Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The almost no till garden

We are in the season of wild, weird windy weather.  After the ice storm we had a couple of 70 degree days.  After the catastrophe of last Tuesday, I decided that the best way to deal with a 70 degree day is to go outside and work all day.  It was wonderful.  Just what the doctor ordered.  

Toward the end of January, early Feb., for most of my adult life, I am drawn to an old, beat up hardcover green book:  HOW TO GROW VEGETABLE AND FRUIT BY THE ORGANIC METHOD, by JI Rodale.  For weeks I sketch out plans, make lists and otherwise prepare for the garden year.  Some years the garden was set out in cute little window boxes on our sixth floor apt balcony in Tokuyama, Japan.  Other years, in cute backyards and side yards in suburban neighborhoods in New Jersey and Fort Worth.  All looking forward to the farm.  So I have a few weeks under the belt this year studying my garden bible.  One method I wanted to try for years was the heavy mulch method of gardening.  When we moved to the farm we had terrible soil, but lots of old hay in the barn.  Thank goodness the child labor laws don't apply on the farm!  Thomas, Patrick, Maggie, and any other willing friend carried hundreds of wheel barrow loads of old hay, manure, chicken litter and any other "organic"matter we could find to dump on our garden beds.  After a few months we started to see our first worms.  Year two we found the soil much more amenable to planting.  

We expanded our garden quite a bit last year, to plant corn and squash.  Instead of a plow, we rented a rototiller.  It felt like tilling up concrete sidewalk.  Terrible.  Not a worm.  we planted anyway, and continued the heavy mulching.  Loads and loads of hay.  I like to think of it as not just soil building, but character building!  We harvested lots and lots of corn!  And butternut squash, and blackeyed peas.  

Sooooo, i decided to pull out the mantis mini rototiller and see how bad the tilling of the garden was going to be this year.  Especially since we expanded the site exponentially.  I had wanted to cover the whole area with hay and manure, but farm life doesn't always stop to let you catch up.  What a surprise!  The former garden spot that used to be like concrete is now black, loamy earth.  Full of worms.  Hallelujah.  That was my present for the day.  

We have decided to only till the rows, leave the space in between for walking, and figure out how to mulch the rows, just like last year.  It is time to plant peas and lettuce.  In another month we hope to plant broccoli, spinach, onions and potatoes and whatever else is on the master list.  Working on the garden....One of my favorite things.  The 70 degree days gave way to 70 mile per hour winds, rain, sleet and cold.  Perfect for cuddling up with my big green book.

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