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.
We were attacking the garden today, replacing fence posts; the old ones were rotten and broken (“these should last for a year” – three years ago!). Shaping garden beds out of the remaining areas of our fenced space. These spots have been covered with waste silage plastic (as seen in background) for a year or more, and the earth is awesomely root-free.
In other words, digging shallow trenches. Which immediately filled with water. Digging that is like wet concrete, clumping and dragging on the boots and shovel and resisting being dumped out of the wheelbarrow. Especially since I´m digging to the clay layer, which will be filled in with wood chips. Getting that topsoil off to pile on the beds, instead of supporting weeds in the aisles.
But the bugs aren’t out yet! So it´s all glorious. Any day now, the bugs, the peepers, and the tree buds will all pop out at once, so it´s time to enjoy the peaceful working conditions.
My first planting! Spinach, two weeks late, according to my planting calendar. I felt like I should start gardening like I mean it, so I put some brain work in in the winter planning the planting schedule for starts and direct sowing, and it sure feels good now to have a simple schedule to follow.
I mapped the garden in seven areas, for crop rotation, estimated how much of X thing I want to grow, and then calc’ed back/forward from frost date and made a calendar. Now all I have to do is follow it. Far less thinking. It´s nice to not be mapping each little bed for “what was in here last year/previous two?” Tedium.
Provided my last frost date projection (guess) of May 21 is not wildly off (actual date fluctuates between Apr 30 and Jun 1 in the last five years), the planting calendar will be a wild success.
Inside, the starts are thriving. Again with the calendar, I shouldn’t have too-leggy tomatoes and too-late celery when it´s time to transplant out, thanks to my planned and staggered starting. Yes, I´m just now figuring this out.
This is one bed’s worth of potatoes (I’m miffed that foreshortening is distorting this picture. It’s a five gallon bucket, 2/3 full).
Not bad for a bed that I didn’t plant any potatoes in!
Or rather, I did in 2014. These are all volunteer potatoes, from spuds that escaped the harvest last fall. They performed about the same as the potatoes I planted deliberately.
Thence rises the question: why not plant potatoes in the fall, like garlic? Why is this not a thing?
I suppose that it is a matter of conditions. Last year we had a massive snow blanket that stayed all winter, so the potatoes underground were well protected from freezing and thus rotting.
This year promises a similar hard, long winter with heavy snow. Although personally, I don’t think heavy snow equates with “hard” winter. Hard only on us people that shovel. The snow is a cozy soothing blanket that protects much. The wild bees and bumblebees had an amazingly good year this summer after last year’s deep snow winter.
Anyways, I may try fall planting some potatoes, if I can manage it. Everything is an experiment.
Right now we have a cycle, since we are still in a process of breaking ground/expanding the garden: The first year, we break beds with the broadfork, and plant potatoes in most of the new beds. In the fall, the potatoes come out and are followed by garlic. This means the bed is churned up well 3x (initially, planting/hilling, and harvesting potatoes), heavily mulched for both the spuds and garlic, and fed with hen litter, etc if we have some etc, for the garlic. The garlic will be followed by a cover crop, or two, in the second fall. So, the soil is is good shape by the time it comes around to other crops in the third year. After all the initial disruption, it will not be tilled again.
It’s our cycle, and we’re sticking to it. It has arisen because we’ve observed that potatoes thrive here in the un-amended soil. Not that that’s a surprise, potatoes loving Nova Scotia? Also, I think potatoes are under-appreciated as soil aerators, and of course, there’s a heck of a lot of soil upheaval in the process of growing them. Heavy work.
I think there may be two more years of garden expansion, before we have a site large enough for my desires of food production, so that means in the fifth year potatoes will go in where there were potatoes before. Every five years the soil gets forked up dramatically? I hope that’s enough rotation.
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.