After babbling on about "living on the edge without money" I haven't been able to write much lately because I've stumbled on more design work than I've had in 6 years!  It's all good tho! (mind yer speakers)

Anyway I want to talk a little about the garden.

Hickchic, one of my faithful readers (I always wanted to say that) and family are starting their little farm from scratch, what a pleasure that must be! We bought an old farm, the house is almost 100 years old and I'd bet the kitchen garden has essentially been in the same spot all those years - it's been there for at least 40 years anyway.

Our soil is a silty loam, 24-30" of topsoil over a limestone chert/silt-clay fragipan. On top it's only slightly acid but as you dig deeper it gets more acid. The former owners were Amish and I was surprised the garden was so devoid of organic matter when we arrived. This type soil is very tight and poorly drained without organic matter and the less it drains the more acid it gets and the less it drains. I'm no chemist but somehow the tiny grains of silt don't clump together as well when pH is low and this makes for very small air spaces, when the particles clump together it makes passage of air and water easier. Anyway, without much of anything organic, the soil took forever to dry and compacted like cement when it did.

Our first garden here beat us, plain and simple. We came from the Central Valley of California, where sandy soil and sparse rain means there really isn't much of a weed problem except where you water. Not so, here. In fact the first two years we were effectively run out of the garden by spiny amaranth which is really hard to eradicate unless you get it extremely young.

So one of my main criteria for locating the farm - over 35" of rain, was my first hurdle.

Since I'm not much of a cultivator and I don't like to use more chemicals than I need to, I decided to build some raised beds. I simply used the scraper blade on the little tractor to scrape 6-8in of topsoil from between the beds-to-be up onto the new beds. Here are a list of raised bed benefits:

  1. Drainage raises pH
  2. quicker warming in the spring
  3. less compaction
  4. easier to mulch a wide area than a narrow one
Raised beds do quite a few things, first in the way of pH, by scraping the path topsoil onto the bed topsoil they gave me a deeper layer of sweet soil (less acidic) instantly and because they promote drainage, the soil stays sweeter.

We've added lots of carbon as mulch - wood chips, straw, spoiled hay and also lots of well rotted manure and stirred it thoroughly each spring to get oxygen to the breakdown bugs. I'm very happy with the improved tilth and will probably not till most beds after this year - tilling is good for incorporating organics but every time you add carbon (the woody part of plants) and stir, the soil the bacteria that breaks down the plant material uses nitrogen to get started and will take it from the soil if you don't add enough. In fact, tilling can actually burn up more organic matter than you are adding by giving the aerobic bacteria a shot of oxygen, causing them to break down all your hard won compost really fast - just like in your compost pile.


hickchick said...

ha -we will see how pleasurable it is to garden on a heavy clay which has been in industrial ag for forever? It looked like it did well enough when it had 10 tons of liquid manure per acre applied 2x yearly. Thanks for the reminder- I need to get some soil sample for the local extension office to check for me. I look forward to getting to know our patch of dirt as well as you know yours!

Pops said...

I'm still learning about clay too, I'll try to post some pics of my learning this weekend...

dltrammel said...

I envy you your farm. I'm stuck in suburbia making due with the tiny plot of a duplex.

Though I rent, my landlord is a family friend and he's allowed me to put in several raised beds. Have 5 planned (21/2 in so far) each about 20 sq ft.

Missouri has alot of clay in the soil and the raised beds have allowed me to add compost and other stuff to get a really good soil for my vegetables.

And while I've gone a bit hog wild with the seeds, I'm looking forward to harvest time this Fall.

Best of luck with yours.