Pagan Gardening, Part One

Pagan Gardening, Part one of three

This dissertation is on the purely practical aspects of pagan gardening. Please do not expect me to go much into magickal aspecting at this time.

January/February is the time of year when most of us are sick of winter and beginning to do major dreaming of a garden. The ground is still hard and cold, and the weather still too foul to really work the soil.
Our seed catalogues have arrived and many of us have long lists of all we want to grow. I will show you tonight how to properly and reasonably plan your garden so you are not overwhelmed later this year with more than you can handle.

First, look at the number of people in your household. Divide that number in half. (Round down if necessary) Example: 5 persons in the household divide down to 2. This number will be important later. Please remember it. It will determine how many square-foot sections you plant.

Secondly, think about how many hours you wish to spend gardening per week. Be reasonable! Your enthusiasm may be high now, but what will you REALLY feel like doing in the heat of high summer? Most folks can't manage more than two hours, and that early in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday.

If you over-plant now in your enthusiasm, you will have a garden of weeds by high summer and nothing else. Also, this dissertation must of necessity be fairly generic. Please check with your nursery or county extension office to find out what works in your area.
Some of the techniques I will show you today are the latest fad in gardening, called Xeriscaping. I call it simple good sense. Xeriscaping is the technique of planting with conservation of water and resources built into the design. As pagans, we have an obligation to conserve, recycle and renew whenever possible.

This dissertation will focus on conservation, recycling, and organic techniques. I will show you how to plan, prepare, and use your garden with the least amount of work and resources used. Even someone in a tiny apartment with a balcony or tiny concrete patio can do everything I will talk about.

I use and highly recommend the square foot gardening method. If you have never heard of this technique, one book is "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. It will expand greatly on what I am saying today.

Next step is to reasonably go over your want list of seeds/plants you want. Don't be taken into planting tomatoes if you and your family don't use a lot of tomatoes!!! Unless you know how to blanch and freeze/can, don't plant more than you can use. One indeterminate tomato plant can feed a family of four and have tomatoes left over!

Every one of you has heard of the zucchini horror stories. Perhaps you have even had a dear friend or family member try to foist all those things off on you in huge basketfuls. If you REALLY LOVE zucchini, plant ONE plant or you will be a pain to all your friends.

Go over your list again and scratch all those things off you were going to plant just because it is traditional but you can't eat or don't know how to can/freeze/store. Your list may be halved at this point.

Now take your list and divide it. (We will divide it again later another way, so have plenty of paper ready, and grab a calendar.) Divide your plants into annual vegetables, annual herbs, annual flowers, and perennials of all kinds. Move the annuals to a new list. If you don't know what that plant is, look it up later and move it to the appropriate list. Your seed catalogs will have codes to tell you what your plant is. Put the perennial list aside for now.

Annual plants are what most "eating gardens" are made of. They also offer the biggest opportunity to "try out" new things. Even if you hated beets as a kid, I urge you to try them sometime. Just one or two of these versatile plants provide greens for salad, red color for dyes, and a different and delicious side dish that literally can be cooked 10 different ways.

Also, Annuals, because of their one-time use nature, can be recycled in the compost heap for feeding next year's veggies. Sure, you can cut back some perennials every fall and add them to the compost heap, but for sheer versatility, nothing beats annuals.

Since seeds can be saved from year to year, you will have a large selection to choose from each year. (That will keep you busy in the winter, deciding what to plant and where out of your collection...not to mention the chance to share with friends and have trade-offs.) This can save a lot of money if you and a couple of friends get together and share the seeds.

Perennials are great for one thing- you plant it once, and it is there forever, so it is a one-time outlay of money. There ARE perennial veggies, but they are considered more for the advanced gardener. If you REALLY love rhubarb or asparagus, great! But, wait until you have mastered the techniques I will tell you about. Perennial veggies require special care.

By now your list of plants should be greatly reduced. Divide it again into three columns. Vegetables, Herbs, and Flowers are the categories.

