Every night there’s a risk of frost I bring in the seedlings from the tomato safe. Now most of the tomatoes are planted in the GH, so there’s only one wheelbarrow load, plus two flats of peppers etc.
Since the big Benadryl freeze fiasco (well, and before), I carefully check the weather and if it’s dipping, it’s shuttle time. There’s also a pile of flats occupying the windowsills in the house, and they get set out on the deck during the day, which is a short commute.The more mature tomatoes that have already been put in the ground get tucked in to a cozy frost blanket, just in case. I think the last frost has passed (May 10), but watching the long term forecast just in case.Hard to believe these little babies will be 8 ft+ tall in just a few months.
Early gardening…In the outside garden, the garlic is off to a proud start; the perennials are wide awake; half of it is planted but it’s still mostly brown.
Sweeping a thick blanket of mulch off of a bed, making worms dive out of sight, and directly planting into moist dark soil, is infinitely satisfying. No-till is working out exceptionally well.
I did all kinds of other things that needed doing, but not The Thing. And those tend to be the best days. A friend visit, sitting companionably with pet birds, and doing frost prep in the garden that’s going to sleep now under a thick blanket of mulch.
Two perfect fall days, crisp and bugless and sunny, and instead of the harvest pressure overwhelm, holding a sense of ease and “enough”-ness.
I may also be getting more sleep due to the shortening days – that may have something to do with the bliss. It’s almost the “it’s either done or it’s not done, full stop” time, when you walk away regardless of “done”.
I could be all-seasoning my garden, but instead I’m putting it to bed. Getting more out of the year will come later. As I take in the late beans, etc, I’m thinking about all the things I’ll do different next year (More watermelons. And orange and yellow tomatoes), the mistakes I’ll correct (plant melons later, they don’t like it cold) . There’s always next year. It’s easy, and pleasant, to look forward to what will be bigger and better with the lately earned experience and knowledge, and it likely will. But it’s nice to look back and recognize for a moment that it is better, now, than it was.
I’ve learned to garden some. I grew cabbages. I have a garden shed now. My beds are really getting in order. I’ve experienced the joy of sweeping a mulch blanket off a bed and finding it ready to plant. No-till is awesome. “No-work” is a crock of…. There’s a great deal of work, mostly upfront, and then the quality, weedless bed must be maintained – kept covered when not in use like a jar of milk, lest it grow unwanted things.
Maybe it’s coming with age (or the decline of energy that, once boundless, must now be budgeted) . I’m getting better at rationing my ambition. It won’t all get done at once, or nearly as soon as I’d like to. Given enough time, it will. And it will be better along the way if I aim low. Instead of how much can I fit in, I’m starting to think more like how little can I get away with planning to do? (Oh, the tyranny of a plan!) I’d love to paint the house. It needs it, blah blah, but hell, it can wait! It will be great when it gets done, but not worth the weight of grimly determining to do it. I’m not going to put that on a mental list yet, because it will be heavy there. I’m choosing the lightness of unscheduled, and any time unscheduled is a win. The time gets filled, with good and productive things, even things I might have planned, but it’s sweeter when it’s not on a list. (I’ve known this forever. It’s still elusive prey).
I’m thinking about my successes and gifts of the year, what I want to tweak: how I can spend more time with my friends?, hoping I can share out part of my greenhouse, how to ration out my time? (half a day seems to be the best maximum for focusing on any one project), will this be the year I finally get potatoes in the ground at fall?
How can I escape the September crush? Because it’s bad. Bad for me. I want to never feel like that again, and it has been part of the annual routine since moving here. And that, I think, is part of the adjustment that comes with diving into the farming life (along with, you’re going to suck at everything at first and make big mistakes). I’ve got to find a new rhythm. But I grew brussel sprouts, so I can learn to adjust my rhythm. Give me time.
I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…
…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.
I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch. While stored in the greenhouse, the bales are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds. And carbon for the ground.
I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room. There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay. The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.
The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes. The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.
The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.
You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent. They’re that busy. Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.
All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.
Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.
After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse…
and settled in for some hard lounging.
I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results. In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.
Anticipating a big rain, I pushed through pulling nearly everything out of the garden and planting it in cover crops.
We already had a frost, so the squashes come out – their plants are fried despite covering them. Covering only saved the fruits. Of course the potatoes, already late, have to come out avant deluge, or they will all rot.
Now everything is bedded in mulch where garlic will go in before too long, or else seeded. Not a speck of green where I don’t want it to be.
In no time, it will all come up in a fine green mist of mostly winter rye.
There are few tactile pleasures to rival plunging a hand into a sack of seed and hand broadcasting it:)
It worked far better than I expected. The chickens have been in there still, especially on rainy days, kicking around the chips, which are so light and crispy dry in the heat of the greenhouse that I worried if it was a fire hazard.
However, when I raked away the chips from a swathe of dirt for a garden bed, the soil was dark and moist. Wow! Best of all, no sod! The hens took care of that this winter.
Exactly as planned.
The top crust of dirt is very black (due to hen fertilizing, I’m sure), and since there is no meaty layer of tangled roots, the broadfork worked completely differently. Instead of lifting out a big chunk of sod, it just sank in and made a line of neat holes. Like sticking a fork into a pumpkin pie. More or less just a big aerator.
So I did a pass with the broadfork/sodbreaker, and then a once over with a pitchfork, to lift and loosen it a bit. I did not bother turning it, or making it all fine and crumbly garden soil, just disturbed it a bit. Lazy. Plus I think the soil is super moist and properly strata-ed already, so the abundant worms will keep it as loose as it needs. time will tell.
