If you missed Part 1, it’s here!
Charles and I are deep into our first summer of large-scale gardening on the farm. We started in the cold days of early spring, babying our tiny seedlings in our “work room.” We set them up under grow lights and watered diligently.
They were (mostly) successful, though we had a learning curve with the soil blocks. Next year we will cover the seeds with a little soil to help with germination, rooting, and moisture. And to help prevent mold, which sprouted up on some of the seeds when we kept the blocks too moist.
It was satisfying and exciting to watch them grow!
They were joined by a few other plants which appreciated the grow light also, including just-ordered Goji berries (left front), a poor little hen-and-chick which I’ve been trying to keep alive for a couple years (left middle), and some tomatoes (left back).
When the days started getting warmer, we planted everything outside. We built several different kinds of garden beds so we could see what works best. And now, dear readers, the results of our several and varied garden experiments are in!
Exhibit A: Herb bed near our house, bordered with cedar logs from the woods. We dug about a foot down into the grass, flipped it over upside-down in sections, hand-tilled the dirt (clay) with a broadfork, then covered it with manure compost. I planted this bed with chives, carrots, valerian, echinacea, marjoram, lemon balm, basil, thyme, and one sad zucchini seedling with an almost-broken stem.
Results So Far: Very mixed. This bed gets some shade in the morning from several nearby trees, which may have contributed to its less-than-stellar performance. Most of the herbs didn’t do much. The only healthy-looking ones at this point are the echinacea, lemon balm, and basil. The little zucchini, however, flourished happily, twisting all over the sidewalk and in front of the gate. It produced several zucchini before the main vine died back, then it re-rooted in one spot and is now leafing out and blooming again!
Happy zucchini …. not so happy herbs!
Exhibit B: Cherokee bed in the “kitchen field” garden zone, so named because the corn variety planted in it is a dent corn called Cherokee White Eagle. Outlined in old telephone poles and logs from the woods, this bed has occupied this space for several years and has rich, loose soil. Last fall, we put manure on it and covered it with a tarp for the winter. In the early spring we ran a chicken cruiser over it to work up the dirt, then planted it in corn, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, melons, and okra.
Results So Far: Stupendous, with one exception. Every plant has flourished and made much produce; the vines have taken over several hundred square yards around the bed itself, and are still spreading (pictures to come in Part 3!).
The only frustration with this bed is that something keeps raiding our melons. We planted a watermelon variety called Ali Baba, and an adorable little melon called Kiku Chrysanthemum. Both have been ravaged by raiders, including (we think) raccoons and probably field rats, and (we know for certain) OUR OWN PIGLETS, who broke loose and came trotting up the hill to smash our melons just before they were ripe and ready to pick. THAT issue has now been resolved, rest assured. Lesson learned: plant melons closer to the house, far from the woods AND pigs.
Exhibit C: Oaxacan beds in the front field, named for the Oaxacan Green dent corn planted in them. These are mini-hugel style beds, built up on top of the grass. We laid out concrete blocks as the borders, covered the grass inside with old paper feed bags, then layered on tree limbs and branches and finally manure compost on top. We planted them with corn, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, beans, radishes, marigolds, and nasturtiums.
Results So Far: Wonderful! Everything has grown out of all proportion to the beds, taking over the entire area around them (pictures to come!). First the pumpkin/squash vines, and now the bean vines, have created a jungle replete with produce. Squash bugs and deer have been our main concerns with this bed, but the plants have pretty much ignored both of them (we did put a fishing line fence around the bed area to deter deer).
Exhibit D: Glass Gem bed near the barn. So named because the corn variety we planted in it is an heirloom popcorn called Glass Gem. We used plastic interlocking borders for this bed (completely hidden under vines in this picture!). We dug the turf and flipped it upside down, covered it with manure compost, and planted corn, pumpkins, radishes, and squash.
Results So Far: Stellar! As you can see, everything has been happy in this bed. The pumpkins and squash quickly roamed “off the reservation” (my mother-in-law’s quote) and are STILL spreading in every direction, re-rooting as they go even as the original vines die off. We’ve harvested many pattypans, which are now about done, and several pumpkins, which are still going strong. We harvested the corn and radishes, and sowed a second run of radishes along with some transplanted pepper plants from ….
Exhibit E: Straw bale beds in the “kitchen field” garden zone. Spurred on by the book Straw Bale Gardens, we bought 36 straw bales from a wheat farmer down the road, then fertilized and watered them diligently to begin the decomposing process.
We lined up these puppies in two rows, outfitted them with soaker hoses, and planted them chock-full of onions, tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, carrots, beets, beans, sweet potatoes, New Zealand spinach, cabbage, and radishes. We transplanted some plants and direct-seeded others.
Results So Far: Discouraging … not to say downright dismal. Despite diligent applications of fertilizer and water per the book’s instructions, very few of the direct-sown seeds survived. Most of the seedlings did, but have been very wimpy and slow-growing. Straw-bale gardening is touted as a way to reduce weeds, but our bales have sprouted grass almost since day one. The only thing that has been really happy here is the sweet potatoes, which have spread luxuriously from their bale onto the two neighboring ones (which is fine, because whatever was in those died a while back). This experiment has convinced us to plant everything in the dirt next year!
The straw bales are now decomposing in earnest, and we’ll be repurposing them soon; stay tuned for a post about that! Also stay tuned for Part 3, in which you will see some of the results of all this labor ….!