We will talk about vegetables first. By now that list should be less than six items. If it is not, think again. (What are you feeding, an army???) Unless you are a total vegetarian, it is too large.

Here is a maximum list for a vegan family of four: radishes, carrots, onions, spinach, beets, chard, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers (as in bell pepper), eggplant, tomato, cucumber, pole beans.

Cross off anything on that list you don't like and won't eat. Cross off anything on that list you don't know how to store. Remember, you've got to take care of all that. You will be very sorry if you don't know how to properly prepare the fruits of your labors for long-term storage.

Some herbs and flowers are good to plant with your veggies, especially the annuals. Marigolds are great because they seem to keep insects away. Parsley is a great addition and is easily dried for storage. Both of them are annuals. DO NOT plant perennial herbs and flowers in your vegetable garden, no matter how great the temptation! You will regret it.

I recommend planting Parsley and other perennial herbs in pots and setting the pots near the veggie beds. Not only does it look great, the ease and convenience of the pots makes harvesting and moving those pots a breeze. You will be able to take your herbs indoors come fall and enjoy fresh herbs all winter instead of using those expensive herb jars from the store.

Nasturtiums are a great addition to your vegetable garden. They are an annual, are great in salads, and they are very pretty. I didn't bother look up many other herbs or flowers. Just keep it to annuals. I highly recommend using only herbs and flowers that are useful and not just pretty.

Bee balm is another example of a perennial that is also an "eating" herb. The flowers are great in a salad, and those eye-popping colors really make a salad special. I have always kept a pot or plant of bee balm handy right outside my door, just waiting for a last-minute addition to the salad. I pick every flower, and dry what I don't use in the salad. Bee balm tea is easy and delicious.

Chive flowers are just as good the same way in salads, and add a tiny onion taste without being overpowering. Don't make tea with the leftovers. Dry them for use in omelets and soups. I go give my chives a "haircut" and dry them for use in the winter. You can get a mayonnaise jar full of chives very easily with regular trimmings.

Saving a pair of old window screens to use as a drying rack is very easy. Even if you don't have a pair just laying around, build a lightweight pair of frames and staple some screening to it with a staple gun. The whole thing will cost you very little and make up for it the first year in savings on expensive store-bought herbs and teas.

To dry, just lay the herbs down on one screen, and cover with the other screen frame. The second screen prevents the wind from blowing things away, and prevents insect damage. Just make sure if it rains to bring your screens inside if something is drying on them. Stack as many screens as you like, one on top of another. Air will circulate if you spread your herbs thinly like you should.

Recycle, Re-use and will hear me use those words a lot. You have already learned to recycle a pair of screens, reuse them, and save money. Those are the three R's of pagan gardening. Okay, got your lists ready?? Now on to the next step!!

Now on to perennials. There are many herbs and flowers that are wonderful to grow and so useful to a pagan. They are well worth the time and effort to plant and care for.

All I ask is that you not plant them with the veggies and other annuals. You will save yourself many hours of work by keeping them separate. Annuals must be replanted every year and if you separate them from the perennials it means you won't be disturbing your perennial beds, which will be the larger portion of your garden.

Invasive plants like mints and comfrey should be grown in raised beds or pots, unless you want your whole yard to be covered in them. Now, while mowing the mint instead of the grass can be a heavenly experience for the nostrils, it doesn't make your harvesting any easier.

Take your time and research thoroughly which plants you want. Do you have ready and waiting 50,000 recipes to use mint in? Do you have small children? Then don't plant the poisonous ones like datura! If you don't know how to use it, then don't plant it this year. Wait and research until you know what to do with those herbs and flowers.

Perennials will come back year after year, so plant what you know and can use this year. You can add to that garden over time as your knowledge and skills grow. Gardening is a life-long hobby, even if you just do container planting on the patio for the rest of your life.

Planning and preparation will make this portion of your garden a success. Only after researching an herb or perennial thoroughly does it go in my yard. I might plant it in a pot as an experiment first, if I have found a recipe or use for that plant.

