Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fertility Rituals

Every year, I anticipate the garden season and try to figure out what is best for each type of plant in my "zone". I am often confounded and wrong about the season here. We live in a coastal climate that imitates a Mediterranean climate in many ways. I am able to grow many of the normal plants found there, like dill, anise, fennel, garlic and onions. If I plant in December, I can grow lettuce, but it is too warm by the end of April for lettuces. I have sometimes been successful with celery if I water enough. My other plants are grapes, figs, and peaches. Occasional apricots happen here. And I have blueberries in boggy pots. We have grown macadamia nuts in abundance, but only marginal asparagus. Citrus, we have it. And every type of weed you can imagine.
But trying to get beans or cucumbers is almost impossible. And melon or squash, well lets just hit ourselves with sticks. The wet nights just mildew everything.
So this year, I decided to try something really different- cotton. I cleaned out a low dirt area that was the hottest spot in the yard. I turned the soil and added amendments. I used fertilizer abundantly and watered the sandy mass deeply. When the soil attained the desired 60 degrees F, I planted seeds of dubious quality.
Some of the seeds looked really good. I had picked the cotton lint off the seeds myself and they were this year's seeds from a woman at the weaver's barn. They were plump and firm. Then I had some that I received as a gift in the mail. They were natural brown cotton and may have been stored for at least a year. They may have been squished a bit too.  And lastly, I had some seeds from cotton that had been stored for a couple of years. I picked the lint off of them too, but they looked a bit shriveled and dry.
The growing instructions suggested three seeds in each hole- 1 foot apart in rows. This is a good test- one of each seed went into every hole. Water deeply. Silent prayer for warm weather.
My area is known world wide for June Gloom and May gray. The temperature hovers just under 60f and it drizzles often. Nights are cool and windy. More prayers for warm soil.
The instructions suggested that two weeks would pass before the seeds sprouted, and to water them well when they were up about four inches tall. At the end of day 5, the first plants emerged. I have never seen a baby cotton plant, so I can't be sure, but they look like they were in the hole spot and seem to be in rows like I planted them.
The worry and frustration with the weather, rains, storms, bugs, animal disruption, and soil quality must have driven the ancient farmers crazy. Each year,  the guess about when to plant, how to fertilize, were the seeds viable, can we keep the wild pigs out- it is mind boggling. And now, with the passage of the ages, I don't even know what god they prayed to for cotton crops. I have to rely on science and the farmer's almanac.
So today, I went to my cotton bed and had a little talk with it. Who would know best about growing than the plant itself. We talked about fertility of the soil and I asked it to tell me if it needed anything. We discussed the weather and I told them that I just didn't have  any control over it, but had chosen the warmest spot and would do my best. Then I told them that I would water them every three days because the soil was very sandy and didn't hold water well regardless of how much mulch I used. I suggested that they could show me if they were needing water by bowing down a bit- you know, body language. And if they looked a bit moldy, I could hold back on the water.
We tried to come to some agreement on the communication but, I just don't think they were paying any attention to me.

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