Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Happening!

A few weeks ago Stephen Colbert had a series of shows where he spent time building up to the sale of his portrait. Each bit about the art auction included Colbert saying "it's happening!" in an enthusiastically earnest yet slightly self-mocking manner. During the episode of the auction he used the line several times, and we were greatly amused by it. In fact, I was amused enough to say it myself more than once about almost anything going on here at Cairncrest farm.

The current recipient of the "happening" phrase has been the garden. The garlic has emerged and I can see asparagus tips roughly flush with the soil surface. Normandy's brother Preston, Garth, and I spent hours in the garden the last two days plucking rocks and prepping beds for planting. Onions will be going in very soon, and depending on soil temperatures other crops will follow shortly.

There are many, many ways to layout a garden and grow vegetables. A little bit more detail about our gardening style may be of interest, so I'll try to summarize it as best I can. We dig 4x25 foot beds and then leave a 1 foot wide path before starting the next bed. This shape allows for easy harvesting of the whole grow area without having to step into the bed itself. The length makes for ready access to the middle of the beds without annoyingly long detours down, around, and back up the other side. We also left a few extra wide paths for cart, tractor, wheelbarrow, harvest, and tool staging. The wide paths are woodchipped for weed control. We tried chipping the narrow paths last year, but it was not ideal. Too many chips ended up in the beds and they made weeding the paths much more difficult since I weed them with a razor sharp grape hoe. The hoe hung up on the chips too much. Where I didn't get to spreading chips I found it much easier and faster to drag the tool. So this year I raked the chips back off the narrow paths.

I feel really lucky about the garden site we picked. We chose it out of location more than anything - it was a flatish area with slight southern exposure close to the buildings that receives full sun. It's on a small knoll so when we're working we have good visibility of approaching deliveries or the arrival of friends. The part I feel luckiest about is the soil. When we picked the site we knew the soil would have the final say as whether it would actually turn into a garden. Too much clay is quite a tough nut to crack in a vegetable garden but we don't have too much clay by any means. Testament to this fact is that we've already spent days in the garden digging while there are still patches of snow melting away around here. The ground is very wet, but the soil is still loose. When we had our soil tested this year the cation exchange capacity in the garden read 8.22 meq (this is quite low). Generally clay raises the exchange capacity, sand lowers it. With how low that number is we will most likely add clay over the years. Since it is a limited area I plan to go with the best - montmorillionite (bentonite). Exchange capacity can be thought of as a battery. The charges all need to be in balance to grow healthy plants. By increasing the exchange capacity one makes the battery itself bigger. But making that amendment is not urgent, much less imperative than fertilizer and compost. There's a lot more to tell, but it will have to wait. I'll end with a little plug -

Our gardening bible is Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon. He has formulas for COF (complete organic fertilizer), compost guidelines, and planting tips throughout. He gives advice for fertilizing and plant spacing dependent on budget and material availability. In his writing he comes across as a curmudgeonly grandad who wants things done right, and who really wants to see his readers to succeed. We were extremely pleased with the fruit of our labors using his methods last year, and this year looks to be even better since we now have a jump on things as opposed to a bunch of sod. If you have any aspirations to grow some of your own food I cannot recommend a better book. For the energy constrained future barreling our way, this book is "happening".


1 comment:

  1. So nice to see the new spring like blog heading picture!!!!. The garden write up is something people without a farm can even relate to. Keep up the great work you guys. I hope to come and pull a few weeds for you in June.