For example, I found Echinacea to be a beautiful flower. But, upon research, I found it takes two years for the root to be useful as that marvelous herbal ingredient. I had to ask myself if I was willing to wait two years, then dig up my plant just for the root. I decided, yes, it would be worth it since I got pretty flowers in the meantime. Okay, I planted Echinacea. I will plant a new bed of it each year, thereby renewing my supply of pretty flowers and getting roots later.

Year after year, you will learn more and more. You may find you don't like that plant in that spot. You can move it, and in some cases, divide it and get more plants at the same time. Some plants, like bulbs, need to have this happen every few years anyway. Take advantage of the freebies.

Now that you have a firm and reasonable list, let's do some planning of actual garden layouts.

Sun and Shade are your first concerns. Observe your yard or patio at several times during the day. Note which areas get six or more hours of good, strong sunlight. Which areas get 4-6 hours? Which areas get mostly shade?

Next, pace off your yard and draw a map of it, using graph paper. You don't have to be perfectly accurate. You are not a landscape architect. Use colored highlighters to mark off your areas of sun and shade. Yellow for full sun areas that get 6+ hours, another color for partial shade (4-6 hours) and another color for full shade areas. Also include any permanent features of your map, like trees, sheds, the kiddie pool, pathways, clotheslines, etc.

You now have noted where your veggie garden must go: in the full sun area, unless you live in a desert and need something where shade will keep your plants from sunburning. If you are lucky enough to have two or three areas of full sun, choose the one closest to the back door for the veggie garden. Make the others herb and flower gardens.

The partial shade areas are good for more herbs and flowers, as long as you keep the perennials and the annuals separate. If you live where there is severe sun and heat, like Texas or Colorado, put your vegetable garden here where they won't sunburn. There are plants made for such "hot spots", if you have them.

Patios and other cement areas are also hot spots. If you container garden, be prepared to water more frequently. Just think how hot and dry you get standing on cement in the full sun and you will understand why you need to do more to those plants on that surface.

Don't neglect that shaded area! Some herbs and flowers grow only in the shade. Plan a nice retreat for yourself there, with a lawn chair. Plant around the chair and enjoy a cool retreat on a hot day for yourself. No shade? Plant a tree or butterfly bush and make one! The birds and butterflies will love you for that safe retreat.

What you have now designed is the beginning of garden "rooms". Just like the layout of a house, each room has a different purpose. You have a "kitchen" garden in the full sun, a shady retreat "den", and a "public area" or three in your partial shade/partial sun "rooms".

You can get as fancy with garden rooms as time, budget, and imagination allow. In the next section I will give you some ideas. Just keep in mind that this map is a long-term project and not everything needs to be done this year.

Since gardening is a year-round hobby, you will have something to do each and every month of the year, even in the dead of winter, I assure you. You can even harvest in mid-winter...even if you live in International Falls, Minnesota. Don't believe me? Stay tuned....

Garden design is always a long-term project unless you have an unlimited budget. Do a little each year. Your plans and needs may change, and giving yourself a few years allows you to change your mind without spending more money than absolutely necessary.
Here are some cheap and easy things to do that make your garden special in less than a year. Most take a small investment of money, time and energy.

The butterfly pool. Bury a small pan or pot (or even a small cheap kiddie pool) in the midst of a flower garden. Put a large rock in the center, one large enough to sit just above the surface. This provides a safe, stable place for butterflies to rest and get a drink. The birds will like it too. You will have to replace the water often when it doesn't rain.

A pagan circle garden. Choose a fairly large area and find the center of it. Take a rope or string nine feet long and anchor it in the center. (Get a friend to hold it down if necessary.) Walk around the circle using the rope to guide you and get a perfect circle. I used flour to mark the circle, temporarily. Gypsum powder (available at garden centers) is also great for marking the circle and gives your soil a bit of nutrient at the same time. There are also spray paints in the hardware store made to work upside down to mark more permanently, but even this will only last a week or two.

Mark your circle with stones (even garden paving stones) or cheap bricks or something. I myself had four garden paving stones, with which I marked the four directions. The center of my circle is marked with an antique cauldron I lucked into, but a grill or hibachi will do in a pinch.

