I haven’t had a yard since 2012. For about a year I lived in an apartment on the second floor of house on East Main Street in Trumansburg. In the spring of 2012 I attempted to plant a garden in the back yard (chronicled earlier in another blog), but I didn’t get much out of it because the neighborhood deer mowed down the seedlings and the soil was, in a word, terrible.
The site was apparently the site of an outbuilding of some sort, that had been subsequently torn down and the main body of its material removed, but the soil was littered with old pieces of glass, metal, and ceramics. All of these were likely remnants of the contents of this extinct building. Who knows what sort of chemicals had been stored there and had polluted the soil. Looking back on it, it is perhaps lucky that the garden didn’t produce much more than a bunch of cherry tomatoes and some tiny bell peppers. It wouldn’t have been all that good an idea to eat much that came out of that soil.
I have encountered this sort of soil in many places that I have lived because I have nearly always lived in a place that has been settled for a long time and seen a lot of different uses. When I have turned over soil to make a garden or dug a ditch for drainage or to lay cable out to a light fixture, I have encountered all manner of detritus below the surface. At these times I have wondered why I am not more interested in either archaeology or metal detection. (Actually I went through a phase as a young teenager of being fascinated by metal detection, but I was in the end stopped by the cost of the detector. I took a couple of archaeology courses in college, but in the end ended up a paleontologist instead and let others doing the “digging” for me by doing deep-sea research.)
On April 1 I moved into a new apartment. After living on the second floor of an apartment building in downtown Ithaca for two years, I have moved back to Trumansburg and taken up residence in the old “bean barn.” For many years this was the place that local farmers brought their beans to be cleaned, sorted, packaged and shipped out to market. When I told local organic farmer Tony Potenza that I was living here he recalled storing his earliest crops of organic carrots in the basement of the building. Tony is 69 and started farming in the early 1970s. I’m not sure how long the building stood idle before it was sold and converted into five apartments.
Our apartment has a porch that looks out on a small side yard populated by a large black walnut and three understory trees that I haven’t identified as yet (I’ll wait for leaf out). The property boundary is defined by a row of Norway spruces (which were full of white-throated sparrows this morning). The lawn stretches back to a stockade fence and that part of it is officially the demesne of some other apartment resident, but none of the other apartments face that way, so I think we might claim it.
Our plans at this writing include installing an outdoor raised fire pit. I saw one yesterday where the owner had thoughtfully buried cinderblocks to make a platform flush to the ground. This would obviously prevent fire and baking of the ground beneath it, a good idea that I intend to mimic. We might need some yard furniture to go with this.
But the horticultural plan is put in some herbs. I have to check to see whether or not various herbs will tolerate the allelopathic nature of the black walnut. If not, then that will necessitate planting in large tubs in order to protect the plants and perhaps us from the allelopathic chemicals in the soil.
The surface of the land has been disturbed here; it is very uneven, so when I dig to set stone under the fire pit, I intend to have archaeological visions again.