Procrastinating and putting off planting is not all bad

Forget what you’ve heard: There is no official time of year to plant a garden. Around the date of the last hypothetical frost, people might ask you, “Got your garden in?”

If you’ve been feasting on greens from a cold frame all winter, and pulling up sweet carrots, leeks and parsnips, your garden was never “out” in the first place, and you might have felt a bit smug about that. On the other hand, if the plot you had planned to till for veggies is still lawn, well, that’s fine too. It is never too late. You could start a kitchen garden in June, July, or even August — for a wide array of fall crops.

A friend of mine took the low road one year with her belated vegetable plot. Not even bothering to till, she spent a long, fat-burning day cutting blocks of sod from her front lawn, and simply put them back in place, upside down. She covered them with a thick layer of newspaper and spread an inch of compost on top of that. Then she plunged in her trowel at regular intervals to make planting holes and inserted various vegetable transplants she’d bought at Mainescape and Surry Gardens — plus some extras donated by friends. She mulched them with a few bales of straw she had bought at a feed store, placing the straw in tidy clumps between the plant rows. Neighbors and passers-by stopped to watch, approve and pat her dog. That took another half day. Suddenly she had a garden.

This improvised technique might seem a bit graceless, but there is an honorable tradition behind it. In the old days, growers started their melon seedlings directly in cubes of overturned soil. Piles of sod also were assembled and rotted down to yield a product called loam (a term now applied to soil with a texture partway between that of sand and that of clay.) The loam from those piles constituted the chief ingredient in potting mixtures. Its value lay in the decaying plant roots that permeated the sod. Quick to break down, the fine roots contributed not only fertility but also an excellent structure. Think of how loosely the soil falls from a plant’s roots when you pull it out and shake it. That’s what a network of roots accomplishes.

My friend’s instant garden did just fine. The straw contained some weed seeds that sprouted, but she has taken that in stride too. Grasping the straw clumps, she flipped them over just as she had with the sod. The weeds died.

“Come fall,” she said, I might have to till the whole thing in properly if the grass refuses to stay smothered.” But it didn’t. Unofficially, procrastination is often the mother of invention.


Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Gardener’s Cookbook.”

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