To the gardener, the arrival of the circus means more than a noisy afternoon of clowns, acrobats and dancing bears. It means the availability of some of the best fertilizer around.
Elephant manure grows elephantine tomatoes; lion and tiger manure keeps away rabbits, skunks and raccoons. Zebra manure is similar to that of horses, an old standby that does lovely things for the garden. Many circus critters are fed fruits and vegetables along with their hay and grain, which yields droppings higher in nitrogen and minerals than farm manure. And much of this is mixed with hay, straw and sawdust, all of which makes super fertilizer, once aged.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town, and their leavings will be free to all on Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m. at the rear of the D.C. Armory on Independence Avenue. Bring bags, boxes or better yet a pickup truck, along with your own shovels or pitchforks. Get there early because, while there's always a lot of it, it always goes fast.
The circus does not separate manure by species, so the lion's lies by the lamb's.
RAVISHING RASPBERRIES -- My raspberries failed several years ago when the chickens invaded the newly turned and planted bed. I haven't had the heart to subject more baby plants to such a fate and so have abandoned raspberries until I have a good fence.
Meanwhile, here's some excellent advice from an expert who lives on a lovely hill overlooking the Potomac on the fringes of Washington and grows massive bushes that produce enormous numbers of delicious, succulent berries:
"In the fall I cut off the last 10 inches or so of each tall stalk, and mound leaves all around the bottom of the plants to get a deep mulch.
"In the spring I pull back the leaves and add a balanced fertilizer. They need something to eat. This year I threw down some granules of 5-10-5. I imagine that you could use anything that is balanced, any of those organic fertilizers that are available, as long as it's something like a 5-10-5.
"These tall stalks are putting out vertical growth that will produce the spring crop of berries. I have everblooming raspberries, which means that I get a crop in May and June and another in September and October. Also, at this time of the year the plants will send out roots underground from which will sprout new babies, every 15 feet or so. Every spring I dig these up because they always come up in the paths between the beds, and if I let them grow, I wouldn't be able to get in to pick the berries."
It is at this time that robbing someone else's raspberry patch is greatly appreciated by all. You can dig these small shoots when they are be eight to 12 inches tall, which is just about now, or next weekend. Raspberries are hardy creatures and won't mind a little hacking around when they are moved.
"Once the berries have ripened and are picked," continued my friend, "the stalks that bore them will die immediately. I cut off those dead stalks all the way to the ground. You don't have to do this, but if you do, you won't get so scratched by those big stalks later when the raspberries come in again in the fall. Just don't cut off any of the new growth that you'll see at the base of the stalk, because this is the new growth that will produce for the fall. At the time you cut off the old stalks, feed the plants again, which will make that new growth strong."