Friday, March 27, 2015

Let's Get Dirty!

Finally! All the planning is fun, but, after a while the itch to get out and put it to work becomes almost more than I can stand. The part of my garden that is already established is easy to get back into shape for this year. I use a mix of ideas, containers, lasagna, verticle, mulching and raised beds. All of the ideas and uses are based on what I have access to for free or super cheap. Thrilled this year to say, that so far at least, the only thing I have had to put any money/value into is the straw and 20 min with the weed eater. And that I traded for! Seeds are all saved from last year or shared from other people. Newspaper is our local and comes free. Leaves are from our and my daughters yards. Cardboard is from local stores that let me take theirs when they get done stocking. And my compost.

This will be a third year garden. We moved 3 1/2 years ago in July. No garden that year but I did pack my compost, yes really, and got things set up. I use tires with the sidewalls cut out. I prefer to cut both so that you don't have the water standing in the bottom side. Some people don't approve of tires as veggie garden containers. If your one of these please read for a bit more because the info will work in any raised bed, container or even flat on the ground.
 Since I had a summer, winter and spring before I could plant again I laid cardboard out and the tires on top. Cardboard takes longer to decompose. Weeds and grass can't get through it but neither can worms, my itty bitty work horses. I stuffed the tires full of straw, grass clippings, leaves and topped with a couple of scoops of compost. (we had rabbits, chickens, horses, geese, llama....) By fall they had settled to about half full so I topped with more straw which I get mostly from a local (small) pig farmer.

So, to jump ahead to now! By the fall I'm all garden and canned out so I don't do a lot of fall prep. Grass grows between my row and I like it that way because no matter how rainy it is I can still get into my garden and work without compacting the soil I'm planting in or wading the mud. During the spring and summer a few minutes with the weed eater cleans it up nice. 
One benefit to planting this way is that the spring rains don't slow down my gardening but only make it easier. When most are waiting for the ground to dry enough to till I can still layer my beds and the rains soak into the mulch. Humus, Leaf Mold  and Compost carry the ingredients to make a garden healthy and happy. Gardening in soil that has all this natural organic matter creates plants that are more disease and pest resistant. Adding a few amendments for specific plantings, such as calcium for tomatoes to ward off blossom end rot is easy and can be done cheaper because you can just add it to the specific spots where it is needed. Another really wonderful benefit is moisture retention. Between 3x and 500x it's weight, depending on your mix. If you add this to only watering in the specific area (like inside a tire) and keep the surface covered with straw (I consider this my mulching) you can reduce watering drastically. If you are re-purposing water by containing it in water catchment systems (aka rain barrels, burms and swales or a million other ideas), finding free or very cheap matter for your layers and learning to save seeds, your next garden could be free or nearly free to plant. That makes everything that you gather from it as cost effective as it is nutritious. With less watering, less weeding, no equipment costs, fewer pests and therefor less time spent babying it, your garden ends up doing the work for you.

 Looks rough but I feel that the grass holds moisture and nutrition that will go into the new garden year.  
                          After a quick round with the weed eater and a rake the tires are ready for their attention. I turned the soil over here so you could see how dark and soft it is. For the rest of the tires a layer of newspaper with the grass and all mushed underneath. Just a couple of sheets to deter weeds and grass but allow the worms to do their magic.
A couple of scoops of compost will help everything get on it's way, drawing the worms, breaking down the grass and newspaper and creating a place for the roots of the new plantings. I compost directly on the ground which allows the excess water drain away and the worms to come to me. You may be able to see the couple I found in this scoop.  Then simply a layer of straw or a mix with leaves.
I'm expanding my garden this year to almost double so my compost really does have the feeling of black gold. Some of my tires that I will plant later season (tomatoes and such) I only used the newspaper and straw. They'll get compost as I get it ready, but as you can see the worms are willing to help as much as they can.

Another benefit of planting this way is that if you have very wet spring, which we often do, your plants do not set in a puddle of water. The moisture is absorbed and available to the plants but whatever extra that can't be held runs away out the bottom. This works out whether you use some kind of containment or simply layer on the ground. Regardless of being contained it is raised.
Between the fence on the left and on the right is the area that I'm going to be adding this year. My grandmother lived here before us. One great benefit is this is 30ish year old virgin ground. No chemicals, only a pretty mowed lawn. She wasn't into the garden thing. My grandfather on the other hand is the one who gave me my first experience with gardens. He had a huge garden and I would slip out into it and gather things like bell peppers and cherry tomatoes in the front of my shirt, sitting in the middle under the pole beans eating my pilfering. This is also where I learned about hybridizing. DO NOT plant your bell peppers to close to your jalapenos, they can cross and make for some really hot bells. :)

As part of my expansion I spread some boxes out and set up bales that will be my potato bed. These bales have been sitting out for about 2 months and with any luck I hope to grow cherry tomatoes in the top of them. I've done it before but with older bales and am not sure these have had enough time to age. A layer of leaves and straw in the bottom and then when I'm ready to put out the potatoes I'll just spread them evenly around the bottom. There are several schools of thought on how to plant potaoes. Eyes and slips and cuttings, depending on your space and how you plan to plant them I'm sure some work better than others. I don't do any cutting. I space them out and cover with straw and leaves by a few inchest. As they sprout and the greens start to show I add more layers. I've done this in rows where I laid out the cardboard and piled all on top. If you try that I would suggest more leaves and compost because the straw seems to dry out quickly and is difficult to keep damp.
The general rule of thumb 'round here is to plant peas on ST. Patricks' Day, but I didn't, so went out this morning to get the last of these pics together and them planted.

I soak my peas 24 hours before planting. These actually got 2 days because it rained yesterday. They'll grow up the trellis and then when the heat comes on I'll plant my cucumbers in the same spot.

For these I stirred up the compost and planted the peas directly into it and covered back with a light layer of straw. Finally getting some action in the garden is such a relief. To see a little about my planning you might like these posts, and I hope you'll come back to see more as the garden fills out.