Editor's note: Choose the right time of day for working in your organic garden.

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by Mort Mather

"Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out In The Mid-day Sun." So wrote Noel Coward in a song. That comes to mind as sweat pours down my neck while I work in the garden in the mid-day sun. I am of English decent so I guess the song title doesn't need to be changed but there is a reason for my madness. I don't remember who wrote the song "In the cool, cool of the evening tell 'em I'll be there," [IN THE COOL, COOL, COOL OF THE EVENING by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, won an Oscar for best song, sung by Bing Crosby in Here Comes the Groom] but black flies and mosquitoes were certainly singing me that tune yesterday evening as I tried to get in a little gardening. Their time of day is also the cool of the morning. They are no fools. They hunker down during the heat of day.

Usually I have more flexibility in the time I spend in the garden. This year I took a vacation in the middle of May when I should have been turning a little soil, spreading a little manure, planting some of this and some of that and spending only about half an hour a day or less in the garden. The eleven days before we left it rained. Looking at the soil upon return it looks like it didn't rain a drop while we were gone. The combination of rain and vacation meant that I didn't do any gardening in May until Memorial Day. Good thing it was an early spring and I took advantage of it.

If I had been here, the potatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli and corn would have been planted by now. Of course we can't turn back the clock so where to begin? First, call Ralph and ask him to come and till the half of the garden that I haven't been able to prepare. There are remarkably few weeds in the garden which is a nice contrast to last year. The reason is that I took care not to let many go to seed in the fall and I used less mulch. It was easy turning by hand but I've got to be realistic with the time. Since it will be tilled, I'm spreading some manure that my neighbor, Bob, gave me. It is cow manure with a lot of hay mixed in. It is composting nicely but it will be good to get a bunch of it turned into the soil.

The ground that is ready to receive onion sets and potatoes will have to wait for those jobs to get done. There is one other job that takes priority. It was actually job one after calling Ralph. I took the hoe and cultivated between the rows of spinach, peas, lettuce and a row of seed onions that I planted in April. There is no sense planting more seeds until those already in the ground have been taken care of. I learned that lesson the hard way a number of years ago when I started a market garden. It is not so crucial in a home garden because you can take the time to hoe down larger weeds or pull them if necessary. Still, it is a lot easier to cultivate at ten and twenty days after planting when the weeds are too small to survive even a gentle disturbance.

What was I doing taking a vacation at this time of the year? You may recall that I was found on the internet by my three half sisters a year and a half ago. Our father had severed communications with me after the last time I saw them in 1971. They were children then being illegally home schooled. I guess my father thought I would turn him in. He was somewhat of a nomad, an artist traveling around the western United States.

My sisters and I have been trying to have a reunion ever since they found me. With one in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand, and involved in a summer business and me heavily involved with summer work in the northern hemisphere, that killed two seasons. Getting together four people with individual lives living at great distances from each other is a chore in itself. The other two live in Hawaii and Oregon. Our significant others wanted to be part of the party so now we were trying to get eight people on the same page. We won't even mention the expense of travel with two of us living, literally, on opposite sides of the globe. Planting season was my sacrifice to the cause.

ŠJune 8, 1998


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. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.



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