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The satisfaction that comes with working the soil

“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” — Mahatma Gandhi, Indian activist

That concept rings true to me. Throughout my entire life, I have been interested in growing things – a trait that seems to run in both sides of my family. Anyone who has read my columns from time to time likely knows this about me and won’t be surprised if I focus on the topic again here today.

I know it’s late in the season, but, for me, there’s nothing quite like getting your hands dirty and working in the soil. And it’s never too late in the year to find something to plant.

It may not be the right time in Ohio to start a vegetable garden, but if you already have one it isn’t too late to plant fall crops, such as certain squash. According to the Ohio State University Extension Service, now is a great time to start plants such as cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, green beans, green onions and carrots. Some of these seeds should be started indoors, but some can still be sown directly in the ground.

These crops should tolerate cooler conditions and be ready to harvest in October or November. Other vegetables that may do well right now are potatoes, cucumbers and herbs such as basil.

Believe it or not, the Extension Service recommends waiting a few more weeks before planting sugar snap peas, radishes or beets.

Right now, the garden I planted with my brother, Larry, in late spring is still producing, though the crops are quite limited. We got a late start and had little time to tend our plants properly, so this wasn’t one of our more successful years.

Still, we managed to eat plenty of fresh green onions from our little plot. We also had lettuce and greens for some salads. Today, our row of carrots still seems to be thriving, though we’ve only picked a few small ones so far. Our pepper and tomato plants are producing quite well, and there are still many blossoms on them. That probably means we will be eating a lot of fried green tomatoes in a few weeks and looking for other uses for those that likely won’t get the chance to ripen.

Even my bean plants, which had been under siege, have recovered to some extent and produced a few green beans. I wrote a few weeks ago that I blamed “Peter Rabbit” for the demise of that crop, although I couldn’t say I had actually witnessed his crime. That changed about two weeks ago, while I was mowing the lawn around our veggie bed. As I approached the edge of the garden, a sudden commotion caught my eye and a tiny rabbit burst out of the edge of the plot, running for cover.

I hope to try my hand at planting a few of the fall veggies recommended above. If I get the chance to plant again, it likely will be today. I’ll let you know how those efforts pay off, if at all.

If the prospect of fresh vegetables doesn’t excite you, perhaps some fresh fall color will. There are plenty of pretty flowers and ornamental plants that can brighten up the area around your home and survive those early frosts.

According to thespruce.com, these include mums (which are available seemingly everywhere right now), flowering kale and cabbage. Some annuals that might do well at this time of year are marigolds, red salvia, white alyssum, nasturtium, lobelia, pansies or violets and snapdragons.

The Spruce also has advice for you if you want to plant bulbs now that will provide bright color to break through the dull, gray weather of early spring. Among these are alliums, which can grow to be quite large and bloom later in spring. Others include bluebells, daffodils, irises, fritillaria, hyacinths, lilies and snowdrops.

Even for folks who feel they have a brown thumb, working in the soil can be therapeutic. If you fear your plantings won’t be successful, perhaps you should try some simpler landscaping first to see if you enjoy it.

I completed a project of that type over the past couple of weeks. There was an area around my home where some hostas were struggling to grow among the grass along the edge of a building. I also had some lilies that had been overrun by ferns, pushing them down and shading them to the point that they rarely bloomed.

I set out to remedy both problems by removing the sod from around the hostas and creating a pair of mulched beds in those spaces. Rather than digging out all the sod in those areas, I opted to try and kill the grass with a durable cover that is also biodegradable. It was a technique I had read about – I hope it works.

Rather than buying expensive landscape fabric to serve as a weed barrier, I cut up paper grocery bags and used them in combination with old newspaper pages to cover the areas in question. I then dug up, separated and transplanted the lilies from another portion of the lawn, placing them behind and between the hostas. Finally, I covered both entire spaces with a heavy blanket of wood-based mulch.

I was very pleased with the initial result, and already the hostas are showing more signs of life. They have spread their leaves and begun to develop new growth. I hope the lilies do so well when they emerge again next spring.

Even this project, in which I didn’t really plant anything new, was soothing to me. It got my hands in the soil and made me feel more connected to my own space and the world. If you need a break from the stress of day-to-day life, I recommend you try something similar. You might be surprised how good it makes you feel.

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