Clearly, I am not a gardener, but because my family owns a small garden I was around growing veggies and herbs once or twice. I have a general idea how gardens look at any given month of the growing season. I know about the importance of well-nurtured soil and the benefits of greenhouse structures to support the delicate growth of vegetables in treacherous Springtime. Korean gardeners seriously put my slim knowledge to question.
When we arrived in March, it was the beginning of the gardening season. Taking a bus to Seoul we saw people starting to plow parts of the mountain slopes, digging out black plastic, eroding the view of genteel green mountain slopes that started to emerge. People were cleaning up their land plots preparing for the growing season. There was a pile of debris of sticks, stones, and black plastic next to each plot. I could not help but comparing the looks of Korean vegetable gardens to Wisconsin farms. It seems to me that in Wisconsin farmers worked debris free. I know this is impossible, and they also have a lot of garbage to dispose of, but I never actually saw junk displayed. Instead, Wisconsin farms have manicured lawns and flowerbeds in front yards. The hard work and seeming disarray is hidden, if it exists at all. In Korea the disarray seemed to be a proud part of gardening, and I was surprised to see so much rubble near each land plot because these were not the brand new land allotments. These patches of land have been used for some time for gardening reasons before. So, how come they still had so many stones and tree debris every year to clear out?
The mystery of sticks and stones with the black plastic sticking out from the ground was solved in the following weeks as I continued my gardening observations. Having sewn the crop, gardeners covered up their mound-like veggie beds with the black plastic using stones and sticks to secure it in place. In other words, Korean gardeners built simple homemade greenhouse-like constructions to protect their future crop in the beginning of the growing season. When a plant was tall enough to burst through the plastic, they simply cut a small hole for the stem. This construction also keeps moisture at the roots and does not let weeds overtake the bed.
And the mystery of black plastic was solved.