Winter’s End

Bags of compost waiting to become part of David’s garden projects at Peter Bay, St John

Can it be already two weeks since I sat on the beach, watching our host David water his sea grape transplants on Peter Bay? They needed the help. The height of the dry season, David told me.  I left frozen garden beds under piles of snow, but I could feel them calling to me.It’s not quite growing season for Pennsylvania. The Simons gardens-to-be are only just liberated from a couple feet of snow and ice, and look like they have a long way to go. But inspired by a week of warm, I am ready to get to work at Seven Beeches, our new not-quite-home on Quarry Road. Edward, Owen, and I moved to Pennsylvania last August, but months before that we started our new asparagus bed on this land. It sits on a north slope of our new property, facing southeast. We used boards, covered with several coats of linseed oil to delay the inevitable deterioration without the toxicity of other more permanent solutions.  Hopefully the future asparagus likes it. 

There’s not much we can do to hurry the process of what is a massive renovation of the house we bought from Edward’s Uncle John and Aunt Temmy last spring. We think we will love here, on a sunny hill looking over  woods and valley in the borough of Bryn Athyn. But for now we have to wait. So we are putting down our roots in the yard.

This winter we began another bed, for the future blueberry bushes, using Uncle John’s old woodpile to create boundaries for what will be a large raised bed.
The big logs allow for a bed 12-16″ deep. Edward and I have been gardening together for a long time now – 30 years this summer – and we’ve made a lot of compost. And for most of those years we have always dug it INTO the soil to prepare beds. I won’t make that mistake again. This time I am adding it on top. Start with what the soil has to offer and build UP. Edward may still dig it in, because he just loves to move dirt around. I think he may be part mole. It relaxes him. Maybe if my shoulders were built like his I would feel the same.

But Mother Nature dumps compost on top. Leaves fall, poops falls, rains falls improving the soil from above. This way, all the soil-dwelling animals and organisms and the civilizations they have going on down there don’t get destroyed in the name of progress. They can just move up. Expand. Build a house in the country for themselves. Whatever they do. They know their business, and I want to leave them to it. Because after years of removing clay from soil to add IN better soil, I can tell you it really doesn’t work that great and it’s a hell of a lot of work. 

All this winter, we have been carrying buckets of vegetable waste from our apartment kitchen to dump on beds, to create a rich medium for future plants. For a few months there it amounted to dumpling the stuff  on top of snow drifts and covering it up with more snow. The deer love us I am sure– out neighbors possibly not so much. The deer leave gifts on the lawn as they leave the snack bar, which we “up-cycle” back into the garden beds… The deer drive thru is a short-lived perk,  since asap we will be putting up a deer fence.

 As I traipse by with my buckets of veggie waste, I make sure to give some love to the seven tiny beech saplings we brought with us from our beloved woods in Maryland. We are planting companions for them, near the solitary red oak on the south side. A beech spinney! I love the way light is caught in the arms of a beech forest, golden green, almost translucent, and filters down to ground thickly covered in last year’s leaves. My love of beech trees has only been enlarged by reading about their “group think,” in  The Secret Life of Trees this winter. According to Peter Wholleben beech live happier and longer when crowded together in communities, where they share food root to root with younger and struggling beech.

Barely visible, a beech sapling puts down roots.

On the west side of the property we have begun to plant sycamores, sturdy volunteers potted up by a local friend. Sycamores are another favorite of ours for their resilience, beautiful bark and enormous frilly leaves. (They may drop branches, but don’t go down like tulip poplars). We still have to figure out how to fit an orchard in on the western slope behind the house.

There is plenty of cold left to get through. But I am inspired by melting snow and a few days of sun to rake up and haul pine needles for the blueberry bed and leaves for the asparagus. I watch the sun begin to wake the sleeping soil, ready to participate again in the glorious cycle.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s