The Year of the Horse began 31 days into 2014. For me, another new year couldn’t have come sooner.
We rang in 2014 in a swirl of activity with family and friends in Hong Kong. But the past four weeks of regular life (complete with its moments of drudgery) have reminded me of my constant need for renewal.
So, to send the Year of the Snake on its way, I scrubbed out the kitchen, wiped down the counters, and swept out the dust. We celebrated with a homemade lo bak go, a radish cake for the new year that also happens to be my husband’s favorite dimsum dish. (I am interested in making an adapted version of the lo bak go in the next few weeks with local produce, but for a great Hong Kong-style recipe, check out this turnip cake recipe which has been my go-to for the past two years).
Afterwards, I walked out to my garden plot in the rare February sun to turn the compost. The onion bulbs were poking out, the garlic was sprouting, and the chives were just starting to emerge from the mulch. New things.
And then I went back inside and started planning.
This year, we are giving up the city community garden plot so that we can focus on the community garden at our apartment complex. I deeply loved gardening that city plot over the past two years, but last summer it was starting to be a strain to maintain both. This year, we are going to focus our energies on the one outside our door.
Unfortunately, last summer the garden at the apartment complex was not terribly successful, most likely because the soil there is depleted. Here are a few goals:
- Improve soil structure. Last year, I was troubled by the way water would pool at the lowest points of the garden (the walkways). In the hard baked summer, it simply wasn’t penetrating the dry outer layer. I might water a bed for 10 minutes, but when I would dig into the soil, I would see about a inch of damp dark soil, followed by grey ashy dirt (and a big puddle of run-off).
- Improve soil nutrients. Generally, heavy-feeding plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflowers didn’t thrive in our garden last summer.
In order to address those goals, I’m going to try the following:
- Implement a No-Till garden. Instead of laboring to till the soil in the spring, I will be layering mulch, compost, and other soil amendments this year. I started this process in the fall when I collected gallons of leaves and spread them thick over the garden.
- Plant nitrogen-fixing early crops. It’s February, and fava beans and peas will go in in the next few days. The roots of these plants will also help drill into the compacted soil to help with aeration. I actually planted fava beans a few months ago, but the unusually cold winter killed those off when they were 6-8″ tall.
- Plant living mulch throughout the year. I plan to grow clover in some of the borders (and to undersow some larger plants). I also plan to grow crops of buckwheat (which mature in 4 weeks in the summers). These help prevent soil erosion and improve aeration of the soil. Clover helps fix nitrogen, and buckwheat makes for good mulch when it’s pulled up.
- Continue with the compost. We have been establishing our compost pile all winter, and now I am hoping it will finish in the next 4-6 weeks so I can spread it on the beds. It’s going a little slow, so I plan on turning the pile more frequently to aerate it.
- Amend the soil. I will need to purchase calcium carbonate and some kind of manure; while I try to limit buying too many products, I feel fortunate that there are affordable organic options at local stores.
Next, I sketched out my garden plot. I find timing so tricky still, so this year I really tried to think through when to change crops. I know it won’t end up looking like this–and there are at least 5 different vegetable/herb varieties that I didn’t list on there, not including flowers–but it helps me visualize what we can do with our space.
Finally, I planted my first seeds of the year! For now, I am starting lettuces and braising greens. I would like to start the sorrento broccoli as well, but I ran out of potting mix.
I put several seeds in each cell and placed the seedling packs in empty salad tubs. They make fantastic mini greenhouses.
For seeds that need to germinate warm, I often put a hot water bottle under the tub to raise the temperature (as I did with these tomato seedlings last year). I find I do need to be careful of fungus and mold from the dampness, so uncovering the tubs and allowing some light breeze over the seedlings helps.
Then I had that beautiful moment where I just marveled at this tiny seed that will unfold into an organism, a plant that will likely feed us.
So my heart is full as I wait for more things to sprout from the ground. Happy new year. 心想事成. May all those desires stored up in your heart come into being this year.