Mudding In


It’s June–month of surprises. It could be wet and chilly; it could be hot and windy, it could be sweet early summer perfection with 80 degrees, a light breeze, and a few puffy white clouds in a blue blue sky.

Today is the wet and chilly variety of June day–we have a Community Garden workday scheduled in a half hour to which I am uncertain if anyone will come.

That might be OK by me–my fellow coordinator won’t be there, and I’m nursing a stiff right hand that seized up after chopping a couple dozen gallons of greens yesterday. I had to use my left hand to uncurl my right fingers from the fork I was using to blend cheese into egg–not a nice feeling.

But even though I don’t have high hopes for a great turnout today, I did head out to the farm to pick up a number of tools just in case, and while I was there, I “mudded in” a double row of carrots in the row I’d prepped after H and I turned under the salad mix on Friday–dropping the seeds in the furrows I’d made and covering with moist soil using my hand cultivator.

Mudding in is my super-technical term for planting in wet soil.  I’ve heard some of the early white settlers in this country starved one season when they just kept waiting for things to dry out before they planted–while the native people simply took sticks and poked their seeds in the ground and (though I haven’t heard this part) probably saved some of those settlers with their abundant harvest to their later detriment.

This technique is best used in soil that has been pre-prepped, but you can prep a bed for planting even when it’s wet if you have the right tools–and those tools have tines.  You never want to stick a shovel into wet clay soil because you’ll compact the heck out of the sides and bottom of the planting hole, but a digging fork can be used as long as you don’t step in the bed itself.

You also don’t want to turn and “flop” the soil back onto itself–a light touch and a sort of levering action is best–think “broadfork” rather than “till” or “turn.”  Prepping the top surface/making furrows in wet soil is also best done with a hand cultivator with long tines–just chop it up a little and lightly move the crumbles off to the sides.

Of course, the main thing in all this is to remember that working in wet soil isn’t ideal–you want to avoid doing it as much as possible, and if your soil is heavy clay with little organic matter, you might as well wait because compaction will be inevitable. But if it’s a choice between starving or not getting a crop in at all and planting in wet soil, just go gently and get it in.

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