You can get fancy with your circle garden later, but this will do for now. Later, you can save up for that statue of Pan or whatever trips your trigger.

Got kids? A pizza garden will make them happy. Plant Oregano and other Italian herbs around one tomato plant in a cage. Leave room in between the herbs for you to lay down a plank or stepping stones so you can step in and harvest the tomatoes without compacting the soil or stepping on your herbs.

Got a hot, too-sunny spot? Sink strong fence posts (6' or taller) in the ground at four corners. Lay 2x4's or even 2x2's across for a roof frame. Drape or staple shade cloth (cheap!!) over the top. The shade cloth allows light to penetrate for your plants, but provides shade for you to sit under. Neither you nor your plants will get sunburned. I draped the cloth even down the sides for privacy and used tiebacks to make "curtains".

Another idea isn't so cheap, but well worth the expense. Get one of the paver stone molds they sell in Home Centers. I chose the one that looks like cobblestones. Make a cement path all through your yard. You can even color the stone with the pretty cement dyes they have now. Your biggest expense will be buying the cement and spending the time.

I have more ideas, like sunflower houses, bean teepees, arbors, menhirs (like Stonehenge) and such...ask me another day. We have to move on now.

Now I get into a cheap "device" every witch should have: a compost heap! No, I am not kidding. For an initial first investment, you can have free fertilizer for the rest of your life, and do good for the environment while you are at it.

First, let me say that no compost heap smells! You can place it right near the back door and have no offensive odors to deal with.

Your big investment is in something to hold all your compost in. I personally recommend hay bales, which can be purchased at a garden center. Plan on spending about $30-$50. Buy six or eight bales. Eight is better. You can use any extra hay in the garden as mulch. It won't be wasted.

Even cheaper is hardware cloth, often sold as a "rabbit fence". A large roll is VERY cheap and you can use any extra for something your climbers can grow up. Just cut what you want and form a cylinder with it, bending the cut wires over the other side. It forms a very cheap bin you can lift and move any time you need to.

Okay, all you've got is a patio or balcony. Buy a cheap plastic trash can with a locking lid. Drill holes in the bottom. Set it by the back door. Once in a while, lock down the lid and roll it around for a few minutes. Same result as a big fancy compost heap. Just keep the stuff inside moist, but not wet.

Choose a site between your veggie garden and the back door. The nearer your back door the better. Make sure this area gets sun.

Once you have chosen your site, lay the first course of hay bales in a U shape, one bale at least for each side. Make the open end convenient to the back door. Leave a handspan of width between the bales for air flow.

The second course is laid brick-layer style on top of the first. This doesn't have to be a perfect box. Keep the handspan airspaces. If you make two bales to a side, you may need more bales. You can add them later when the compost pile is bigger, don't worry. The first course is the most important now.

Outdoor materials to put in your compost heap include: straw, sawdust, salt hay, corn cobs, dried grass clippings, shredded twigs and bark, pine needles, hedge trimmings, wood shavings, refuse from the garden, and old sod.

Indoor materials to add: coffee grounds, reject or spoiled garden produce, vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells.

Avoid adding these to your pile: materials thicker than 1/4" (these can be chopped or shredded to speed decomposition instead), disease or pest-laden material, meat, bones, grease, eggs, cheese, seeds and fruit pits, dog or cat manure (They are carnivores. Vegetarian manure like from horses or cows is great to add)

Nutrients for your compost: Stable or poultry manure, bone meal, blood meal, Coca-Cola classic (No, I am not kidding!! It speeds decomposition...1 two-liter bottle should do it. Add this after you have a good layer of compost materials in the bin) I've also heard stale beer works. Haven't tried that one yet, I'll admit.

As with the garbage can method, compost needs to be turned. The more often, the better. You COULD wait a whole year without turning and have great compost, but turning speeds the process tremendously. I just stick my handy-dandy garden fork in there and stir.

