This season I have been expanding my gardening with more variety, which I mentioned in my last post, and now with some more space. Thanks to a family member, who has generously granted me use of part of her property, I have prepared and planted a 20x10 foot plot with additional vegetables.
Contrary to all my previous garden plots, this was not going to be a raised bed. Which meant the first order of business was investigating the soil. Pulling up a spadeful revealed a tremendous number of worms, a good clay/silt/sand ratio, and great water retention properties. The soil in west Sonoma county seems to be fantastic by default, and this 200 sq. ft is no exception. The only problem with the plot, was that it started out covered with an invasive, crawling, species of weed.
I wanted to preserve as much of the sub-soil ecosystem as possible, meaning roto-tilling was out of the question, as it upends the various layers of soil biology. Another option I considered, if only I had the time and money, was to drive metal or some other barrier around the plot (6” deep) and leave the plot covered with black plastic mulch for an entire season.
Keen to get the plot started with as little disruption to the soil as possible, Farmer Josh and I borrowed a tractor from Dan [the neighbor] to scoop and scrape the crawling weed off the first couple inches of soil.
Frankly, I think I’m going to be battling this weed all season. I’m hoping that I can keep it at bay by paying attention to the soil and hoeing proactively. Farmer Josh and I also spread hay around the borders of the west crop to try to reduce weed pressure by eliminating sunlight adjacent to the plot.
Each bed created is 34” wide and 20’ long. With the alleys that’s 10’ wide in total. After scraping the weed back, the beds were aerated with a fork, hoed, and raked to provide some loose top layers for the seeds to establish in.
Since I have the north crop (tomatoes, snap peas, garlic, beans, leeks) and the south crop (potatoes, pumpkin) already established, I wanted to use some of my excess seed stores and plant some more variety in the west crop.
- More bush beans (trio). I had a seed packet with an abundance of beans still in it, so we planted over 40’ of bush [green, yellow, purple] beans.
- Pill bugs (rolly polys) ate my zucchini starts in the south crop, so I also planted the remainder of my zucchini seeds.
- Unfortunately I didn’t have the space for beets in the north crop this year, so there are hundreds of beets from two different varieties planted in the middle bed of the west crop.
- Finishing out the west crop, all the carrot seeds I had sitting around in my seed basket. 5-6 packets worth. In previous years carrots have frustrated me either by not germinating successfully, or by my own failure to thin effectively. Since we have the surplus space, trying 10’ of densely planted carrots.
In the image above, going left-to-right and front-to-back we have:
- Zucchini, bush beans
- Detroit Red beets, Sweet Merlin roasting beets, bush beans
- Carrots, bush beans
I don’t currently have the budget or the storage to invest in some more tools for garden farming, but below is a wish-list for later in the season, or next season:
Broadfork: Aerating these rows with a broadfork would have been quick work, but unfortunately I don’t have one (yet). I have read quite a bit about their use from various no-till farmers, and anxiously want to try one out.
Stirrup hoe: A good stirrup hoe would make quick work of some of the weed pressures we have in this plot. Unfortunately I only have a traditional hoe which wasn’t really suited for the job.
Seeding machine: With larger plots, not that this one is “large”, manual seeding becomes a much bigger pain in the back. Preparing the soil for the seeds and then dropping the seeds took me the better part of an hour. With a proper seeder, it would have likely been less than 15 minutes.
Overall, the west crop is going to be a good experiment. I’m of the belief that anybody can garden in a raised bed with pristine soil, assuming they have good sun and water. Working a native soil presents a few more challenges which I will have to contend with this season. Additionally, since the west crop isn’t on my property, I’ll be making trips out there a few times a week, which will require far more planning than the casual “step outside the front door and get dirty.”
While the north crop is already producing, planting the west crop, assuming everything goes well, greatly expands the fresh, organically grown vegetables the family will enjoy this season.
For now however, I have to impatiently wait for all those seeds to do what seeds will, then the fun really starts.