In January. In Northern Illinois.
I immediately called my co-worker, Lyn, and asked for buckets of manure. Bring as much as you can, I told her. The next call I made was to my boss. I told her I would be taking half days for the next two days, leaving at noon.
My plan was to work in my yard, enjoying the unbelievable gift of nice weather.
In January. In Northern Illinois.
True enough, the days were incredibly warm and sunny-a different kind of sunny that cast low and long shadows in the yard.
She usually brings manure and it has been pretty composted, in the past. This day, she brought something I had heard about, even read about, but never dreamt I would have access to it.
When I first began to garden, in Louisville, KY, I read all the books I could get my hands on. In Kentucky, I was faced with red clay. We had 2 small kids and not a lot of money, I didn't know how to bust thru the clay, until I learned about "double digging". The good news was, I was a youngish woman. The bad news was, I was going to double dig my garden. It worked, but it was slow and laborious.
When we moved to Memphis, the soil was even worse and I was even older! I had to find a better way. A little research, speaking with my Master Gardener instructors, I was introduced to this lady:
Ruth Stout wrote a book, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method. I was captivated by this crazy, charming lady. She did not want to waste any growing season, waiting for the local farmer to plow her garden. He was frequently making her late in planting. She began piling something called "spoiled hay" on her gardens. She had a neighbor with livestock and he brought over the hay from the stalls.
In my city girl mind, I could not fathom such a thing. I had never seen spoiled hay and did not see how such a thing could help break thru the red clay of Tennessee. Living in a large suburb of Memphis, there was no way I was getting my hands on any hay, spoiled or otherwise, so I became a compost fiend. We all know what good compost does....
Forward 20 years to this blue barrel in my yard on a 60° in Northern Illinois. The barrel was so heavy, I needed a dolly to move it. I pushed and pulled it over to the raised beds and dumped it out onto the first one I came to.
I could not believe what I saw, but I knew what it was, immediately.
I had to laugh as I shoveled this wonderful stuff onto the 4 raised beds. I thought about reading Ruth Stout's book and how I thought there was NO WAY I would ever be able to garden with her "No Dig" method. I filled the raised beds and had enough to move into the new Deer Bed.
I don't know how much of this plant material is going to survive, the other side of the trees and shrubs have devastating deer damage, but this spoiled hay can only help. (see what I mean about long, low shadows?)
The hours ticked away much too quickly and I felt a sense of urgency as the sun got lower. I really wanted to move as much of my Impervious Pile of Grass as I could.
As I got my shovel into the middle, I found a surprise.
At this point, I had help. Nick came out and began to dig as I tossed the rough compost onto every single landscape bed in the yard. It felt like a race against time. The sun was not waiting for us to finish, it continued to set. Soon, it was sitting on the horizon and the wind was blowing cold again. Nick helped me put away the pitch fork and the shovels and the wheelbarrow.
With everything put away, I took a cup of coffee out to the deck as the sun finally disappeared. I felt like I had really pulled one over on someone!
To be able to put the garden to bed so late in the season? With spoiled hay? On such a gorgeous day?
In January! In Northern Illinois!
I watched the sun until no part of it was visible, knowing I would not steal another day until March or April.
An incredible sense of gratitude came over me. I thought to myself, "Ruth Stout would be proud".
More college visits have kept me busy. We head to sunny Florida, this week. We will have to wrap this up, very soon.