Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Dirt on Our Soil

I'm famous for gardening over my head. So why not quadruple the size of my veggie patch then go back to work full time? See our tiny (really, it's the exact size of our house: 1,200 sq. ft.!) original plot in the center of the photo below? We all thought that was big. But I have big dreams, and I'm not letting one little maternity leave get in my way. I can swing 10 weeks doing both, can't I?!

different textures and hues from an established spring garden
look out over the newcomers sprouting up in the back

The reason I needed four times the growing space I had was because after planting my spring garden, I didn't have any room left for the 60 tomato and 75 pepper transplants I grew from seed indoors this winter. That didn't even include the okra, corn, beans, melons and squash I wanted to seed outside. 

An expansion was in the master plan, and it got first priority. But whereas we hand-dug (no kidding!) our existing beds, we hired this job out to an old fella with a tractor and plow. He moved at his own pace -- three weeks between plowing and tilling -- but he was interesting enough to make it OK. And can you blame someone who's 80 for forgetting about your gig? 

He churned our earth into foot-deep waves that looked like the ocean then tilled them into soft, plantable soil. We swiped a portion of the tall grass prairie for production, cutting into it diagonally as a symbol of where the future pond overflow system will be. The result is a trapezoid, which will look awesome with the bluestem grasses and wildflowers dramatically rising behind a metal water channel. Where on the timeline that fits into the master plan, however, is TBD.

adding production space to the south

a burned field and plowed field will take different paths

One of the most important jobs for this upheaved ground -- as we've learned the last two years, one with me too ill with "morning sickness" to get outside, and the other once the baby was here and had plans for me that didn't include setting her down for even five minutes -- is keeping the weeds out. We don't use chemicals, just hoes. Mulches are a big help but because we're looking for ways to close the cycle on our property, we are testing grass clippings in the paths and mulched leaves on the beds. 

To get the clippings, we use the bagger on our PUSH MOWER. Oy. You can imagine the inconvenience of stopping the mower and frequently unloading, but in the weeks since we've tried it out on the original garden, it's made a huge difference, and that's sayin' something since we have two years' worth of weed seeds hiding out in there. As for the leaves, our entire lot of trees gave up only enough matter to cover the new north field's beds. I'm hoping the south field's vining squashes and melons will keep enough ground under cover that it won't be a nightmare. 

It's not quite lasagna gardening, but we might be headed that direction soon. Our goal is not only to reduce weeds now but to improve our soil in the long term. This fall we'll experiment with manure and cover crops to continue increasing tilth. 

to the north: peppers, tomatoes, herbs, onions