The subject was spring mulching. Mulch when soil is warm, advised our teacher, and soil will revel in the added nutrients and organic matter. Mulch too early, and the soil will shiver for weeks, sealed off from the sun’s rays.
So how can you tell when to mulch?
“Pull down your pants and sit!” answered our teacher. “If you’re comfortable, go ahead and mulch. If your bottom is cold, wait.”
Living in Chicago, I filled my free time with classes on poetry, Spanish and Jungian dream interpretation. Now that my neighbors are dairy farmers and kale growers, I study compost, pruning, the science of septic systems and how to render lard.
When you live in the same place for a long time, you have at your fingertips a well of intuitive and practical knowledge. Relocating takes you back to square one. Instead of moving smoothly through the days, you must consider every gesture, every person, every moment, every wheelbarrow of manure—and gradually acquire a new body of knowledge.
[bctt tweet=”Relocating takes you back to square one.”]
That’s why I am learning country skills: how to render lard for my pie crusts, trim gizzards from fresh-killed chickens for my soup stock, grow lettuce for my dressing, forage nettles for my pesto, blanch and freeze green beans, and make apple butter, rhubarb sauce, plum chutney, dried herbs and blackberry jam.
Not to mention figure out how to prune fruit trees, sow and till under cover crops, divide perennials, make compost, and a few months from now, gather, clean, and preserve all those fruits and vegetables.
And as soon as I walk outside, I come face to face with how much I don’t know. Indoors I’m an experienced writer who approaches assignments with confidence. Outdoors I’m someone who frequently feels overwhelmed. Looking around the garden, I fret, how can I possibly, possibly do this?
The answer is: I can’t—at least not on my own.
Living from my expertise is comfortable, but it makes me a little too self-reliant.In a crisis, I tend to look to my own resources first. God is my last resort.
[bctt tweet=”In a crisis, I tend to look to my own resources first. God is my last resort.”]
God is much more essential to midlife beginner me. To meet the demands of this new place and new phase of life, God will have to lead my apprenticeship and send along the angels willing to share strong backs and outdoor skills.
So let spring begin, God. Hear my prayer for the courage to shut the door to my office and step into the garden as a humble beginner. Like a parent, guide my steps and forgive my mistakes, as time and practice and your gifted people mold me into a real gardener.
And I already know how to test my soil’s temperature. I’ll just pull down my pants and sit in it!
Anne Basye of Mount Vernon, Wash., gives God all the credit for the jonquils blossoming outside her office window. This article first ran in March 2014 as a Give Us This Day column in Gather magazine.