A friend of mine, Joan Pierson, lists among her many talents an ability to recite poetry in any one of half a dozen different accents. now if that ability deserves applause, her capacity in the garden deserves thunderous applause.
The London, Ontario, teacher and writer raises so much produce on her own tiny plot and on the minuscule plots of one or two neighbors that she feeds her family on a food budget so low it would bring welfare officers running if they were unaware of the background.
The key to her garden's productivity is a never-ending organic soil-building program. But where does a city dweller get the necessary free ingredients to maintain the soil in such great crop-producing shape? "From many different sources," Mrs. Pierson tells her gardening classes and anyone else who will listen.
One man's waste, she points out, "is often a gardener's bonanza."
Whenever you go out, either on foot or by car, keep your eyes peeled for sources of soil-building materials, she adds.
"You'll be surprised at how many there are close at hand," asserts Mrs. Pierson. Here are some of the basic suggestions she gives to those attending her gardening classes:
Green garden waste: Make a habit on garbage pickup day to walk around your block. The average citizen throws away quantities of free "fertilizer" every year. Look for bushel baskets or plastics bags containing lawn clippings, sod trimmings, spent plant materials, hedge clippings, and the like.
The caretaker of a church near Mrs. Pierson's home, for example, now phones her whenever he mows the lawn. A short, friendly chat on one of her neighborhood strolls saw to that.
During the summer ice-cream stands, purveyers among other things of banana splits, make a good living. The one drawback to this trade is the accumulation of banana peels. That's where Mrs. Pierson steps in. She does the merchants a good turn by relieving them of a waste product and, in turn, gets a bountiful source of potassium for her garden.
Coffee grounds: Every restaurant makes coffee so that on a single day the accumulation of nitrogen-rich grounds can be considerable. Make it easy on the restaurant owner by providing him with plastic pails to hold the grounds; and then pick them up regularly.
Coffee grounds not only beef up a compost pile, but they also make an attractive mulch when spread over the soil. Earth worms love them.
Fish: Tis is another nitrogen-rich fertilizer with good supplies of phosphorus and calcium. We've all heard how the Indians grew their corn with it. Well, it will also do great things for every other type of crop.
Where do we get free fish? Fish merchants and restaurants that feature fresh fish on their menus "are generally happy to let you take away the heads and other trimmings."
Locate them, if you need to, through the Yellow Pages. And don't forget the river. A dead fish on a river bank draws flies, but buried in your garden it grows bigger crops.
Sawdust and shavings: When fresh they make a good mulch; once rotted they release nitrogen and can be used as a mulch, added to the compost pile, or even dug into the soil.
Lumber yards are a good source while the Yellow Pages will list tree surgeons whose chippers and other machines grind up tree-limbs and stumps. The coarser materials may ber used to mulch under trees or they may be placed on paths between the beds to hold down weeds, retain moisture in dry periods, and keep mud off your shoes when it is wet. After a year or two even the coarse chips will have rotted down so that they can be scraped up and incorporated in the garden soil.
Bones: Mrs. Pierson has a good method of disposing of chicken and turkey carcasses without wasting the garden nutrients they contain. She stuffs the greasy waste in a paper bag and burns it in her wood-burning stove. The fat, which doesn't benefit the garden, burns readily and helps warm the home in winter. What is left is the crumbly remains of the bones which provide valuable bone meal for the garden.
Talking of stoves Mrs. Pierson collects all the wood ashes produced by the stove during the winter for summer by the stove during the winter for summer use in her garden. Ashes are very rich in potassium and, when chicken bones are included, are rich in phosphorus.
Wood ashes, however, are alkaline, which makes them ideal for the acid soils of the East but not for the already alkaline "sweet" soils of the West. Old packing cases are sometimes available to fuel her fire and the nails are removed from the ashes by passing a magnet over them. Nothing could be simpler.
In short, by collecting what other folks describe as waste, you get a bountiful supply of free fertilizer for your garden.