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Preparing garden beds

Raking no-till beds to prepare for plantingAs Mark puts it, once the gardening year really gets going, it's like riding a full speed locomotive --- good luck slowing it down or changing course.  I can already feel the gardening locomotive picking up steam, with 32 beds slated to be planted in March.  (We plan to plant about 125 beds of annual veggies this year, with the vast majority going in on our frost-free date in May.)

This week, Mark and I went over to our neighbor's house to collect some horse manure.  We sell the neighbors veggies, and they throw their peels and tops into a pile with their horse manure, which we then collect in late winter to put back into the garden.  Thursday I raked 11 beds, removing the weeds and working the half-composted manure and kitchen scraps into the soil.  It would be better to let the manure compost all the way, but at the rate of 2 gallons per 20 square feet or so, the worms make short work of any organic matter.  (I'd love to double up on my manure application, but those horses will only give me so much!)

No-till bed with hen

We try to stick to semi-no-till beds, partly because it's good for the soil and partly because I just like it.  After tilling new ground the first time, we mound the topsoil up into permanent beds separated by permanent paths.  In a perfect no-till world, I'd have enough mulch to cover all of these beds in the fall, but in my world I have to leave most of them bare over the winter.  Come late winter or early spring, I rake off the chickweed, dead nettles, and chamomile which have sprung up, then plant into the raked soil.  Some beds are a little more weedy, so I spade them up lightly before raking, but try to keep the soil structure as intact as possible.  The preparation takes about 15 minutes per bed if they need to be spaded.

New no-till bedWe're only starting a few new beds this year, and I want to try to make them completely no till.  I worked up one on Thursday afternoon, laying down paper, then mounding up dirt, and topping it off with manury grass tops the chickens have pulled up out of their current pasture spot.  It might be a stretch, but I want to try to plant shallow-rooted autumn plants in this bed in six months.  Another experiment....



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