The Peculiar Gardener

I long ago stopped following planting “directions, and started planting the way I thought it would work. For example, seed packets advise that you plant the tiny lettuce seeds one or two inches apart and 10” to a foot from the next row. I plant lettuce—I collect my own seeds—in clumps, thickly clustered, so that the lettuce crowds each other, stays tender and molts long after single plants. I extend my lettuce crop into July, without watering and I have an abundance of lettuce.

I have a book from the 70’s that I consult about “companion planting.” Peas dislike onions, for example; basil and tomatoes like each other. Or, at least, they supplement each other, enrich each other.

I planted one crop of potatoes in November, under a layer of fallen leaves. It was something people did up in a little Gunk’s hamlet not far from here, in the 19th century, people who lived close to the land. The potatoes are doing well, and may have benefited from the plenitude of rain in the early part of summer.

We’re now in a moderate drought that has impacted my bees most of all. I can water vegetables a little bit, and start fall peas and lettuce, because we have a well whose water is not potable. Apparently, bees can’t extract nectar from all the abundance of flowers in my yard and in two large fields with bee balm flanking me, because it’s too dry—baked, really. I’ve fed one hive about two and a half gallons of bee tea (highly sugared water with some herbal infusions). I may feed them more. Right now, the feeding bottles just hold water. I’m hoping they can tolerate municipal water.

I’m also watering by drip hose, the big, 300 year old Oak on my cover; I give it a couple of hours an evening, and it seems to be doing better. Something attacked its spring foliage, probably gypsy moth, and it has an incurable fungal coating (according to an arborist) on one hip, but watering seems to be helping flesh out its thin upper foliage.

I have a philosophy of gardening, not a dogma, but I do shy away from chemicals, from fertilizers to pesticides. Since it’s my garden, I want it free of poisons, if possible, but I do water it with the “bad” water we have in our well.

Our “bad” water is the result of an industrial cleaning plant on a nearby hill; ending more than a decade ago, it dumped its toxic waste on the ground, without safeguards. Anyway, the “plume” of trace toxics reached ground water up to a few houses beyond ours on our sparsely populated exurban road. So, Superfund/EPA cleaned up the toxics and built a municipal water plant and water lines to all of us (our predecessor here), but were able to keep existing wells, for other uses. Our plumbing was all connected, courtesy of Superfund, to the municipal water system.

I should test my well water, to see how bad it is, but I’d rather have the municipal water: there’s no cutoff if the power goes off, whereas with a well, you’re out of luck: the electric pump won’t pump. Our water comes from the same source as New York City, but is treated locally. It tastes good, although I worry about the small amount of chlorine if I want to make wine or beer.

More later.