Friday, April 11, 2008

Get Your Peas In

Unlike most years, the ground was dry enough to plant peas when I got to the island yesterday. Today I spread wood ashes from the woodstove on a 30'x10' part of the garden by the old store, followed by a light spread of limestone, then tilled it and the surface plant debris from last year into the soil. I made four double rows two feet apart, shook fish meal fertilizer into the rows, and then using an earthway seeder planted two double rows of Sugar Ann dwarf snap peas and two double rows of Progress #9 podded peas. They are two feet high, support each other, and I do not stake them lest they attract deer. Instead, they flop over, some supporting each other, attracting mildew, and making picking harder. But the alternative is to find them eaten by deer. Gardening on the island isn't easy. The land is mostly a spruce forest, with clearings where ledge is close to the surface; drainage there is poor. Other trees are alder, poplar ("popple"), birch, a few pine and some ash. In one small part of this 20-acre property is a small, old stand of beech. The soil is naturally acidic and clayey; it is good for blueberries. Deer are plentiful on the island and they will eat growing vegetables, so the gardens have to be fenced. The deer could jump my fences but I use human hair bags that I make from cut hair I get from a barber shop, enclosed in cheesecloth and hung strategically from the fence. Hair bags against the deer is local folklore, and it has worked for me for nearly 30 years, so long as I don't grow anything that is taller than a couple of feet. Pole beans or staked tomatoes have proved too tempting for the deer, hair bags or none.  In 1980, the first summer after I bought the place, I started an organic vegetable garden to feed the household. Gradually it expanded to four vegetable garden spots. The one by the old store is about 30' x 50'; another by the barn is about 12' x 20'; another down the road is about 20' x 60'; and the last, which served the first owner of this property as a garden, is up the road to the orchard, and about 15' x 20'. It is the worst of the four, and despite my attempts to improve it with tons of seaweed from the causeway by the ocean and with various manures and fertilizers, it remains unproductive. The others have become decent to good, depending on the year. But I did not choose this spot because it had any natural advantages for gardening. When I spoke with Fedco apple guru John Bunker about my attempts to grow apples and make cider wine here, he asked me where I lived; when I told him, his words were, "You must like a challenge." I do. But I also like to have gardens that produce, and so this year, unlike last, may give me a crop of snap peas and another of sweet peas which I will eat in season and freeze for the rest of the year.  Today was warm (50 degrees) and dry, but rain is predicted for the next few days. Too much rain or cold and the peas will rot in the gound, feeding pessimism; but with any luck at all they will emerge in a few weeks and be ready by July 4th, the benchmark in local folklore. 

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