Lazy Organic Gardener: It’s Not Easy Being Lazy in Spring
Even in my relatively balmy backyard in Berkeley, California, where I can garden year round, spring is as much a new beginning as it was when I started gardening in central Illinois, back when computers were the size of houses.
When I say it’s not easy being lazy in spring, I don’t mean that I haven’t succumbed to sitting on the deck and drinking a beer after a long day at work, savoring all that lush greenery without doing a damn thing. What’s hard is knowing that if I want to have a productive garden this year, I have to put the beer down and do some work. But the sitting is over.
But then, armchair gardening counts as work, too, right? I’ve got planting strategies to review, workplans to draft, priorities to set. I wouldn’t want to head into the wild jungle out there without a plan, would I?
You can see how wild and verdant my yard is. Rain plus sun plus lengthening days equals happiness. (For all those plants, not necessarily for the lazy gardener.)
Not so many flowers yet, except some white and pink blossoms on my spindly apple tree. Another month, and the Peruvian lilies (a.k.a. alstrameria) and lavatera will be bursting into flower, and will keep blooming for months. (Z said the other day that I should trim the lilies back, they were out of control, but I don’t know. She’ll sing a different tune when I bring her flowers every week.)
The drought is officially over. The reservoirs are full, the snowpack above normal. The state is still broke, but it’s got water in the bank for the first time in, well, you can look it up — I’ve got weeding to do.
Because, more than anything, most of that green is weeds and unwanted grass.
Ten years ago, I rid my yard of its pathetic lawn, but I can’t keep it from coming back every winter. With the Bay Area's long dry season from about April to November, grass only stays green for a month or so after the winter rains end and then looks ratty all summer long unless I water and tend it. But laziness and a well-maintained lawn do not go together, not even in the same sentence.
Over the past two years, I have found that as I garden I think about what I might write about later. It's almost as if gardening without reporting on it has become the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest. That’s what finally gets me out of my chair to pull weeds. There’s not much to write about just sitting on the deck.
But, before weeding, I reaped some of my winter bounty. The other evening, at dusk, I gathered up some chard, kale, arugula, and sorrel for a stir-fry. Those five minutes I meandered through garden with my orange-handled scissors and filled a white plastic colander with greens — that was the epitome of lazy gardening. After months of doing hardly any work, I was able to go out into my yard and harvest my dinner. Just add rice, onions, tofu, and some curry sauce. Nothing to write home about, but fresh from the garden, and who writes letters home these days anyway?
I planted the chard and kale last fall and harvested some of it over the winter — I just snipped off the leaves and the plant kept growing new ones. The sorrel comes back on its own every winter. I even transplanted it a few years ago, to a better spot, and it’s as prolific as ever. (It’s sour, so I only use a little. Which means I never run out.) The arugula grows wild in some spots, reseeding from last year’s plants, though hard to find amidst the weeds, and I now also have a perennial arugula plant, with small leaves shaped like sage.
If you’re starting to think that I haven’t talked about weeding yet because I haven’t done any, you’re mostly right. It’s overwhelming. Look at this spot here by the birdbath and apple tree. There’s a walkway under there somewhere. You can see a hint of the pink paving stones.
Even though I talk about mapping out my plan of action, the advantage of having so much to do is that I don't need a plan. I can walk out into the yard with gloves, clippers, and plastic bin, and pull up or clip whatever is in front of me. If I wander away from one spot to another because I want to be in the sun or I'm tired of kneeling on the flagstone, so be it.
While the ground is soft, I’m going to pull out as many of the weeds as I can by their roots, but I’ll probably give up before I’m finished and pull out the weed-whacker, the only machine I use in my garden. It’s noisy, heavy, and messy, and certainly not my image of the bucolic gentleman farmer, but it is more efficient and it’s especially good for clearing the flagstone walkway that curves through the garden. (The weed-whacker counts as organic. Takes only a few pennies worth of electricity from PG & E. You can look it up.)
Two winters ago, I built two 4’ x 8’ garden beds — you can read about that in Garden Beds, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 — and that will make this spring much easier. There are only a few weeds in the beds. One is full of fava beans that I planted to add nitrogen to the soil, and the other is full of lettuce, which has almost all bolted by now.
The favas produce an edible bean, though I tend not to eat it because it’s a lot of work to shell and peel the beans. I collect the seeds to sow the next winter. I heard recently that the leaves are edible too, but I’ve never tried them. Maybe this weekend. (There’s even a Facebook page for Growing Fava Beans for Edible Leaves and Greens. Who knew?)
I did pull some weeds the other night, around the apple tree. For maybe an hour. Filled up the blue bin three or four times, but didn’t make much of a dent. There are so many weeds left it almost makes me dread the weekend. Almost.
—John Byrne Barry, a.k.a. Lazy Organic Gardener