MARCH 12, 2019 BY MELISSA HIll
Pagans like green things, but just because you love the horned god doesn’t make you good at helping flowers get it on. As this gardening season marches on (pun intended) I’m going to be letting you all in on some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years, as a horticulturalist, organic farm manager, and urban farmer. Demeter and Gerda agree with me, this gardening thing is a good plan for pagans.
Know what Zone you’re in. And no, that’s not the Danger Zone. It’s the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. By knowing which number is assigned to your region you can be sure that your plant will survive the winters outside. I have to admit, coming out of this polar vortex fun time I am inclined to look for plants that are even hardier than what the USDA map says. That map is based on current data, and reflects climate change. However, it’s an average, and with the winds shifting we gardeners have to get used to the idea that gardening is just going to keep getting harder. Storms will be bigger, winds will be stronger, heat will be higher and cold will be… polar vortex-y. Here in Michigan our last frost date is in late May, so that’s when you can safely plant tender annuals. I also suggest learning tricks. Plant corn when the oak leaves are just sprouting. Plant tomatoes when the daylilies bloom.
Order seeds and plants now, and often you’ll get free shipping or extra seed packets. If nothing else, they won’t have sold out of what you wanted. If you want to grow peas and beans, make sure to purchase inoculant. Inoculant is weird powdery stuff you put on the seeds of legume family plants. It’s actually bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship and will help bean and pea plants fix nitrogen from the air, this is super great if you’re avoiding unnatural fertilizers (which you should).
Plant peas, lettuces, and spinach as soon as the dirt thaws and is dry enough to plant in. If you’re wondering how to know if the soil is dry enough, that’s easy. Make a little ball of soil. Just dig it up and roll it in your hand, like you’re making a cookie. Then press your finger into the ball. If it smooshes like clay and leaves a little indent it’s too wet. If it breaks into a couple of pieces it’s perfect. If it crumbles before you can even make the ball, it’s too dry, add a little moisture.Once you’ve planted peas, prep the rest of your vegetable beds. This means adding compost, and possibly lime. I suggest reaching out to your local land grant university to see if they have an extension program like the one where I live. They may have classes, soil testing, and other programs you can utilize. If you’re breaking sod to start a garden, I suggest either covering the sod with thick layers of cardboard and then building a raised bed on top, or peeling off the sod and double digging the soil with lots and lots of compost.
Save your junk! Right now I’m saving eggshells and banana peels in ziplock bags in my freezer. I’ll toast the eggshells in my oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then grind them in an old coffee grinder for a high calcium fertilizer. The banana peels will be buried under my tomatoes for a potassium boost. Save chipboard boxes to cut into throw away seed starting units. This year I’m using a bunch of LeCroix boxes cut in half. Chipboard is a little thinner than cardboard, so it breaks down quite quickly. I’d like to note that they will be a little floppy and having trays underneath can stabilize your free pots, but the upside is that chipboard can be easily pulled away when it’s time to plant. Plant batches of spinach or lettuce and you can either cut them directly from the box, or transplant the whole thing for a cut and come again operation in your garden.
Learning how to grow your own food is an incredibly powerful devotional. It ties you to the ancestors in a deeply visceral way, connects you to the spirits of the land who are with you every time you see bee or plant a seed. It endears you to the gods as well. I have it from a number of people in my local area that the Earth Goddesses are getting quite instant that people step up and start gardening. I know all those Morrigan followers and Hecate’s worshipers are rising up with their rage and that’s lovely, really. But those of us who are tied to the land need to begin to speak as well, and we need to say, “Let’s get sweaty and a little dirty!”