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In August of 2009 I noticed an overlooked bag of manure lying in our back yard.

Too bad. My garden was its usual mediocre self; more manure may have made it less so. So, so, sow! I dumped the bagful into the middle of my sunnier plot, planted collard seeds into undiluted manure, and the seeds grew, more quickly and larger than anything I’d ever before planted in almost forty years of gardens.

I add manure and peat every year. Our locust tree grows taller, our garden shadier, and I figure my problem is insufficient sun. And that’s true. But also I’ve learned that the subsoil here is clay, and contractors, when digging foundations, cover the surrounding topsoil with the dug-out bottom soil.

Each year I cut back our locust tree, hoping to catch some rays, not for my arms, for my cukes, and each year my plants are puny.

So, so, sow, it’s the soil, stupid, at least in part. I learned something from the collards in my manure pile. And this past spring, determined to correct the problem, I contacted Gretchen at the Victory Garden Initiative to order a raised bed, and I bought a blend of manure and compost from Certified Products.

I’m accustomed to tomato plants that barely make it to the top of their support cages. This year’s tomatoes climbed over the top and visited the arugula, broccoli, pepper plants, Swiss chard, and mesclun mix. Fine for the tomatoes, stunting for everything else.

Why is it that every time I plant something I have a fresh lesson to learn? I suspect I’ll only get to the root of gardening when I’m fertilizing from the bottom upwards.

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