Saturday, March 24, 2007

Planting by the Moon

People often ask if I plant by the moon, and I usually say, "no".

Tonight, though, I did. Well, not exactly in the traditional manner. I went out with my headlamp after work this evening, and planted two garden beds partially by headlamp, partially by the light of a quarter moon peeping through hazy clouds.

I am always too far behind (or think I am) to worry about planting things in their "proper" moon phase. And often the weather plus availability of free time makes it really hard to schedule a task such as planting according to the lunar calendar. I figure the most important thing is to just get stuff in the ground.

Tonight I planted garlic. Garlic should be planted in the fall in Kansas, but that didn't happen for a variety of reasons, including that I didn't get the seed garlic until quite late in the fall. A local grower sold me a number of named varieties that she grows...mostly ones I've never heard of and know nothing about.

Now I know which ones store best over the winter when stuffed in a paper bag inside a plastic bag, and thrown on a shelf in the cool entry way. So the "plus" side for my late planting is that the varieties are pre-screened for storage qualities. Silver Rose and Spanish Roja both weathered the abuse quite well. So did another variety, except the name rotted off the paper bag. The elephant garlic (actually a member of the leek family, not a true garlic at all) did the best in these particular storage conditions.

I chose to plant garlic today mainly because with last night's rain it was really too wet to plant anything that required working the soil for a seedbed. My no-till garlic planting method:

1. Choose a roughly mulched bed that is relatively weed-free.

2. Run a marking string along one side of the bed.

3. Align the planting board perpendicular to the string, across the width of the bed. This planting board is a scrap of rigid plastic (Lexan twin-wall greenhouse glazing), 3' x 5". One edge has 4 evenly spaced arrows, the other 3 arrows centered between the arrows on the other edge. This simple home-made tool makes it easy to plant things exactly 8" apart in all directions.

4. At each arrow, push aside the mulch to have a 3" diameter bare spot.

5. At each bare spot, use my favorite 4" kitchen paring knife to "stir" the soil (this particular knife, shaped like a mini chef knife, is also a first-rate paint scraper...quality tools pay for themselves over and over!).

6. Push a clove of garlic, root end down, into each "stirred" spot.

7. Push the dirt over the planted garlic.

8. Move the board so that the next set of holes will be equidistant from the previous set.

9. Repeat.

There are two reasons for doing steps 4 through 7 assembly-line fashion, rather than completing all steps in sequence for each hole. One is that I can get interrupted and figure out where I left off easily. Another is that I'm not tempted to try to do any of the other steps with the knife in my hand!

Why doesn't the garlic need a nice deep bed worked up all nice and loose? The garlic springing up thickly from bulbs that were missed in last year's harvest tells me it doesn't! Also, if I'd dug the bed when planting at the usual time in the fall, the bed would be in exactly its current condition why do the extra work? The most important thing with garlic (or any vegetable) is weed control: getting it mulched right away. The beds I planted are between this season's future tomato beds, so I'll soon sheet-mulch the entire block, mulching heavier over the tomato beds and light enough on the garlic that it can grow through.

What would interrupt me while planting garlic at 10:30 at night? Why, training the dog at the same time! Spring planting is always a "refresher training" time for the dogs for garden manners, after they've been allowed to roam free on the beds all winter. Now they have to learn to stay on the paths. I'm teaching Luna to lie down and stay where I put my clipboard on the path...a test of focus for both of us. If I start daydreaming and forget that she's supposed to be "staying", she knows instantly, and is gone in a heartbeat. Or, if a neighbor dog barks, she forgets her "job." As I work, I try to verbally reward, remind, and reinforce the command frequently: "Good clipboard, Luna! Good stay!".

Mostly, though, at age 2 1/2 she is starting to settle into adulthood, and obeys well...until a car backfires in the distance. Then suddenly she's in the lap that doesn't exist while I'm crouched over the planting board. The Border Collies are both terribly gun shy.

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