Day 182 – that’s not supposed to be growing

182We were out weeding the garden today and I was weeding/strawing down the potato rows.  Came across this little beauty of a “weed” and after a little searching, discovered that it’s hairy vetch, one part of the spring manure mix that we put on that garden row last year (we left one fallow row and overseeded it with the mix – field peas, hairy vetch and oats).  It’s not supposed to be a perennial, so it was a definite surprise to find it!  It’s not really in the way where it’s growing, so I’m going to leave it be.

Leaving a row fallow gives the soil a break from feeding greedy plants.  Putting a manure mix on the row keeps exposed soil from eroding, the roots break up any hard-packed soil under the surface, and the plants themselves give nutrients back to the soil (both by growing and by being tilled under when it’s time to plant that row).  So it’s not really manure as in animal poo, but manure as in nutrients for the soil.  Plant it, let it grow, till it under, and badabing – you have better soil and better crops.


Day 160 & 161 – onions and tomatoes, beans and corn

160We planted onion seeds as a cover crop in our tomato row, not expecting much, especially since the onion seeds were planted first and then disturbed by planting the tomatoes (we’ll plant tomatoes first, then a cover crop next year!).  It’s been cool enough that things just aren’t jumping up and growing, but the onion sees sprouted.  They are clumped up because we dug holes for the tomato plants, but they are there (left side of the picture, the thin little stalks).  We’ll thin them out as they grow, to give some growing room. A (so far!) successful experiment, and one that we will probably repeat next year.

Planting cover crops and companion planting food crops are good things to do – cover crops keep the ground from drying out on hot summer days, and if they are a food crop (like the onions), you’ve just multi-tasked your garden space.  Probably the most well-known companion planting is “Three Sisters” planting that the Native Americans used – a corn, a squash, and a climbing bean.  The corn grows up, the squash grows out (crowding out the weeds and keeping the soil shaded and cool),and the bean climbs the corn.  Just another reason to not believe that “primitive” = dumb.

IMG_0243Here is our experiment with 2 of the 3 sisters – beans and corn.  We planted 4 rows of corn, with 3 rows of beans (beans – corn – corn – beans – corn – corn – beans).  The corn is being pretty pokey right now, and you can see the beans are starting to spread their leaves.  If all works according to plan, the corn will grow (hopefully faster!), and we will train the beans around the cornstalks.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this works!

Trust me, not all of the experiments work – too hot, too cold, too much/not enough rain, planted too early/too late.  We plant, we experiment, we learn what works for our garden, and the joy of harvest keeps us going through all the challenges.



Day 124 – polyculture

It’s not just our farm that is polyculture – we are as well!

Congratulations to Dennis and all of the authors in Flights of Fiction, a collection of short stories set in the greater Dayton area.  We were at the release party last night, hosted by Blue Jacket Books in Xenia.

Pick up your copy here!

Broadforking and policulture

Over the winter, I came across an interesting concept while reading Eliot Coleman‘s Four Season Harvest: the idea of using a broadfork to loosen soil instead of a tiller to grind it. As it turns out–and anyone who has played in the dirt for any length of time probably already knows this–what we call “top […] Continue reading

Over the winter, I came across an interesting concept while reading Eliot Coleman‘s Four Season Harvest: the idea of using a broadfork to loosen soil instead of a tiller to grind it.

As it turns out–and anyone who has played in the dirt for any length of time probably already knows this–what we call “top soil” exists in strata that has very specific and different properties based on depth. In a wild environment, plants  take advantage of each of these strata in entirely different ways, but when we till our gardens, we blend these strata together and deprive our garden plants of the ability to use them. Further, by blending these layers, we churn deeply buried weed seeds to the surface and create an environment where broadleaf weeds can thrive.

The damage tilling does is not finished with just the previous effects. Tilling exposes deep dirt, that because of its organic content holds moisture, to the air and sun, which causes it to dry and lose some of its properties, hence the reason so many gardeners have to water so intensively during the summer and fall. In addition, exposing this deep dirt exposes fragile compounds usually protected from oxidization and sunlight to both, causing them to decay into other compounds that are not as beneficial to plants.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, and this idea goes further than even Coleman does, tilling destroys soil covering plants like sort grasses, clovers, and other ground plants that help prevent soil erosion, help maintain a proper ground temperature for growing, help retain water in the soil, and help prevent weed plants from taking root.

Now, I understand that most gardeners will balk at what I am suggesting here, yet the conclusion is almost unavoidable: tilling our gardens (and our agricultural fields) is bad and counterproductive. And, the evidence is all around us.

Find a wild grass area and study it closely. What you will find is an amazing policulture environment containing dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of individual species of plants that all somehow managed to grow together without tilling, fertilizing, herbicides, pesticides, or mechanical watering. They are able to do so because they work together in a meaningful way to produce soil conditions constantly receptive to new growth.

Using a broadfork to loosen ground, in addition to other techniques such as intensive and cooperative planting, help a gardener (and a farmer) come much closer to mimicking natures course than anything machines might be able to do. By using such techniques, a gardener  promotes soil health and soil growth without having to add too much to what is already there.

Of course, this kind of technique comes with a price, as does everything: it is far more labor intensive than the garden tiller, yet I cannot help but imagine most of us could use the extra work.


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