Editor's note: This organic gardening article includes the lazy man's organic weed killing strategy.

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by Mort Mather

Memorial Day weekend must rank number one in Maine for gardening. It is usually the date when danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm enough to germinate even the most warm-loving crops. I generally plant about half my garden in the last week of May and the first week of June. A quarter is planted before then and a quarter will lump along with succession plantings of lettuce and radishes, maybe beans and plantings of carrots and beets timed for fall harvest and winter storage.

The message is that if you have not started a garden yet, if you missed Memorial Day weekend, don't despair. There is still plenty of time to plant.

The weather here was perfect for planting and transplanting on Saturday--Not too hot, few bugs, mostly overcast. If that weren't enough there was a gentle rain Sunday morning from the early hours. The rain soaked the soil surface at least as deeply as the seeds were planted which will help put them in contact with moist soil and thus help them germinate. The moisture will help the transplants also. I think the transplants will appreciate not having to deal with bright sunlight so soon after being transplanted. Transplanting is rather like surgery, after all. Nice that they have this time to rest and heal.

Whenever you plant be sure and mark your calendar to cultivate ten days after planting. My garden was tilled on the 17th so I will try to rake all of it by the 27th. If I don't, I will end up fighting weeds later when I go to plant those late crops. Raking the surface that hasn't been planted is really easy now, just back and forth with easy strokes over smooth soil. If you don't believe that this will make a big difference later, just try it on part of the garden. You'll become a believer in the ten day rule of cultivation.

Next people will be thinking about bugs. "Oh dear, what is eating my plants," or words to that effect will be echoing throughout the land. Even with my philosophy that healthy plants in a healthy soil don't attract insects I still find myself, at times, looking at the insect rather than at the health of the plant. It took three of four years of wondering why I was having trouble with spinach to finally figure out the problem. The spinach germinated just fine but when it started to put out adult leaves it started disappearing. Then I started watching it more closely. (That is good advice also—keep an eye on your garden.) Some seemed to be eaten by cutworms, some just died as if their roots shriveled up. I guess it was a damping off fungus.

Finally I got around to thinking about what might make the plant unhappy. It likes cold weather so that wasn't it. The ground is certainly not dry in the spring. It had to be fertility but everything else in the garden did well. I fertilize the garden a year in advance with mulch and other low nutrient organic materials and rely on soil microorganisms to convert the organic matter to fertilizer. The soil life pretty much comes to a frozen halt during the winter. What if the microorganisms didn't get to work soon enough to provide sufficient nitrogen for the young spinach? This year I fertilized the spinach patch with blood meal which is high in soluble nitrogen. It looks the best it has in many years.

The experiment worked well enough to give me a good crop, knock on wood. But I couldn't resist fooling around a little with it. I first spread a very light sprinkling of blood meal over the whole patch. Then I put a heavier application on two rows. You would think that the rows that got the most blood meal would be growing the most vigorously. Not so. They are less lush than the row that did not get the extra dose. In gardening you can get too much of a good thing. Balance is important and I still find the soil life to be the best at creating a balance.

İMay 25, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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