Rhino's Ramblings: Black Gold on the May Long Weekend

Robert Thomas

Every year the May long weekend means for many people two things: heading to the lake or planting the garden.

For this poor scribe, the weekend was  made of the latter, as I headed out into that overgrown thicket I call my backyard or for the City bylaw department a notice "You Have 30 Days To Clean Up or Else." I think you get the picture.

Like every year, it's time to get out there and trim back the raspberry canes; the two year old dead ones have got to go. It's the one job I hate. No matter how well I dress up those damn thorns are going to get me. It's a "grin and bear it" type of thing.

As I entered the thicket and started the trimming I got hit with the inevitable burning sensation of a thorn get through those damn cheap three dollar leather gloves I bought at Ukrainian Wire.
I was smart, I avoided the weekend rush for hanging baskets and bought the gloves last Wednesday. You know the day. The massively filled parking lot, wall to wall with would be gardeners so abundant they need to set up a refreshment stand because the lines are that long.

As I finally gave up on gingerly trimming back the dead raspberry canes I just dive into it with some John Wayne gusto and thought "Damn the torpedoes" at least they won't scratch me.

Besides, torpedoes will more quickly put me out of my misery than these canes will.

Then, after digging them all out of what was once a thicket immortalized in a Rudyard Kipling novel, I was confronted with my own local version of a Tiger. Or should I say Katie, the wonder cat, who despite my determination to actually get something done wouldn't leave me alone until you gave her the obligatory 10 minute cat scratch.

Then, after trimming all of the canes down nice and neat to fit in the city garbage bin, along comes a neighbour in search of leaves and stuff to burn.

You have to know my neighbour, he is always burning something in his outdoor fireplace, day and night, even at 35 C temperatures. Wet leaves and their acrid smell seem to fill the neighbourhood all summer as you wish he'd find some birch or cherry wood to burn as the smell would be more fragrant.


I once heard my neighbour's secret dream job was making charcoal for the Jack Daniels distillery. Rumour has it he even had a final interview lined up and had the job in the bag but his Garmin GPS had him drive into a lake due to a technical glitch. Some guy Cleetus got the job.

He tells with delight that dry raspberry canes go up like gasoline and work great to get wet leaves burning. So they're into the wheelbarrow and down the block to his own personal crematorium.

But the highlight of every year is the cleaning out of and working up the raised beds.
Constructed out of cedar my 12 inch deep four feet wide raised beds need a lot of love and care each Spring as out comes the shovel and you dig down turning over the dirt at least 14 inches deep.

This is soil, conditioned over time and with great patience. Its truly a labour of love. As you dig in your shovel and think about what went into it. This is not the North Hill gumbo it once was but really a special blend of peat moss, fine sand, sheep manure and finally "black gold".

There might be more ingredients but then I would be giving out the Colonel's secret recipe and he'd sell less chicken.

So what is "black gold"? Well it's the special ingredient I add each year to improve soil quality and fertility. It's also called compost.

This is what the City of Moose Jaw wants you to do. Compost what you can and help to reduce waste to the landfill.

Now here is the secret to composting. It's not just tossing your potato peels and watermelon rinds into a bin and waiting for the end results. If you want to make the really good black gold there are some tricks and secrets to it all. And here is what I do.


One of the big things with compost are things called greens and browns. Really what that is is just wet and dry additions to the heap. Grass is green and wet while leaves are dry and browns, is the simplest way I can put it.

As I fill my compost bin, I like to turn or blend it the best I can with a shovel. I also discovered layering it works good as well. For best results I found buying an extra bag of peat moss and incorporating it into the blend and then adding water works great.

I also like to toss in a part bag of sheep manure as the nitrogen contained in it accelerates the rotting process. The key thing is to turn it now and again and add some water to keep it moist. I also will layer in dirt from my garden or the dirt from my flower planters that is now expended. It works in fine and adds a lot of great texture.

During the Winter, the compost will not keep digesting but you can still add to the pile. In fact, the freezing temperatures actually help to break down all of those vegetable peelings faster in the Spring.

In the Spring all I do is take the City supplied compost bin and remove it then I sift through the pile scooping out the black gold. I get a large wheelbarrow full each year. Then all of the things which didn't digest I toss back into the bin and the process starts over.

Now once the raised beds have been worked up I shovel in about a four inch layer of compost across the entire raised bed. Following that out comes the potato fork where the wide tines allow some dirt to come to the surface and other dirt to fall through. After a few times the soil is noticeably darker and conditioned for planting.

The best thing I find about raised beds is that the soil in them gets warmer quicker in the Spring, jumpstarting the season. They also allow you to control soil conditions within a set perimeter:
The big drawback though is they use more water than planting directly into the soil.

In the Avenues, where I live, radishes don't grow well, even in raised beds. But other things, such as carrots, grow larger and sweeter. Other things I have had success with growing in raised beds are beans, tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, spinach and beets.

The key thing with raised beds is to water just after the sun goes down.
Now with that said, while I was busy with the raised beds I threw the garden hose into the raspberry patch and gave them a good drink, as soil conditions are extremely dry out there.
But with it being so dry there are no mosquitos either to bother you. So that's a bonus.

One thing I do try to do is to maximize my raised bed space and I plant things like beans and beets, not in true rows but in alternating rows in a diamond pattern, thereby allowing for the most efficient planting.

This year, I thought with the predicted hot temperatures I would once again try growing melons. I am going to attempt to grow honeydew melons and cantaloupe from scratch. With the longer and warmer Septembers it might be a very good bet.

And that was my May long weekend. Time to get outside enjoy the sunshine and get some of the yard work done. Will it pay off with a big crop? Or be a disaster? I will know in 90 days time.

And about the water in the raspberries, Katie decided the nice, wet, muddy conditions were just great to roll around in so its time to give her a bath. And so you know, she loves to bite, not scratch. Sometimes she thinks she's a tiger and I also believe she can read. Damn you Kipling.

Editors Note - The MJ Independent is looking for someone with a green thumb who would like to sporadically contribute a gardening or outdoor column.

Even one column to let readers know about the outdoors would be OK.

Have some great tips on container gardening and want to share them? Boast about smoking the finest homemade bacon and other outdoor things? We can't offer you any pay, just like our competitors, but it's a great way to get people interested in their yards and the great outdoors.

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