This past weekend we finally got some lovely warm spring-like weather, the kind that makes you feel like the last place you want to be is indoors (especially when “indoors” is a small metal box with few windows!). So, after enjoying a fabulous riding lesson on Saturday, on Sunday I left the kids to their own devices and headed out to my garden. I brought with me an old radio that I picked up from a friend a few years ago (it had belonged to her mother) for the express purpose of listening to while gardening, and I hauled out the extension cord from the garage. Rex Murphy, host of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, kept me company and even though the topic was Canadian politics I couldn’t have been happier given where I was.
You may recall that last season ended with an experiment in soil building. I had tried two different methods of building up my raised (actually sunken) beds: the lasagna method and planting a green cover crop. Unfortunately the cover crop never germinated, which was predictable given the seeds were a year old and had been covered in innoculant all that time. However, I was so thrilled with the results of the lasagna method that I am putting aside thoughts of small seeded fava beans and winter rye and looking forward to piling up a new stash of paper feed bags this summer.
For a brief review, I layered paper feed bags, partially rotted compost, some partially rotted straw, and dried Big Leaf Maple leaves, covering it all up with soil dug up from the walking trails in our woods. As winter progressed it was hard to remember what it had originally looked like (see the post I linked to above) and it seemed to me that not much was going on. I had taken a quick peek a few weeks ago and it seemed that things were okay under there, but it was only Sunday that I headed out with a digging fork to see what I’d really ended up with.
Black gold, it truly was. Not only was there no sign whatsoever of the paper feed bags or the straw, but whatever critters had come to digest the lasagna I’d laid out for them had dug deep down, too. I found myself thrilling to the experience of putting my fork into our soil and seeing it go all the way up to the hilt with no resistance in most parts.
Even in the “shallow” parts I had a good 10 inches of softness. You must understand that I live in an area that was formerly scoured by glaciers, which left behind rocks, rocks, and more rocks. You literally cannot put a shovel into many areas on our property because there are simply too many rocks in the soil. I just about broke my back digging those beds two years ago, but even after that it was difficult to stick a shovel in there more than about 4 – 6 inches; there was little decent growing soil.
Now I was forking up a nice deep layer of rich, black soil (not forking over: I am using a no-till method where you simply “fluff” the soil by sticking in a fork and pulling it back a touch; and this only because the beds are still new). I couldn’t be happier. Last year I dragged home bags of sea soil (at no small cost, either). As I stood there staring at this lovely stuff I’d made from scraps, it astounded me that people would actually pay for what you could get for free and with virtually no effort. It took me one afternoon to make up the lasagnas, and all winter long as I snuggled indoors the bugs and micro-organisms were busy at work, turning our waste into nourishing soil that will feed our family.
I ended up raking the leaves (I was surprised at how many were still left more or less intact) and piling them in corners of the garden for use later. I sprinkled some complete organic fertilizer on the beds before forking them so that the powdery nutrients would drop down into the crevices. I plucked out a few garlic shoots that had sprung up from cloves tossed in the compost last year, chuckled at the avocado skins I could still see here and there (and the eggshells – they don’t seem to decompose very well), but otherwise the beds are ready for planting. But I was still wanting to hang out in the garden, where I’d ditched my wool hat and fleece sweatshirt only minutes into my efforts (first T-shirt weather of the year!). So I prepared another bed, one that hadn’t been lasagna’d, by running a small hoe through it. Since the area was fenced this year we had no wild animals tromping through and compacting the soil, so even though the soil isn’t as deep as in the other beds at least it was soft and easy to run the hoe through. Not many weeds at this time of year but I wanted to get a good start on things and I do so enjoy using a hoe.
After having done all that I was eager to actually plant something but hadn’t been to the seed store yet, and since I didn’t feel like driving that day I rummaged through what seeds I had left from years prior and picked out anything that said I could plant it now. I ended up with some Pac Choi, Spinach, and red leaf lettuce. Who knows if they will germinate well, since I can’t remember how old they are, but I just had to plant something! I put them in one of the beds I hadn’t “lasagna’d”, just in case they didn’t do well. I’m saving the good beds for the seeds I buy fresh this year (just did that today and got a bunch of great stuff from the West Coast Seeds rack at the local feed and garden store*). I can’t wait for the next warm sunny day to go out and plant some more food!
Unfortunately, the two beds where the soil is great are where I planted my tomatoes last year and I firmly believe in crop rotation, so this year’s tomatoes won’t get the best of the beds. However, last year the tomatoes did pretty well given the state of the soil last year, so even if they only do the same this year I’ll be happy.
And you can best believe that this fall I’ll be doing the lasagna on all five of my raised beds. I’ll save cover cropping for when I have a good deep layer of soil built up. Here’s to sunny days in the garden and growing your own food!
(*am I the only one who looks at flower seeds and thinks “what is the point of spending money on that if you can’t eat it?”; I’m either showing my lack of experience with gardening or I’m just a diehard farm girl who thinks anything we buy for the place should do a job)