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

Gardening in young soil

Early lettuce

We've been in Ohio for a year and a half, but took us six months (most of that winter) to get the fence going so we could safely plant inside. Which means our vegetable garden is just about a year old.

Truck by garden

During that year, I've been learning local biomass sources. Most are higher-carbon and less-aged than I'd prefer, but they make up for what they lack in quality in their quantity and ease of hauling. When the road-clearing crew dumped a huge pile of wood chips right by my garden gate last year, I decided I love being close to a road!

Young garden soil

At the same time, I'm remembering what it was like to plant into young garden soil. Between cover crops and copious additions of organic matter, I'd gotten my Virginia soil primed so growing there was nearly like planting into big mounds of potting soil. Up here, the clay subsoil is close to the surface and the biomass I'm adding is only gradually working its way down through no-till layers of cardboard and newspaper.

Side-dressing with manure

So I garden a little differently. Applying half-composting horse manure/wood chips is acceptable in most garden areas (although the combo did kill a barely-survived-the-winter thyme plant). The trick is to pull the mixture back a bit from the plants (sidedressing instead of topdressing). If possible, I also apply manure at least a month before my planting date.

Vegetable seedlings

I've also been starting more seedlings inside, potting them up into small cups and letting them grow for a few weeks before setting them out into the garden. The reason for this is twofold.

Pea seedlings

First, it's tougher to get seeds to sprout happily in subpar soil (especially since I'm irrigating less now that we're on city water). Second, voles have moved in and are nibbling up young sprouts (especially my peas!). As you can see in the photo above, the ornery rodents ate all of my direct-seeded plants (on the other side of the trellis), while they left older transplants alone.

Strawberry flower

Starting spring crops inside is also handy because the soil takes longer to warm up in Ohio. Our strawberries are just now starting to bloom, two or three weeks later then they tended to in Virginia. That means annuals would also be two or three weeks behind...if I hadn't jumped the gun with early seeding indoors.

Free garden biomass

Of course, that's all short-term fixes that will be in the rear-view mirror in a few short years. To boost our soil's fertility fast, I'm layering huge quantities of organic matter in areas I won't be planting into for several months.

First came the spoiled hay (left) from a local farmer --- she had more of it than I could handle, but I piled up as much as I could to start building the soil. Aisles of wood chips (middle) will feed fertility more slowly, while new beds made of deeply mounded horse bedding/manure (right) will rot down within a few months.

Bathtub worm bin

As if that's not enough, Mark is building me worm bins out of old bathtubs. We'll fill these up with horse manure as well (so easy to accumulate now that it can be scooped into our truck then unloaded directly into our garden on the other end!). By this time next year, we should be overflowing in good, rich compost to feed our dirt.

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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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Good to see a post here! So much of interest going on in your garden!
Comment by Maggie Turner Wed Apr 24 19:02:09 2019
I have learned a ton from you two, on keeping chickens and goats.....and have been in a hiatus myself but very happy to see you sharing again...
Comment by melissa wilson Sat Apr 27 02:08:14 2019

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