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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Seventh Secret

Earlier this summer, my sister called to tell me that they while cleaning out the attic, they found an old box labeled “gardening stuff”.

“Would you like to come over and take a peak inside to see if there is anything in there that you want?”

She barely had a chance to finish asking me before I jumped into my car and headed to her house, the very house we all had grown up in. “What could be in that box”, I wondered? I thought we had cleared out the attic years ago, before my sister and her family took over the house. How could there still be a box left in the attic labeled “gardening stuff”, that we hadn’t already found?

What was in that box?

Soon enough, I would find out. I pulled up to the house, jumped out of the car and met my sister on the driveway. She pointed to a pile of junk from the attic which included the small, cardboard box with “gardening stuff” scrawled on the side. "There it is", she said.

She hadn’t even opened it yet.

Feeling a bit like Geraldo Riviera without the television crew, I ripped the tape off the top of the box, and slowly opened the flaps to reveal its contents. Inside, buried in a nest of old, yellowed newspapers was an ancient looking green, metal canister of Ra-pid-Gro fertilizer.

A little disappointed, I picked up the canister. It was then that I noticed that someone had scratched a big "X" through the words “Ra-pid-Gro” and below it had scrawled a message. I could barely make it out.

“The seventh secret to achieving happiness in your garden is to feed the soil.”

Feed the soil.

Of course!

Feed the soil, and then the soil will feed your plants.

And what does soil like to eat? Not Ra-pid-Gro. The soil, or rather the organisms in the soil that range from billions of microscopic organisms to earthworms and insects, likes to eat organic material. Very simply put, the organisms in the soil break the organic material down into the elements that plants need to grow.

This is why happy gardeners make compost and covet their farm neighbor’s composted manures, why they don’t put their leaves out at the curb in the fall, why they leave grass clippings on their lawns. They know this is what feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the plants.

In the past, it was a common, popular, and accepted practice to mix a little Ra-pid-Gro or other liquid fertilizer in some water and douse the plants with it on a regular basis. The plants responded, too, by perking right up as though someone had given them a shot of caffeine. But without good soil, and the healthy mix of nutrients that the soil provided for the plants, the plants didn’t last long without needing yet another shot of Ra-pid-Gro. They were soon addicted to the stuff.

But plants grown in good soil don’t need a shot of Ra-pid-Gro to grow well. The healthy, well-fed soil provides all the nutrients that most plants need.

Feed the soil.

I knew this to be true, and was pleased to learn it was one of the secrets to achieving happiness in the garden.

I thanked my sister for thinking of me when she found that box labeled “gardening stuff” and took the canister home with me. Once I was back in my own garden, I placed the canister on a shelf in the old garden shed as a reminder of the seventh secret....

Feed the soil.

Then I began to wonder again. What would the eighth secret be and when and where would I find it?

13 comments:

Garden Lily said...

I read somewhere that for every $1.00 you spend on the garden, you should spend $0.90 on soil and $0.10 on plants. I think there's a lot of truth to that.

donna said...

My garden/yard needs lots of work in the feed the soil department. We have too many trees sucking up all the nutrients.

I absolutely loved the attic story.

donna

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

That is all so very true! I saw the results this year, contrasting an area in the same border that i dug over thoroughly and added lots of our own compost to, with an area that hasn't had nearly enough TLC in the past few years. My problem is that I mulch my pond border with pebbles to make it more attractive in dead of winter, as it is in the middle of the garden. So soil only gets fed when I re-plant. Ah well!

Layanee said...

Words to live by, Carol. Feed the soil....

fairegarden said...

It is perfect, Carol! What a sweet and thoughtful sister you have too. And whoever boxed up that secret knew that some day it would be held by your gardener's hands. We anxiously await the next installment to the serial mystery! :-)
Frances

Gail said...

Carol, This may be the best one yet! "Feed the Soil"~as Layanee and you say~words to live by! gail

Amy - Get Busy Gardening said...

Cute story Carol! I have only realized the benefits of compost over the past few years. It's amazing what a huge difference it makes and now I compost everything that I can!

I love Garden Lily's comment too, my husband always laughs when I spend a bunch of money on dirt...he doesn't get it. :-)

Amy

Anonymous said...

Compost isn't the only way to feed the soil. Arborists' chips are a great mulch. It's instant duff (duff is the stuff on a forest floor). The chopped up green stuff in it starts to break down immediately to feed the soil instantly, and the woody bits break down slowly, and feed the soil over time. It greatly increases the mychorrhizae in the soil on which most woody and woodland plants depend, and it's usually FREE! Free is good in my book. Moreover, the chips are from trees that were being taken down anyway. No tree was taken down for the purpose of making chips. Just call a nearby arborist, and ask if he/she has any chippings they'd like to dump.

Compost probably is better for a sunny perennial bed. Sun loving perennials usually come from bacterially dominated soils rather than mychorrizally dominated soils.

Deirdre

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I agree feed the little soil critters and keep 'em healthy. They will reward you many times over.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I've been busy feeding the soil compost and leaf mold. It seems like you can't over-feed your soil.

Vickie said...

We are working on our new veggie garden area and dumping new compost as it creates in the bin. It's a huge work in progress, but I know we can do it since we turned what used to be a gravel covered dog run into a wonderful garden in the past four years. Time to expand....

bacon seed said...

This is the topic that I have chosen to study over the cold months. I am a gardener that does not use compost, some would say I shouldn't call myself a gardener at all! I really can't wait to know more and then put the knowledge to work early spring!!

Lisa Ueda said...

Carol,
What a fun story, thank you so much :). Especially this time of year, turning the soil while it's not sopping spring wet and allowing it to freeze and thaw can help losen it up, at least my solid midwestern clay, and compost topping my beds protect some of my plants prone to heaving and lighten it up a bit too.