I recently looked back at my earlier posts regarding my property, like “Clearing the Property.” I had two simultaneous reactions: One was of pride in the amount of work I had completed, and the second was how disappointed I am by having not completed a quarter of the yard by the second week of June.
I try to dismiss the disappointment by reminding myself that with two kids, a full-time Monday to Friday job and volunteer commitments, I shouldn’t be disappointed at all. And if I get over that and I can convince myself there is no failure in the quantity of work, I still can’t help but feel the seasonal disappointment of knowing that some plants are in the ground late, and some may be far too late to get anything from them. Furthermore, we have just finished a few weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather, through which I struggled to keep the beds damp enough to germinate seeds. Planting a few weeks earlier would have meant seedlings basking in the 18 hours daily of beautiful direct sun and night temperatures well above 10 degrees, (that’s 50ish for you Americans) – perfect growing conditions.
(This is what it once looked like.)
But I never dwell on the negatives for long. So as much as I’d love to have a yard full of perfectly-timed summer crops, I am equally excited to try proper fall and winter crops; Granted, some of those will be the less-spectacular “green-manure” or cover crops, but there are so many delicious veggies to grow in cool temperatures, and we have great winter temperatures here on the coast. Give us a little sun and a break in the rain and we’ll be growing all sorts of things!
According to my “Garden Plan”, I currently have boxes 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12 and 16, filled. That’s because my boxes are numbered left to right and up to down, if looking at it on a map. But, I built the boxes from top to bottom on just one half of the yard.
Box #1 was planted first and described in my last post. It is doing well. The “bread” poppies are slow, but it is the wrong time of year. The overwintered cabbages are huge and should be bolting soon. That bed is almost entirely peat-based compost.
Box #2 also described in the last post, has been battling the caterpillars, which I havn’t seen yet, but I recognize the damage and are noticing it is a bad year for caterpillars in general. The soil in this bed is amongst the worst. The top layer is a bit of top soil on horse manure, but below that is a pan of clay. While everything has sprouted in this bed, I still fear that they will struggle and die long before their roots get to the better soil below. (Remember, I am filling one box with the excavation of the next. So the first thing in the box is the sod and top soil, finishing with the deepest soil – which gets progressively more clay and rock based). Below is a picture of box two. The purple sprouts are amaranth; there are giant sunflowers along the left (north) side and the rest is black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas coming up amongst thre amaranth,
(Boxes 1,2,5 and 6 from bottom right to top left)
Box #5 seems like a better mix. I had a truck load of compost to mix in. However, I still find I need to water the seeds regularly to prevent a ‘crust’ forming in the clay. It this box I have several indeterminate vine tomatoes, and several determinate bushing tomatoes. Also, a few peppers, and egg plant, tomatillo, and some cucumbers. I bought those as small plants. I placed the seeds of mustard, chard, radish, beet and carrot as well. All except the carrots (which can take three weeks to germinate) have popped up, but are getting regularly replanted as something is eating the sprouts.
Box #6 was rushed, as I got some out of season cabbage-family plants on sale. This box has a lot of compost so it seems nice and light. I have some Brussels, and Kale planted, and I also threw in some marigolds, and arugula. The arugula has already bolted, but the cabbages seem to be biding their time. I have put the seeds of broccoli, kohlrabi and more marigolds in there as well.
Box #9 I have been most excited for – my Three Sisters’ Garden. I mailed away for a non-gmo dent corn (field corn/cattle corn/flour corn) and put them in the soil with scarlet runners and some squash-family plants (pumpkins, acorn squash and butternut squash). However, despite mixing compost into the top few inches, this bed has a serious layer of crusting clay that I suspect my corn won’t appreciate. I am keeping it moist, but only time will tell. The squash I bought as plants….which is actually the wrong way to plant Three Sister’s. Apparently, you want to give the supporting plants (corn or sometimes sunflower) a head start so as to not be smothered by the climbing beans or sprawling squash. But, we have to start somewhere.
Box #12 was planted last week. Half the bed was planted with store-bought red onions and leeks. The near side was given a couple established parsley and basil. I put more parsley and basil seeds in, and a small section of carrots and radishes (as it has been two weeks since I planted them in bed #5) and parsnip seeds. My seed packet said to soak parsnip seeds for 24 hours, but I am taking my chances. The soil in this bed looks exceptional! When I dug into the berm located below the boxes, I found that it had been top soil scraped aside (presumably) to level the yard). This soil, while still largely clay, looks good and has a much nicer texture. I suspect the root veggies would not have established in the other beds.
Box #16 was planted most recently. I raked it perfectly flat, seeded it and then found dog tracks running through it! As the seeds has germinated, there was little I can do to repair the tracks. The soil in this bed is also lovely. I planted lots of mustard, radish, carrot, and beets. They are just starting to sprout now.
Flower box: There is also the need for two 5’ x 10’ flower or perennial gardens to help attract pollinators and boost the biological diversity in the garden. I built one of these. It is only two 2×8’s tall, instead of the full three-high that the garden boxes are. It was filled hastily, as I will likely add plenty of soil to it later. I planted a beautiful salvia, an echinacea and another flowering annual. I also placed two of my potted fuchsia, and then sprinkled a variety of wildflowers onto the soil. Hopefully it is a burst of colour for the summer, before I plan something more permanent. I was annoyed yesterday when I found half the bed dug out by one of my dogs…and this, after most seeds had germinated.
The sweet corn/sunflowers/chickpeas/black beans I planted along the eastern fence are actually doing quite well. Other than one dog deciding to eat the young corn plants (i caught him in the act) and what I think are slugs gnawing the odd sprout back to ground-level things look great for a sweet corn harvest. I did however plant three pumpkin seeds of the “gigantic” variety, but those were the choice-meals for the slugs and have not survived. I have no need for a giant pumpkin in my backyard, however, the fun my daughter would have seeing it grow (I hope) and the value it would provide as compost or food for worms would be significant. Of course, the nutrients and water required to become “gigantic” were never going to be made available to them through any extra effort on my part, so no love is lost.
Back to the amount of work being done…. Each box is 75 feet square and two feet deep for 150 cubic feet or 5.5 yards of soil. I have dug each box into the ground and used the soil to fill the previous box. So, in total, I have moved 38.5 yards of heavy soil by shovel. I really should have brought a tractor in. I could have been finished in just a couple weeks, and my back wouldn’t be sore! The other trouble with prolonging this task is postponing all the other work needing to be done. I still have most of a large fir tree to buck up with a chainsaw, and this weather has re-grown my rose and blackberry forrest to the point I need a blade on a weed-wacker to get things back under control. I have fire wood to carry, split and stack; I have my Mediterranean garden to establish…which requires digging out the weeds, placing plants, and soil, a weed barrier and then bring some small river rock in to finish it off; and my compost bins to construct.
But most important beyond maintenance and finishing the boxes is to re-establish a play area for my dogs and daughter. So, soon, I will be taking the mattock to the back quarter of the yard, taking out the weeds, turning the soil and putting clover seeds down. Hopefully that will do the trick!