The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Planning and renovating garden beds

Shoveling up a garden bedI amused myself Sunday morning with a sudoku puzzle --- figuring out which beds each crop will grow in this year.  The process is actually quite fun, with three axes to consider --- soil depth, amount of sun, and plant family over the last three years.  As an example, I wanted carrots to grow in an area with deep soil, where carrots and parsley hadn't grown lately, with any kind of sun exposure.  In contrast, my peas don't mind thinner soil, but I want them in one of the sunniest spots since I plant them so early, and of course the bed can't have hosted peas, beans, or peanuts lately.

The puzzle was engrossing and fun, but I quickly realized that we don't have enough beds in rotation to plant all of the veggies I hope to grow this year.  Two years ago, I was working for a non-profit, trying to keep the garden going between writing grants and attending meetings.  I was so stressed out, that when I planned last year's garden, I cut out nearly a quarter of the growing area.  In farmer speak, I let those areas go fallow; in Anna speak, the weeds grew up.

The downside of last year's smaller garden is that we didn't grow quite enough vegetables to make it through this winter.  We'll probably have to buy some veggies in March and April, which is an unpleasant surprise since we we haven't bought vegetables (beyond onions and potatoes) in years.  On the upside, I managed to keep the beds that were in rotation last year well weeded and mulched and started to cut down on the awful weed population that grew up during my stressed out, non-profit year.  Overall, a year of gardening smaller made sense and was an asset to the farm (and my sanity.)

Chickens tilling up loose soil Even though I advocate no-till farming, I never manage to put down a sheet mulch a year in advance to start new  beds (or re-start fallow ones.)  So, I'm back to a bit of digging to delete the weeds from last year's fallow beds.  I like to plant potatoes in these spots, since the tubers necessitate a second round of digging in the fall, ensuring that few deep-rooted weeds survive the renovation year.

On Sunday, I dug up a few of the beds, just spading the soil enough that the chickens could get a foothold, then watched as our feathered friends went to town scratching up the soil.  After a few days of chicken scratching (and fertilizing), I'll rake the beds to pull out any big root masses, mound the soil back up, and cover the renovated beds with a heavy leaf mulch.  This method has worked very well in the past, as long as I plant the potatoes on raised mounds --- last year I flubbed by putting the seed potatoes below the original ground level and watched them rot in our wet soil.  Hopefully this fall, I'll have delicious potatoes and some newly weed-free beds.

We reward our chickens for a job well done with a poop-free chicken waterer (oh, and all the grubs they can eat.)

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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