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Truck tarp tie down in the snow.

Our first truck load of compost had a problem with some of the particles blowing away on the ride home.

A tarp tied down with bungee cords helped us get the second truck load home without leaving a trail of compost particles.

Posted Sat Mar 17 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Basil roots

Potted basilEvery time I go over to Mark's mom's house, I'm impressed by the thriving basil in her kitchen window. In my experience, basil isn't thrilled by winter conditions even indoors. So I asked for tips on keeping this tender herb alive in March.

"The trick," Rose Nell told me, "is lots of water." She places the basil's pot inside a cup, which she keeps at least halfway full of water. Roots expand out from the pot into the water, in essence turning the growing space into a bit of a hydroponics setup.

And it works! The proof is in the pudding...or rather, in the roasted potatoes and salads seasoned with fresh herbs in January, and February, and March. Maybe next winter I'll give it a try, but for now I'm content inviting myself over to enjoy someone else's hard work.

Posted Fri Mar 16 06:00:13 2018 Tags:
Brush clearing for new garden.
Clearing some stunted trees to make room for the new garden.
Posted Thu Mar 15 06:00:47 2018 Tags:
Pruning a peach tree

I'm forcing myself not to plant any trees until this coming winter, once I better understand the lay of our new land. But I started going into fruit-tree withdrawal in early March --- good thing Jayne had a pair of peaches she was willing to let me prune!

Posted Wed Mar 14 06:00:13 2018 Tags:
Rain gauge installation at new place.

We finally got around to installing our Heavy-duty rain gauge on the back porch.

Posted Tue Mar 13 06:00:12 2018 Tags:
Gathering punky wood

I really meant to prep our blueberry bed the instant we landed on our new property. After all, soil acification takes several months, especially in cold winter soil. But getting our water turned on, installing a source of heat, then keeping the pipes from freezing seemed slightly more here it is a week before the bushes arrive and I have no soil ready to put them in.

Which is a long way of saying, before I dive into the rest of this post, please do as I say not as I do. Prepare your blueberry beds months in advance!

Above ground hugelkultur

Okay, caveat aside, back to the point at hand....

Blueberries like three things --- lots of organic matter, lots of water, and lots of acidity. The first two points can be assisted by starting your bed off with a healthy helping of punky wood (placed atop a kill layer of cardboard in this image so we don't need to till). In a perfect world, this wood is already starting to crumble apart, although any logs and limbs dead enough to fall to the forest floor will do in a pinch.

Acidifying compost

Since rotting wood will rob some nitrogen out of the soil for the first couple of years, I'm going very heavy on the nutrients in our blueberry bed. In fact, we're filling in all the gaps between the wood with straight compost...well, straight compost laced with sulfur.

"Sulfur?" you say. "That doesn't sound very natural." Unfortunately, I learned the hard way with our last blueberry patch that natural methods of acidifying the soil aren't quite enough for these acid-loving plants. So I bought five pounds of ferrous sulfate (faster acting than elemental sulfur) and did some back-of-the-envelope math to figure out how much to apply.

Mixing sulfur into compost

Without a pH test and with blueberries hitting the ground in short order, I'm playing it safe and assuming I'll need to top up the sulfur every year for a couple of seasons. To that end, I used one heaping cup per wheelbarrow load of compost (which is much easier to mix if you sprinkle half a cup on top of half a wheelbarrow of compost then repeat with the second half on top of the full load). This assumes the compost has a pH around 6.5, the underlying soil is clay loam, and that you're using ferrous sulfate --- for elemental sulfur, lower the application rate down to two tablespoons per wheelbarrowful of compost.

I guess we'll know by the end of the summer whether the blueberries approve of their new home. We only bought three test plants to get us started, but if they do well I suspect we'll expand.

Posted Mon Mar 12 10:11:33 2018 Tags:
Mushroom drying in an Excalibur dryer.

Anna teaching a group of three neighbor kids how we dry shitake mushrooms.

Posted Sun Mar 11 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Throwing compost

Starting a new garden is always an exciting undertaking. This time around, I'm learning from past mistakes. So the rows are all straight and perpendicular to the (not-yet-erected) fenceline. Perennial bed widths are planned based on their eventual occupants --- narrower for asparagus and wider for brambles. And aisles are a universal 29 inches wide.

I'm going with the ultra-simple kill mulch in most areas --- compost over cardboard --- although I know I'll have to deal with some perennial weed intrusions over the course of the first year. Blueberry-bed preparation is more complicated, though. Stay tuned for details in a later post!

Posted Sat Mar 10 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Spile removal with hammer.

We took out our spile today due to the warm weather.

I think when we tap next year we'll do it sooner.

Posted Fri Mar 9 07:00:11 2018 Tags:
Fairy ring

I'd never seen a fairy ring until last summer, when one popped up in a neighbor's yard back in Virginia. I'm still kicking myself for failing to take a photo! But I did get a shot of the winter symptom of the same fungi, shown above during our recent visit to Mound City.

In a great example of the symbiosis of plants and mushrooms, fairy-ring fungi break down organic matter in the soil, releasing nutrients and creating rings of bright green grass that look like someone had poured fertilizer there. Unfortunately, they can sometimes also create rings of dead brown grass if the fungi block water movement or create hydrogen cyanide.

As with much of nature, it's a crapshot whether the 50 species of fungi that form fairy rings will help or hinder your lawn. But they definitely increased our enjoyment of the Mound City site!

Posted Thu Mar 8 07:00:11 2018 Tags:

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