Thursday, May 13, 2010

Donning the Fedora

Like every other little boy who'd ever watched an Indiana Jones flick, I wanted to be an archeologist. Back then - in a fit of career-lust - it involved banging together a whip out of some scrap wood and a length of rope, stomping through Mum's garden and swinging from the clothes-line, much to her dismay. But these days with a better grounding in the difference between life and movies, I'm a different kind of archeologist (and gardener) - and recently I built something a little closer to the mark: a sieve. Now while a sieve isn't as glamorous or exciting as a whip and a fedora, I still derive some kind of a perverse pleasure out of sifting through the soil - even without a glimmer of hope in finding anything remotely interesting.

By now you'd most likely be familiar with my garden beds of road-base, and maybe the astute reader has already guessed where this might be going. In the past, I've had a terrible time growing carrots. Any idiot knows that carrots are easy, and before you go thinking I'm an idiot, cast your thoughts back to those garden-beds. Carrots are very good at working their way around problems (that is stones, the major constituents in road-base), and that's a problem here - because I end up with carrots that wouldn't look out of place in one of Stephen King's masterpieces. The wife curses as she tries to do something useful with them in the kitchen, which is a necessity - mostly because we hate waste, and only partially because special effects studios have marginally better ways at creating the finer features of alienesc lifeforms. So with some left over 10mm gauge aviary wire and some scraps of wood, I banged together a sieve and decided to take to my soil.

It didn't work.

Of course it successfully separated out the bricks and concrete slabs from the road-base, but I could have done that without a sieve. Not to be beaten, I went back and banged on another layer of aviary wire, dissecting each square of the wire into four smaller squares, resembling in places a 5mm gauge.

It didn't work either.

Finding it impossible to keep the two layers of wire held close enough together, stones only had to find their way through one layer, then negotiate the second layer separately before turning to smugly grin back at me from the same place they started. MacGuyver would be shaking his head at me for sure. My experiment in re-use a failure, and still faced with soil fit for growing nothing - it was time for the map overlay to trace a red line between the plot and my parents place - where I would perilously descend into the depths of their garage in search of ancient treasures. Or just a decently built sieve would do.

When you blow the dust of a good piece of equipment crafted in better times, you get a feel for why there is such an allure to the romantic thought of archeological adventures. No one will go in search of relics of our time - its all cheaply made, quickly broken, and scattered - well - everywhere. Heading home with my loot I still felt happy that I wasn't contributing to our archeological insignificance.

With a nice small gauge sieve, I would be unstoppable! - and I began the process of sifting the stones out of half a cubic metre of soil. Hark, I hear the sound of a thousand permiculturists crying at the thought of destroying the soil structure in such premeditated rampage. But before you get too upset, let me assure you that the only soil structure I'll be loosing here is the kind you'd mix with cement to make concrete.

Bucket loads of rocks later, I found myself with a loose, fluffy soil, completely free of rocks, stones, nutrient and organic matter (At least it was already devoid of the latter two, anyway). The chooks loved a steady stream of white curl grub I was unceremoniously chucking in the general direction of their coop. And as it turns out, this is also a highly effective way to rid your beds of rhizomatous and bulbous weeds you might otherwise miss - but for the amount of time & effort involved, I wouldn't advise it unless you're also looking to cut back on your gym membership & need to find a replacement.

With the sun setting on another one of my whimsical garden adventures, I've now got to get back to adding organic matter to the soil & actually planting some carrots. But I bet every kid wants to be a veggie gardener, now.

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