Compost is the best friend a pagan gardener can have. It is free fertilizer. It can turn the nastiest, hardest clay soil to rich, black earth. It allows you to reduce waste in your kitchen and the landfills by making use of almost all organic stuff in your home and yard.

Just think! No more bagging leaves in the fall nor grass clippings in the summer. You just toss it all in the bin. I admit with pride that I go around swiping bags of leaves from the neighbors' homes on trash day, just so I have all the compost and mulch I want, anytime I want, absolutely free. The bucket under the sink gets emptied every night on the pile.

This past Yuletide, Tanne and I trimmed our evergreens for decorating the house. All the extras went into the compost pile. All this winter, a large pile of kitchen waste has been added. All free, and no more extra work than bagging it all for the trash man to take to the landfill. Now, that is my idea of Black Gold.

Xeriscaping note: Composted soil holds many times more water than any other kind. You save water simply by using your free Black Gold, and thereby double your savings. Use it when you first dig your beds, add it several times a year like you would chemical fertilizer (only it CANNOT burn your plants like chemicals will), and under your mulch in the fall to renew the soil for next year. It is impossible to use too much.

You now have "homework" to do...your list revision and garden map. There will be more later, but this ought to keep you busy.

Go ahead and make a revised list and go shopping for your seeds. Take your "hopes in a packet" and stick them in the refrigerator until planting time. (Use a good, sealed jar to keep them all nice and dry in the fridge, or stick all the packets in a ziplock freezer bag and then in the fridge.)

PLEASE buy your seeds from a nursery, catalogue, or garden center, not the grocery store or hardware store. They probably did not store the seeds correctly and are trying to sell you last year's seeds. You will get better quality seeds from the nursery, I promise.

Oh, yeah...extras to add to the grocery list: a funnel, many boxes of gallon ziplock freezer bags (catch them on sale over the next several months), a large bucket of ice cream (eat the ice cream and save the container and lid), cardboard yogurt containers (eat the yogurt and save the containers), or, if you don't like yogurt, "dixie cups". A good wall calendar too. One with lots of space for writing things.

I do REALLY have reasons for such a strange list, honest!! Putting the seeds in the fridge "fools" them into thinking it is winter for a while longer, so they stay fresher and more viable. This technique will save your seeds you don't use this year for at least another year.

The ziplock bag collection will make harvesting less of a chore. (Yes, I will tell you how to save all your lovely garden produce.) It is much easier than you think. No, you really don't need to grab Granny and beg her to teach you to can food. (Might be nice and make her feel useful, but you don't have to.)

The ice cream bucket will be used during the season for holding all manner of things, like your tools, your fertilizer, etc. A bucket is essential, but you don't need a fancy one from the hardware store unless you really love that bright color that Home Depot has on sale or you hate ice cream.

The yogurt containers or dixie cups will be used in the upcoming weeks for seed starting. (You do want a jump on the season, don't you?) You could buy one of those kits with a mini-greenhouse and peat pellets instead. Mine was called "All In One 25" by BHG. I got it at Wal-Mart for $5. If you decide on the dixie cups, pick up a bag of Seed-Starting soil mix.

You have a book, like "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew to borrow from the library or buy. You will need it!!! I cannot show all of you the diagrams within for creating some of the things I will TRY to describe. Get that kind of book and save confusion, please!!

One final homework assignment: Call your local nursery or county extension service and find out your "final frost date" and "first frost date". You will need this info to know when to plant your seeds, so a surprise frost won't kill them. The book has this info in it too, in the form of a map of the US. If you are in another country or state beyond the continental United States, you will need to find out this info for yourself. (sorry)

The calendar you will need ASAP. Have it marked with your final frost date, and your first frost date. You will be using this info to know when to start your seeds to have them ready in time for planting. Not all seeds are started at the same time.

Next dissertation will include getting a jump on the season, figuring out when to plant when you aren't a rocket scientist, and possibly soil preparation. All you need is the ability to count up to 12. (Honest!)

Hurry, believe it or not, it is time to plant for many climate zones in January and February.


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