Dig for When the Canned Goods Run Out #2: Preparing the Ground

by Apocalypse Womble

So, your apocalypse has happened in November, has it? Bad luck, it’s going to be a long, cold winter, but that’s what your canned goods are for, right? They’ll last you at least until spring, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done preparing your patch of land for growing edibles. Ladies, it’s time to dig!

This is the hardest, most backbreaking work you’ll have to do, and you’ll have to do it again in spring, because you won’t get all the weeds, that’s just a fact of life. Preparing the ground now will make a hell of a difference, though.

Unless you’re incredibly lucky (and, let’s face it, if you’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, Lady Luck isn’t entirely on your side) you’re not going to find weed free, rich, arable soil just lying around near a suitable bolt hole, so you’re going to have to work with what you’ve got. All your life you’ve probably thought of grass as a wonderful, harmless ground covering, but if you’re unlucky enough to find cooch grass on your land, you will grow to loathe it. You’ll know cooch grass by its most evil attribute – it’s roots. I’ve seen these grow up to four feet long, but they snap at the slightest provocation, and even the tiniest portion (no, really, that tiny) can grow to form a massive runner again. If left in the ground they will choke your plants and their roots will grow through even your potatoes. Prevention is your best weapon, in this case, so get in early and get these babies out.

Don’t be tempted by the brute force of the spade, however. Wherever possible you want to get these roots out whole, to minimise breakage. A spade will slice right through cooch grass roots and, unlike worms, if you cut a cooch grass root in half you really will have two cooch grass plants. Instead, rely on your trusty fork. Forking over ground is long, arduous work, but surprisingly rewarding. Make no mistake, you’ll be going to bed for weeks with images of cooch grass on the back of your eyelids, but there is a peculiar satisfaction to freeing your ground of this menace.

Even if you’re miraculously cooch grass free, there will still be plenty of other weeds that will need clearing out before you get stuck in. Dandelions may be enchanting to the feral child you found wandering the streets, but they’re hell to dig up, and you have to make sure you get all the roots to stop them coming again. Thistles and nettles are also common invaders. Be sure to have those good sturdy gloves you looted on hand to deal with these!

There are two ways of going about this, and they depend on how much you’re having to work directly under threat from zombies, as well as personal preference, and how many helpers you have. Always work with at least one other person who’ll be able to stand watch whilst you have your head down, sorting through earth and roots. If you’re on your own, try to pick a place with good views all around. Keep your eyes open, and especially your ears, and take regular breaks to scan around you. If you’re working with a very small patch, or are confident you have enough workers to go over the entire plot, go for it. You’re going to need paths between your rows, but if these can be weed-free too, so much the better. If weed roots can come in from the side of your beds you’ll be fighting a constant battle to stop your good work being undone. But if you’re working on your own or subject to frequent zombie attacks you may want to take a time saving approach. Get your beds dug and weeded, worry about the paths later.

All the books say to start with a plan, but there’s also a growing movement amongst gardeners to take a more liberal, haphazard approach, allowing different plants to grow together. As mentioned in my previous post, companion planting can be beneficial, and placing small plants like chives and other herbs between larger plants like onions and potatoes can help you to squeeze more in. The theory behind the more rigidly planned method is that different plants take different nutrients from the soil and are vulnerable to different pests. By segregating your plants and rotating them you avoid proliferation of pests and share the nutrients around.

The traditional method makes sense, but I’m a ‘jump in and just start digging’ sort of a girl, which can be a beneficial approach under the ever present threat of zombie hordes. Clear your ground and worry about where you’re going to put your plants later. Start in a corner of the patch of land you want to grow your crops on, plunge your fork into the ground, tilt it back as much as you can, and give it a good wiggle. Move back a pace, and repeat, move back and repeat, move back and repeat. Do this for a 2.5-3 by 4-5 foot area. You can go for longer rows if you want, but I like to be able to move about amongst the plants more freely. Plus, you’re not going to manage to clear much more than this in a day anyway, even if the zombies don’t attack. Larger groups of workers can clear a bigger area, but I’m going to assume that if you’re in a group then there will be plenty of other tasks that are urgent, like hunting zombies; locating the zombie-master; finding a cure; looking for other survivors; fighting off the local crazy who thinks we should all play at Mad Max, now; building a radio; finding fuel for the generator, and so forth. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s you and one other person keeping watch.

If you’re leaving the paths for later, you may want to use your spade around the edges of your bed, now, to cut down at the edges and help free long runners. If you want to do the whole patch, it’s fork work all the way. Once you’ve loosened the soil with a good poking, go back to where you started, stick your fork in, and wiggle or all you’re worth. You’ll likely come up with a big mat of roots still tangled up with the roots all around it, but the more you wiggle, the roots will slowly come free, hopefully mostly intact. Make no mistake. The roots will be heavy and the wiggling awkward, but it’s worth doing this properly to save hassle later. You’re also building up good muscles for a leaner, tougher life.

Repeat this forking procedure over the patch you’ve laid out for your bed until there are no roots left. You’ll have missed something, but you’ll reach a stage when you realise you’ve done a pretty good job. Each bed will take you several hours, so you’ll be doing this for weeks, if your patch is of any size. But as soon as you have a single bed you can start thinking about what you’d like to put on it. Fear not! Even in Winter there are plants that will grow and put you in a position to hit the ground running for spring.

Stay tuned to this frequency for food you can think about planting in the autumn and winter months.

Apocalypse Womble out.

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