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The Urban Gardener: Harvest Moonshine

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Daffodils and jonquils Photo credit: Leonard Moorehead

The cold hearted orb that rules the night reflects sunshine far from Earth. Urban gardeners move like the tide towards their plots as night steals away precious time from our fertile plots. Never is the soil so alive nor so attractive. Summer mulches are transformed and become humus. Countless microbes multiply. Gardeners have fewer grass clippings to feed the active soil. Resilient, another season is upon us, the leaf harvest. Urban gardeners are most fortunate to live in green cities. Swales of leaves will soon swirl around sidewalks, ground to bits by pedestrians, raked, blown, a kaleidoscope of color. Many leaves will find their way into large brown paper bags on sidewalks. Take them home. The garden is ready.

The moon is a handy gardener’s guide. October’s Harvest Moon is key. Our gardens sink a bit, all life going to roots. All mulch in contact with soil teems with life. Gardeners assist nature, fallow. The full moon casts a spell that urges us to test the soil. Generally lands east of the Mississippi is on the acid side and more alkaline towards the Pacific. Most soils have a mid-range PH. Acid rain has declined in the Northeast. Before this basic science sounds too chemical, do not despair. Natural minerals and salts have improved horticulture since pre-history. The full moon in October is a good benchmark for applying slow acting, nil to very low run-off Dolomite lime, Ironite or other formulas with 2-0-2 mixtures to lawns, grasses and planting areas. The supplements will restore nutrients to our much bleached soils.

Gardeners can apply supplements with confidence whenever the garden is free of snow. The motive for spreading during the autumn is patience. Water is a powerful solvent. Rainfall is a complex stew of well- traveled aerosol particles drawn to gravity. Change is evident after every rain and savvy gardeners seize the opportunity. Err on the side of lean rather than fat and thoughtfully cast the supplements over the ground. There is a gentle beauty in casting. Breath deep. Handle your scoops full in easy arcs, spread your arms, pace yourself. Find rhythm. Move intently. Usually, the supplements are easy to discern. Proceed side to side until covered, then turn 90 degrees and repeat the process for full coverage.

Some gardeners rake in supplements. For those of us who keep a constant cover on the soil, it’s fine to simply let the materials sift through mulches. Rainwater will inevitably dissolve the minerals to the soil’s benefit. A near neutral ph naturally occurs in well drained, highly organic soils. Within a point or two of this range, a broad horizon of nutrients and micro-organisms thrive. Some specific areas are prone to a more extreme range in ph, for example any grounds close to conifers, such as the fine arbor vitae or spruce trees so common in cities. Indeed, plants self-select and adapt to many environments, the gardener’s charge is to guide. With our eyes on Spring’s far horizon, we spread limestone confident winter’s freeze and thaw cycle will percolate nutrients into the soil.

Sometimes it’s best to lift up from the day. The sun and moon rule. Earth gyroscopes away from the sun to point true north at the winter equinox, winter. Just as surely, the ever moving earth tilts towards the sun into spring. Far horizons away there is much promise. Start with spring bulbs.

Daffodils and jonquils Photo credit: Leonard Moorehead

Never has it been easier or more affordable to find spring bulbs: the enormous Narcissus family offers daffodils, paper whites and jonquils. Or the galaxy of vibrant tulips to dream off. Busy urban gardeners take their trowel to hand and plant. Scatter bulbs in random drifts. Dig them in where they fall, usually six or seven inches deep. I have fine results adding a few tablespoons of bone meal mixed into the bottom with a twist of the trowel. Observe, bottom down, top up. Avoid regiments or geometry. Whimsy counts in this game. Firm the soil over the bulbs, give a few inches of space to spread and count your blessings. The bulbs will begin their growth over the next few months. I never fear for the future. Some things you can always count on and that’s the double pleasure of successions of spring blooms planted during the October full moon.

Daffodils and jonquils Photo credit: Leonard Moorehead

Explore. Many of the so called minor spring bulbs please beyond measure. Squill, grape hyacinth, snowdrops, crocus, and many others are just a moment’s intent. Tuck them in every corner, each nook, along the borders. Hope shines eternal and is never more evident when planting bulbs. Engage youngsters. The large size of bulbs makes for easy grasping of younger hands. Share your good fortune with the generations before and beyond. Urban gardeners bring much into the garden, we leave with much more.

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree.


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