Tending the Soil

A Monday afternoon in late February, and the temperature on the front porch hovers just above freezing. Even so, a ring-necked turtle dove, ready to begin some spring-time business, has been calling all day, “Coo-coo-oo-cook, coo-coo-oo-cook.”. His isn’t one of my favorite birdsongs, and the urgency in his voice sets me a little on edge.

Oh, it’s true, I like the drowsiness of winter mornings and the spaces the season leaves on my calender, but I have to say, I’m not reluctant to leave this winter behind. It’s only that my sense of urgency is different from the dove’s.

His is all about being out there, above ground, and in the heat of making more of himself. Mine is subterranean.

I’m considering foundations. In life, I’m thinking about those stories I’ve told myself for just about ever, stories about unworthiness, limitations, and struggle. Those foundational thoughts, color my perceptions, and give rise to my crop of actions. I’m calling most of them into question.

When I transfer these current musings to gardenhood, I think about soil, soil being the foundation of the garden. Its content and pH color foliage and flowers and determine the proliferation above its surface. What’s above the surface in every garden gets most everyone’s attention, mine included. What’s below the surface, however, makes most of the upward show possible.

Turns out, that the soil on the flat corner lot is depleted.

Late last summer, right about the same time my family and I were getting Dad’s mind and body evaluated, I took a couple of cups of soil to the dirt doctor. She ran tests. She gave me the sobering results. She also gave me a prescription and sent me home with supplements and instructions.

Like the news about Dad, the diagnosis of my soil’s condition really shook me. I thought I knew my soil. I thought it was basically sound. It looked dark. It crumbled somewhat easily. I had assumed that a layer of mulch would invite the worms to dinner, and soon, the presumably adequate soil would be black gold. The lack of real knowledge about the soil and the holes in my logic made me question my gardening qualifications.

To my credit, I was more than willing to eat my humble pie. The competent soil doctor armed me with bags of stuff and a plan. One weekend, I dug all the plants out of a bed along the chainlink fence. I forked in compost and various supplements. I raked out clumps. When plants went back into the bed, their holes received a dusting of mycorrhizae.

As Dad’s condition declined, there wasn’t time to redo more beds, but in the remaining weeks before hard frost, I saw a marked difference in the vitality of the plants above ground. Walking past the bed, I could even smell the life of the soil. The raised surface of that bed has reminded me all winter about the goodness underground. The experience has been smoldering, transmuting the feelings of shock and embarrassment into visions of healthy soil.

Dad left his earthly life nearly four months ago. I’m reentering mine.

It’s a year to begin the productive areas of the garden, the spaces for beans, squash, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, and more. Before the beauty above, however, there will be bounty below. In me as in the garden, I’ll take my time and tend the soil.


The first 2012 seeds arrived on Thursday last week. They were pricey, but so worth it. Those little nuggets of promise were locally grown which, among other attributes, made them irresistible. I love that my purchase, in some small way, connects me with and helps preserve the Hobbs Family Farm in Avondale, Colorado. Knowing that these seeds were grown in soil and conditions similar to those here, on the flat corner lot, gives me an exciting expectation of success.

Provider Beans

The packets, holding four kinds of beans and Hopi Orange Squash, went from brown envelope to shoe box in a chilly closet where they continue to dream, as do I, of warming soil and fulfilled potential.

I chose heirloom and traditional varieties, yes, for the greater good, as a way to keep real foods alive and adapting to our changing world. I also chose them so that I might touch the history of this place and better feel my own roots mingle with those of the people who were nourished here for many centuries. I, too, will participate, tasting what they tasted, blessing what they blessed, saving seeds for whomever comes next.

This reaching down and backward gives me strength, fuels my sense of wonder and belonging, keeps me moving forward.

When I came across traditional celebrations based on the ancient lunar calendar of Ireland, it was like striking a tuning fork, shifting my perspective on the seasons and how to relate to them. We all know about solstices and equinoxes, and most of us grew up with those events marking the beginning of their respective seasons. We also grew up celebrating May Day and Hallowe’en, but with little understanding why.

The Old Ones from stephanhoglundphotography.com

From the very old days, however, each season begins on a day that rises between an equinox and a solstice. Think of it: Summer beginning on May Day, Autumn on the first of August, and Winter on the day after Halloween. That puts us, now, at the first day of Spring.

Although winter weather isn’t over, days are stretching and light and warmth returning. It’s truly a time to celebrate and look for the earliest signs of new life. Gardeners do this instinctively. Even when the garden is buried in snow or hunkered under heaps of leaves, trees and birds send signals. In the gardenhood, house finches practice their reckless mating trills, chickadees twee-dee, and the willows along Shooks Run blaze a brighter gold.

This year, when Punxutawney Phil pokes out his prognosticating head, dance a jig. It’s spring. No matter what his peepers see, the circling earth on her tipped axis, gives us every reason to expect a positive outcome, and that is the very definition of hope.

This is the first anniversary of Gardenhood. Thanks, so much, for coming along on the journey.