby, or a way to eat yummy tomatoes, or a way for the individual to feel connected to the earth and the cosmos, but that it’s also a way to participate, albeit in a small way, in the creating of oxygen for the planet, and to become part of the resistance to the Monsanto giants who relish in making a profit while poisoning our food. For now, it’s all about sharing a moment together. In our busy lives, my Garden Assistant and I relish slowing down and gardening together.

So, if you have a toddler on your hands, have them help in the garden! They’ll love to feel useful, and included, you’ll be able to form beautiful memories together, and you’ll have less mangled plants when you’re not looking!

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