The chickens were in the greenhouse with me, very well behaved (ie, ignoring my starts). I had one sharp-eyed shadow, though, watching every plunge of my fork for any glimpse of a worm in the cracks of the upheaved earth. She’d pull them out as neatly as pulling a sewing needle.
Sowed winter rye on all the beds that are getting it today. It could have been earlier, but I think still ok. It was strangely blissful.
Clearing the beds of all weeds, casting the grains, sprinkling them with dirt to cover.
The soil looks really good, full of worms, nicely friable. I’m sure happy we dug so many beds this spring. Now the beds are about one third in rye, one third in heavy mulch, and four beds will be in garlic in a couple weeks time.
In addition to the chicken making mulch cycle, I have a coop bedding strategy that works really well for me, and takes next to no time. The birds are in a pretty small coop, and they sleep all clustered together, so the night’s prodigious pooping gets concentrated.
The birds like to perch to sleep on the edge of the nesting boxes, and depending on which way they point, they might poop in the box. They avoid laying in the dirty boxes, but rarely foul more than one a night.
Every day when I collect eggs I toss any poop or soiled nest box bedding onto the main floor, and that tends to cover the night’s mess. If they get low I put in a couple handfuls of new grass, ripped from the ground nearby. Easy. Clean feet means clean eggs, so it’s important to keep the coop well-tended so the birds aren’t wading through their own poop on the way to the box.
Every few days, I cut down some of the tall field weeds (a few seconds with the scythe), and pile it in on the floor of the coop into a soft, clean, green springy bed. It smells wonderful, especially if I get a stray sprig of mint. Any handfuls of finer stuff will top up the nest boxes.
The bedding weeds dry out and shrivel up, becoming a poop and carbon lasagna.
Periodically, like once a month, I take out the whole black composting floor mat and take it to the garden in the wheelbarrow. It’s so mat-like I can practically roll it up. Anything remaining falls through the mesh that forms the floor of the coop. I add a layer of fresh green weeds and begin again.
To recap, I put clean grass into the nest boxes and throw dirty nest box grass onto the floor of the coop, covering the daily poop. Every week I put a serious thick layer of fresh weeds that really spruces it up in there. Monthly I remove the composting result to the garden.
I’m not sure what we’ll keep it going with in the winter. Perhaps I’ll just scythe down half the field before the snow flies. True deep bedding method means allowing the bedding to compost for months and shovelling it out in the spring. The bedding generates heat through decomposition, which is not a summer concern. My adaptation is just a super easy way of keeping the coop clean.
Since our laying chickens get to roam wild and free wherever they want, we are hardly putting them to work in every way we could. Sure, they make manure compost and lay eggs, but we haven’t asked them to kill sod for garden beds, or put them in a tractor for deliberate fertilizing. They make mulch for me, though.
All I have to do is feed them twice in the same place, by scattering their breakfast grain in a grassy place. They are so vigorously committed to finding every last crumb that they tear up the grass, it dries, and I collect it with a rake. Clean, soft, dry garden-ready mulch. Maybe with a little bit of bonus chicken poop. Could not be easier.
We are beavering away at the task of putting in a garden. Priority one: attention to food. Even though we have no illusions about productivity this year, it’s important to start.
We got off to a poor start- an unusually late frost took out all the tomato starts we’d put in.
We’ve tried a couple methods: 1) digging small holes to put a plant in, and surrounding it by cardboard and mulch. Over time and continued mulch-piling, ground around will soften up into a bed. Saves time, but no good at all for seeds. Good for squash. 2) plastic mulch. Pure experiment. Neighboring farmer offered us the waste plastic off of his hay bales – those ubiquitous white haybales that dot fields in the fall – and we spread it around to see if it would knock back the sod cover. So far, the results are not conclusive, nor impressive. The plastic,is multiple layers of white plastic like saran wrap, only layered up a quarter inch thick on a finished bale, and cut off so the waste plastic has an open clamshell shape. It’s heavy and insulating, but may be letting light through because it’s white. 3) digging. We have our labor-saving, painless technique down pat now, with this wicked sod-breaker from Lee Valley.
H.W. goes through with the sod breaker, standing on it and tipping it back and forth, three widths of the tool wide and as long as the bed.
H.W. has to do this part, because I can’t. I’ve tried, and I’m not strong or heavy enough to plunge the tines into the dirt. I jump up and down and get it a whole three inches deep in the ground and teeter there on it, and H.W. laughs and laughs, and calls me a “little feather”, which I can’t say I’ve been called before. One of many things it emerges I can’t do without him. Then the sod chunks fall apart and we shake the soil out of them with our hands and digging fork, and shape the bed. Makes a picture perfect, sod and root-free bed of soil that you’d never guess was just broken from ground unworked for 15 years. Then we seed it. If we maintain our beds compaction free, heavily mulched, top-dressed and cover-cropped, we will never have to till again.
It’s not horrible work and doesn’t take very long. Well, after rain it’s much less easy and fun – the sod is heavy and matted; yet it’s still doable in the rain, and we are aiming for steady continuity, not to do it all at once and burn out.
We are aiming for four garden beds a week in June, and that will break a respectable area for this year, easily on top of all the other work we need to do. Next year we can do the same and double our garden. So far, six beds.
Have I raved enough about mulch yet? After not setting foot in my garden for four weeks (ahem), I can walk a lap around it and pull every blade of grass in about 15 minutes. Which is lucky because that’s about how long you can survive the mosquitoes.
Can almost keep your feet moving. Hands up non mulchers who can weed any 4-week neglected garden that fast. Even the weeds grow in the controlled rows. I think they’re trying to hide. (Grass): “I’m an onion! No, really!”