Everywhere I go I find a pal
Peter Weinschenk, Editor, The Record-Review
I have become obsessed with a 20-foot square patch of ground. This is the section of my family’s backyard vegetable garden that I have dedicated to no till agriculture with a cover crop.
Last fall, I drove down to the Stratford coop and bought a 50-pound sack of cereal rye seeds (the smallest bag the business sells) and broadcast the oblong seeds across the patch. I raked some dirt over the seeds.
Nothing happened that fall. After winter, however, the rye spouted vigorously where the snow had melted, sending little green shoots skyward. I was excited.
In time, the rye cover grew 14 inches tall, but needed to be killed so that squash could be inter-seeded within the cover crop stubble.
I tried crimping the rye, but, unfortunately, this didn’t work. I used a homemade crimper. This was a section of angle iron screwed tight to a heavy, two-inch thick ash board that could be maneuvered by a loop of rope. I would pick up the crimper with the rope and smash it down with my boot on top of the rye, bruising the stem and flattening the stems along the ground. The problem was that the rye, still young and pliable, never died in the crimping and within two days had started righting itself.
I went to Plan B, the weed whacker. I cut down the cover crop in a hurry. Two days later, the rye stems, once a luscious green, have significantly yellowed, signaling death.
In the meantime, my wife, Susan, has planted zucchini, butternut squash, cucumber and crooked neck squash seeds in the 20-square foot patch.
These days, I just intently stare at the ground. I am trying to imagine what will happen. I am hoping that the squash seeds, feeding on the decomposing cover crop, will sprout and prosper. I am hoping that the rye plant root systems will open the soil for air and water infiltration and frustrate weed growth. I am hoping that out of death will come life.
I got a little encouragement in this green experiment. I was out in the garden inspecting the cover crop and, suddenly, out bounced a bronze-colored toad who plopped and shuffled across the garden between rosemary and thyme seedlings. He gave me a knowing look. I took this as a positive sign. Maybe I wasn’t just creating a home for vegetables, but for a wider community, including amphibians.
It is exciting to garden in what seems to be a more natural way, to harness the forces of nature to grow food.
Masanobu Fukuoka, author of “The One Straw Revolution,” writes “Food is life, and life must not step away from nature.”
Sometime this fall—hopefully filling buckets with winter hardy squash–we’ll find out if these words capture a powerful reality or just state a pleasant sentiment.