Sunday, May 21, 2017

Preparing for the Summer Garden

Springtime is here! After a strange winter of up and down temperatures, the weather is steadily
growing warmer and we have more sunny days than dreary ones now.

Your favorite uncle and I just spent two very long, hot days turning over the garden beds for this year's crops. We've added a new herb bed, which will double the size of our current herb garden. If all goes well, we’ll have a greater variety of herbs to add to our repertoire to share with family and friends.

Raised garden beds

Our little village homestead has very hard ground, with very dense clay soil. Turning over the earth to plant our gardens just won't work for us. (There is a local story that the telegraph pole was invented because the machine used to dig the trenches for the first telegraph cables broke to bits trying to dig through the ground in our village; they say the dense ground tore the teeth off the machine.)

Our new herb garden in a raised bed.
We realized very quickly that we would need raised beds because of the hard soil. Our garden beds are wood-sided and raised about 18 inches. The first layer is peat moss for improved drainage and to keep the garden soil aerated. Above this we have a mixture of topsoil, followed by garden soil for the top layer. We augment the soil each season and rotate the garden crops.

Last year we added a retaining wall at the back of the hill to enlarge our garden space. This doubled the space we had for gardening and made use of a poor section of land on the back hill. So now we have four garden beds, the two main garden beds and two smaller herb gardens.

Compost–the secret to a healthy garden

In addition to adding composted chicken manure and other organic fertilizers, we add our own kitchen compost from the previous year. We have a compost tumbler; in to it goes all of our vegetable and plants scraps, along with dry bread and biscuits. Herbs stems and parts of plants from the garden also get tossed in, along with dried grass from the lawn. I include coffee grounds and spent tea leaves with the compost as additional brown material. If it rains and water seeps in, or we’ve had too many “greens,” or fresh vegetable matter, added at once, I have also included brown paper grocery bags to help bring the mixture back into a balance of “greens” and “browns.”

This composted material helps the garden to grow for another year. It helps us to make use of the wasted parts of the plants that we're not going to eat, or the leftover scraps that aren't going to be put back onto the dinner table. We spend a lot of time growing stems and leaves, so it's nice to be able to reuse that material to enrich the soil for the following year's crop.

We tumble this mix for about six months of the year. The mixture rests over the winter because additional scraps just wouldn't break down in time. This gives us about a bushel of homegrown compost.

(Our local landfill is running out of space and much of the garbage trucked to landfills is kitchen waste– foods, plants and compostable scraps—that simply petrifies. By composting, we get fertilizer and prevent six months of kitchen scraps from taking up space in a landfill for the next 200 years. One more benefit– we are throwing away less trash and reducing our consumer footprint.)

Ready to plant
The pepper garden. 

We will have peppers again this year, along with beautiful cherry tomatoes that make such a lovely ketchup. We're also going to have cucumbers for our famous pickles. I'm hoping to add a few edible rose bushes at the edges of the herb gardens.

We grow some of our plants from seed and others from sets or from young plants that we pick up at our local our local farm. Squash especially does well when we buy plants from the local farm, and we’ll pick up cucumbers for the same reason. This year we're planning to grow green beans and we’re hoping that they are not eaten by the dear. We have had that dilemma last summer!

Update: Five of the six squash plants we put in the ground were munched by a bunny! We’ve already had to replant those squash. 

Your favorite uncle has decided that we should try using garden cloth to cover the soil this year.
A tomato, caged and surrounded
by mulch fabrics.
Weeds are an ongoing problem and we're hoping the garden cloth with prevent weeds from choking out tender vegetables. During the height of the summer heat, it will help retain more moisture and we’ll need to water less frequently.

We will see how the garden cloth works. It is an experiment, like most of we currently grow and make.

So, how does the garden grow? We will let you know in a few months.