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Mulching On The Cusp

At this time of year, everything is on the cusp. Teetering. Like a surfer judging the right moment to drop into a wave, the gardener sniffs the air, listens to the birds, looks at the angle of the sun in the sky, feels the temperature of the soil and recognises ‘The Cusp’. Right now, there’s a wonderful correlation between the sap beginning to rise in the plant kingdom and a similar feeling of energetic vitality in our own gardening veins. And yet, still we are on the cusp. The ascendancy of the sun creates a frequency that signals to blue tits, ruby chard and gardeners alike that Spring is almost upon us, but the signal is tentative, still faint, like a radio that can’t quite be tuned-in. One can hear it, feel it, sense it, but it just needs to be turned up a notch.

And so, as we patiently await the Spring Equinox in a few weeks’ time, when all is in balance and primed for action, we look to what we can do in the garden now, to prepare for this much anticipated moment. Even after weeks of rain, followed by days of frost where the soil is frozen solid, the earth is still yielding and receptive. It is a living medium that reinvents itself constantly through the activity of worms, beetles, slugs, snails and myriad other beings that we cannot see and rarely thank. And yet all winter these little alchemists have been aiding the decomposition of organic matter into a richly dark and perfect seedbed.

Now is the time to add a few more inches of compost to the soil to further improve the seedbed, if possible, home-made from kitchen scraps and garden ‘waste’. Spreading it over the vegetable beds suppresses the germination of any weed seeds that are beginning to unfurl as the soil slowly warms. Spreading compost or mulch now also means less digging will be required later. Soil doesn’t relish the spade, which destroys the fine networks of mycelia and the air pockets that keep it in good health. Mulching any area of bare soil with an inch or so of compost is not only the most satisfying job in the garden right now, but it pays dividends throughout the year – yet any seeds that self-sowed into the soil’s dark caress in the Autumn and have begun to poke through the surface should be carefully observed, for they are some of the richest jewels in the garden and need to be coddled not covered. Mulch, mulch, mulch. That’s my mantra whilst we are on the cusp.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that humans also begin to prepare our ‘inner seedbeds’ at this quiet time of the year. It’s really no coincidence that after the feasting and excesses of Christmas, we turn towards healthier lifestyles and make choices to do more yoga, eat clean, meditate, in the weeks after the Winter Solstice. The mainstream media loves to couch this in terms of New Year’s resolutions, but it goes much deeper than this. Our wise bodies know that it is time to nourish ourselves so that the seeds of ideas and inspiration that we wish to plant as the light returns will germinate as vibrantly and energetically as those in the garden.

Photo: Samphire vegetable plot. Thanks to Bet Howarth who has been mulching around the remaining winter veg, ready to plant the broad beans.

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