The Planting Begins

It’s Spring here at the ol’ homestead and a number of projects are well underway.

You may recall last fall when I spent hours and hours hacking away into our rocky soil to create a series of six 25′ garden beds. I only got five of them done before I pooped out. My plan was to seed them with small-seeded fava beans to serve as a cover crop over the winter. However, I left it too late and a few days after I scattered the seeds it snowed heavily. They never germinated. This at least solved the problem of me having not completed the fencing around the garden – I got three sides of it planted with poles (small diameter trees, mostly alder, from our early land-clearing adventures) before winter set in and never did get it enclosed. Thus the deer and other animals were free to trample the soil.

Then, about a week or so ago, the weather passed some critical temperature threshold and everything in our field shot up at once. We are knee-deep in grass now…

…a far cry from what we started with. It looks lush and lovely. However, it also all but buried my “raised” beds (which, without the benefit of a cover crop, became sunken beds over the winter). Accordingly, I was feeling rather discouraged, and the late planting season encouraged me to procrastinate. But now especially that we are eating so many greens, it just seemed silly to be buying salad at the grocery store when it’s so easy to grow. And so I forced myself to stop procrastinating by attending an organic plant sale at a local farm. I’d bought tomatoes from them last year which, before the deer and elk ate them, were looking really good! So I went and bought 5 tomato plants, as well as some lettuce, broccoli, chard, and parsley.

I knew bringing them home that I would have to get them in the ground as soon as possible (only the tomatoes were in pots) so the next day I headed to the farm supply store. I got a few bags of sea soil to make up for the loss of “raised bed-ness” in my garden, and a couple 100′ rolls of chicken wire for the fencing. While I was there I noticed a (very) few remaining packets of West Coast Seeds in stock, so I grabbed some basil, boc choy, and salad mix. My first task was to trim the grass around the garden area, which I did using a gas-powered weed whacker. Then I went to work on one 2′ x 25′ bed. I had this grand idea of digging up all the soil, putting it aside on a tarp, and filling the bottom of the beds with some rotted wood, Hugelkultur-style. Lord knows we have tons of rotting wood around, and I hoped it would raise my beds up sufficiently. However, after the first few back-breaking shovelfuls I realized this was biting off way more than I could chew. I decided to save the Hugelkultur experiment for another season, when I would get a guy with a digger to come and help me out. Instead, I used a pitchfork and fluffed up the soil. Then I spread my sea soil on top and raked it in with some complete organic fertilizer a la Steve Solomon. Finally, I planted my seedlings. Here are the Before and After shots.

My next task was stringing chicken wire around the poles. I’ve never worked with chicken wire in my life, and this city slicker was in for some frustrating moments trying to unravel what turned out to be a factory error. I didn’t know this, of course, and assumed all chicken wire came tangled up around the roll like this. It wasn’t until my Husband calmly suggested I try the other roll that I learned the first one was faulty. The second came away like a dream and it was easy work to put it up.

I folded the bottom foot of the six-foot tall roll outwards and weighed this skirt down with heavy slabs of wood (leftover bits from when we had our logs milled). This is to keep out the rabbits and other digging critters. I’m also going to attach some ribbons of flagging tape to increase visibility for the deer, and also string a line of twine about 6 inches above the top of the wire, to discourage the more adventurous jumpers. I managed to get three sides done before I ran out of wire, but I’ve since exchanged the faulty one, so when it stops pouring and I can get outside again I will put in the remaining posts and finish the job. The trickiest part will be building a gate, and I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to do that yet but I have some ideas. Meanwhile, nothing seems to have gotten to the seedlings yet, and my fingers are crossed that they won’t notice this little bit of haute cuisine amongst the lush field of clover and grass before I can get things sealed up. I’m also planning to “refresh” another bed, since it actually didn’t take long at all, and plant the seeds I bought as well as pick up some more as I come across them. It feels really good to know that all that hard work last fall was not in vain. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever do that again (I’ll happily hand over the money for a man with a Bobcat), but it was a good learning experience.

In other news, Husband has started wiring up the pig pasture, and I’ve been going out to clear away logs, poles, and other debris from the pasture area. The pigs are due here in about 3 weeks and we’re eager to see some little critters running around here again.

And, in other exciting news, when I went to the farm supply store to get stuff for the garden, I enquired about ordering meat birds (chickens). Turns out there’s a 3 week turnaround time, so I put in my order for 25 Cornish Cross chicks. I now have a deadline to get a brooder set up, and two weeks beyond that to get the chicken tractors constructed. With our increased meat consumption it will be wonderful to have a freezer full of broilers by end of summer.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. It’s a lot of work starting a homestead from scratch – I admire your perseverance! Just think of how much easier the spring planting routine will be when you have all the infrastructure in place.

    We had deer-fencing adventures last year – I think we might have had the same crew in to do some fencing for us as you had – and even once the fence was built we still had incursions into our orchard. When we went looking for advice it was all conflicting: for example, use flags for more visibility vs. don’t use flags to keep them guessing. Argh! It turns out we just have especially athletic, Houdini-like deer in our neck of the woods…

    Reply

  2. Good for you! So satisfying just to put a few things in the ground. When you’re ready to expand the veggie patch, don’t forget you’ve got some of the best tillers around–the pigs! They were what people used to use to clear, till and manure new ground. Wish we could give it a try on our Vancouver Island clay!

    Reply

  3. […] the soil somewhat over winter. By spring I had sunken beds that needed intense chopping and hoeing to become suitable for planting. Despite these failures we did get some early salad greens and we’re still enjoying tomatoes, […]

    Reply

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