It began inauspiciously.
Every year, the Cape Cod Organic Gardeners, who patiently tolerate our presence on their roster, put in a bulk supplies offer through NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association. The order consists of several thousand pounds of soil, seed starter, compost, fertilizer, and various other supplies.
So far, just about all we’ve brought to the table as club members is a taste-test of cornbread made from chicken feed (more on that later), so we figured it was time we made a more substantial contribution. We volunteered our truck, trailer, and labor for the pick-up (which is about 30 miles off-Cape) and distribution.
We were joined in this effort by long-time club members Frank and Judy, who brought along the venerable Jean Iversen, the farmer at the helm of the CCOG.
Jean, who coaxes an astonishing amount of organic produce out of the two-thirds of an acre that is Kelly Farm, is almost 90 years old and almost five feet tall. She’s a lovely human being with a grandmotherly manner that masks a will of iron.
The five of us drove out to East Freetown and loaded the order, which almost maxed out our two trucks and one trailer. We drove it back to the Cape and unloaded it at the designated pick-up spot where CCOG members would come to claim it.
Things went smoothly, and we were early. Since Frank and Judy are getting chickens this spring and planning their coop, we took a quick run over to our house to show them ours. Jean came along.
As we were walking up the little hill to the chicken coop, we pointed out our strawberry beds, fig tree, garden, and hoophouse. Jean took it all in, and I saw a shadow of concern fall across her face.
Then, as we got to the coop, she turned back to take another look at the garden. She looked down, to see what kind of dirt was under her feet. Then she took my husband aside. “Kevin,” she said, in a tone that clearly indicated she was trying to break some bad news as gently as she could, “You don’t have very good soil here.”
Was it so very obvious?
That was the cloud under which we began our gardening in earnest today. We tilled lime, composted chicken poop, and a little greensand into the soil in the hoophouse, and planted about 80 onions in one corner. Ideally, we’d have been able to leave some time for the soil to absorb the nutrients, but we wanted to get the onions in early enough that we’d be able to re-use the spot later in the summer.
Will the amendments be metabolized by the soil in time? Or will the onions die a slow, agonizing death from malnutrition? This is what passes for drama at our house.
I also started arugula and broccoli rabe seeds in the house. Those two crops, along with a couple of kinds of kale, are what we’re planning for our hydroponic system. (The clearer it becomes that our soil is crappy, the better hydroponics are looking.) Unfortunately, there seems to have been a run on kale seeds on Cape Cod; I haven’t seen them anywhere.
Despite the Carver Coarse Sand that passes for soil around here, and Jean’s judgment of it, I go into gardening season with a sense of optimism. I don’t know that I’ll ever cease being amazed by the fact that plants – plants you can eat – grow right out of the ground.
Some of what we plant will undoubtedly die. Some will fail to thrive. We won’t get the harvest that a skilled gardener working with good material would get. But we will get more, much more, than nothing, which is what our ground would yield if we weren’t here, giving it the old college try.
Gardening is worthwhile, if for no other reason than it is impossible to put a seed in the ground without optimism. You cover that seed with soil, give it a little water, and you can’t help but look forward to growth and life, sunshine and vegetables.