Talk Dirt to Me

Muck

The winter has felt long. It’s probably more like what winters were like years ago, but that didn’t change the fact that we’ve become weak and expect some amount of warmth to return in March. So last weekend was my first weekend out in the muck. The garden wasn’t really thawed yet. In most of the beds the ground was still hard just a few inches down. The hard soil didn’t discourage the indigent boarders; they spent the better part of Saturday and Sunday afternoon digging after buried treasure in the middle of the yard.

Using the metal detector they got for Christmas they had located something of obviously high value. Saturday night was spent arguing over how they’d split the proceeds. On Sunday, after two hours of soaking rain they had retrieved a horseshoe, there has been no subsequent talk of money, but they’re pretty happy with their horseshoe.

I too spent time digging. I realize that when the soil is half frozen and soaked tilling it is a bad idea. So I restrained myself to the soil under the low tunnel. This soil wasn’t soaked or frozen: I could sink my hand in. So I did some primping and preening: I pulled dead leaves off of spinach, ripped out definitely dead lettuce and planted some more. The arugula that made it through the winter is perfectly spicy and crunchy, even more than it was last fall.

I also harvested carrots that overwintered in the tunnel. It turns out I’d left a lot of carrots in the ground hoping to get them before the ground froze. I failed, so lazy past me lost out and lucky, if lazy present me wins. I could have left them in a bit longer, but felt that this was tempting fate.

Carrots are biennials and if left to their own devices will flower in their second year. It is preparation for this event that leads them to form the carrot in the first place. When they flower the root turns woody as all the sugar is mobilized to feed the shoot, flowers and seeds. It’s a very different lifestyle choice than your standard annuals that drop seeds in fleshy fruits. But I believe it is a lifestyle that we can all agree should be accorded just as much respect as the traditional one. The carrots spread lots of seeds in early spring when there’s not much competition.

The carrots were not in perfect condition this year. The top half-inch or so went through repeated freeze-thaw cycles and so has gotten a bit dry and mealy. Not so appealing. But the part of the root that was deeper in the soil is sweeter even than it was last year. Fantastic really if you chop off the mushy bit. That top inch draws attention to the insulation value of the soil. I probably would have had no damaged carrots if I’d buried the lot in a thick layer of leaves, straw or even soil (though I’d have never found them).

The eldest lavished praise on my carrots claiming that he didn’t like store-bought carrots and waited to eat the ones that came out of the garden because they were better. I’m pretty sure he was buttering me up for something. “Gosh these carrots are great pop.” Two beats. “You planning on using the rest of that money in your wallet? Because we could sure use three more horseshoes.”

© 2014 The Valley Advocate