Winter is when I give serious thought to my two vegetable gardens, the soils for which both need serious amendments early next year. Absent results from soils tests I’m going to run after the dirt dries out from two days of light rains, I’m willing to bet I need to add some chalk to bring calcium content back up. There’s also the after effects of growing almost two score tomato plants for the last four years. And I can’t even begin to guess how whacked my soil chemistry is in the lower garden because of my love affair with spuds.
Believe it or not, digging and preparing my gardens for planting is one of the things I love the most about gardening. My gardening season here in San Diego (USDA Zone 9) kicks off in mid to late February when I move the Sequoia strawberry starts now sitting on their rolling racks, from their small four-inch plastic planters to the raised rows I’ll create later this month.
I spend zero dollars on strawberry vines. All of next year’s plants are propagates from 2008. Right now my 125 little strawberries are outside on the rack, catching the long slanted sun rays of a fall afternoon and getting healthy sips of rainwater from a benevolent Mother Nature.
Before I set them, I need to rebuild the carburetor on my Mantis two-cycle tiller, as well as throw on a new spark plug and air filter. Maintaining my tiller is a pleasant little task that takes me all of about two hours. And by the time its done, I’ll have the results of my soils tests in hand, the organic amendments mixed up and ready for application., Then I’ll crank up my Mantis and begin serious work on my 2009 garden, building the raised rows that cause my strawberries to thrive.
Strawberries are the first crop I put in my upper garden. Nothing else gets set until after the danger of frost—and particularly hail—has passed. I protect the Sequoias lined up in their rows against the effects of winter with straw.
I like to think I’m something of a traditionalist and besides, “plastic berries” doesn’t sound near as tasty as “strawberries.”
It will be sometime before I find myself spending two or three hours a day out in the garden, weeding, cultivating and tending next years’ fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Before that happens, however, I have a much more urgent problem to solve; the invasion last week of my yard by about six furry voles. In the almost six years I’ve lived here, I’ve fought a constant battle against voles (enormous burrowing first cousins of the common field mouse). Most years I’ve kept them in check through occasional sniping with my extremely accurate .177 scoped pellet rifle, liberal applications of dry ice in their runs and outright water boarding. But now its payback time and the voles are wining. Proof of this is the eighteen-inch tall pile of excavated vole dirt I’ve carefully piled in my upper garden. Some day, I’ll win the battle against the voles. It just won’t be this month.
In the afternoon, i flood the vole's runs with my aqua cannon. At night, the little creature would fling the mud out of his runs. In the morning, I collect the dirt he's excavated since the last waterboarding. After three months, the result was a two-foot dirt mountain. I lose; voles win.
But in my mind, I can see the hearty green leaves and stout stalks as I nap under the covers on a rainy fall afternoon in cloudy chilly San Diego.—Jim Forbes on 11/09/2008.