Saturday, January 30

Where we Stand on the Garden

We had a visitor today who spent a good 15 minutes perched on our solar panels. Truthfully, we have a lot of visitors on any given day, but if you've seen one black-capped chickadee......

He sat there looking things over, casting glances at the chicken coop, but my rooster, Cornwallis, is very protective of his ladies. He had them inside away from danger. So he spent the time conducting a survey of my sleeping vegetable garden and side field and generally the wet and muddy mess.

With this unusually mild winter we have had here in upstate New York, there is plenty of mud and muck to go around. So instead of bundling up in snow boots and heavy coats, I slipped on the new black Tractor Supply farm boots that my parents got me for Christmas and went out to take garden measurements.

Where we stand on the garden:

I have one main vegetable garden that is fully fenced and consists of all raised beds. This has been a gradual process since we moved here which started with a plowed up section of weedy field measuring 6 foot by 10 foot. Garden evolution happened, as it does every year, and I currently have a 50 foot by 30 foot garden composed of raised beds giving me around 1100 sq. ft. of gardening space.

I have come to prefer raised beds over tilling the ground for several reasons. First, our tiller is a heavy piece of machinery that I really can not handle in our rocky and uneven soil. Secondly, my two main crops every year we tilled were weeds and rocks. I spent so much time weeding that it took a lot of the enjoyment out of working in the garden and given that we do not use any type of chemical weed control, our weeds were strong and mighty. Weeding in a raised bed is so much easier for me. Finally, I am drawn to the uniform look of the raised beds. I like the way I am able to trim the grass on the pathways in between them. And it allows more time for planting and maintaining the actual crops I am trying to grow rather than spending all my time weeding and tilling and not being thrilled with the look for the finished product.

I also like how I can control the soil much better with the raised beds. I put a thick layer of plain brown cardboard down first to block the weeds and grass. Then I load on a mix of mature chicken manure, chopped up fall leaves and any other compost I have around the property. Last I fill up the bed with soil. Depending on the time of year and my current financial status, I my soil can come from the garden center out on the main road, our neighbor who runs a landscaping company or dirt from different areas on the property. Weed seeds are present in all of them so I am by no means weed free, but they are significantly less.

This past fall our new neighbor's house was being constructed and as part of that the water and power companies had to clear and trench two separate paths to the road for the utilities. One of these trenches was directly on the property line which should have required an easement and permission granted from us. However, since the bureaucratic system of town government is annoying and seldom gets anything right, they 'overlooked' this requirement in that we were never contacted.

The end result - lots of dirt. Really, really nice dirt. Dirt that had been piled up 11 years previously with lots of composting materials when a farm driveway was put in. Those large dirt piles just happened to be in the path of the water line, and on our property.

We spent an entire weekend hauling that wonderful, rich, mostly rock free soil to my garden and we filled all the new raised beds. We added soil to the existing beds, filled in depressions and holes in our yard and I added it to my flower and herb gardens.

And now they are all sitting empty waiting for St. Patrick's Day when I will plant my peas. It is supposed to be lucky to plant them on this day and given that I am partly of Irish lineage, I probably should abide by tradition. And, when it comes to the garden, I need all the lucky I can get.

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