Tag Archives: mulch

Blissfall days

I had the best day today not building stairs.

I did all kinds of other things that needed doing, but not The Thing.  And those tend to be the best days.  A friend visit, sitting companionably with pet birds, and doing frost prep in the garden that’s going to sleep now under a thick blanket of mulch.

Two perfect fall days, crisp and bugless and sunny, and instead of the harvest pressure overwhelm, holding a sense of ease and “enough”-ness.

I may also be getting more sleep due to the shortening days – that may have something to do with the bliss.  It’s almost the “it’s either done or it’s not done, full stop” time, when you walk away regardless of “done”.

When I create any sawdust, the chickens are like “For me?! Don’t mind if I do!”

I could be all-seasoning my garden, but instead I’m putting it to bed.  Getting more out of the year will come later.  As I take in the late beans, etc, I’m thinking about all the things I’ll do different next year (More watermelons.  And orange and yellow tomatoes), the mistakes I’ll correct (plant melons later, they don’t like it cold) .  There’s always next year. It’s easy, and pleasant, to look forward to what will be bigger and better with the lately earned experience and knowledge, and it likely will.  But it’s nice to look back and recognize for a moment that it is better, now, than it was.

I’ve learned to garden some.  I grew cabbages.  I have a garden shed now.  My beds are really getting in order.  I’ve experienced the joy of sweeping a mulch blanket off a bed and finding it ready to plant.  No-till is awesome.  “No-work” is a crock of….  There’s a great deal of work, mostly upfront, and then the quality, weedless bed must be maintained – kept covered when not in use like a jar of milk, lest it grow unwanted things.

The Silkie chicks are at it too. Pepper perch!

Maybe it’s coming with age (or the decline of energy that, once boundless, must now be budgeted) .  I’m getting better at rationing my ambition.  It won’t all get done at once, or nearly as soon as I’d like to.  Given enough time, it will.  And it will be better along the way if I aim low.  Instead of how much can I fit in, I’m starting to think more like how little can I get away with planning to do?  (Oh, the tyranny of a plan!) I’d love to paint the house.  It needs it, blah blah, but hell, it can wait!  It will be great when it gets done, but not worth the weight of grimly determining to do it.  I’m not going to put that on a mental list yet, because it will be heavy there.  I’m choosing the lightness of unscheduled, and any time unscheduled is a win.  The time gets filled, with good and productive things, even things I might have planned, but it’s sweeter when it’s not on a list.  (I’ve known this forever.  It’s still elusive prey).

I’m thinking about my successes and gifts of the year, what I want to tweak: how I can spend more time with my friends?, hoping I can share out part of my greenhouse, how to ration out my time? (half a day seems to be the best maximum for focusing on any one project), will this be the year I finally get potatoes in the ground at fall?

How can I escape the September crush?  Because it’s bad.  Bad for me.  I want to never feel like that again, and it has been part of the annual routine since moving here.  And that, I think, is part of the adjustment that comes with diving into the farming life (along with, you’re going to suck at everything at first and make big mistakes).  I’ve got to find a new rhythm.  But I grew brussel sprouts, so I can learn to adjust my rhythm.  Give me time.

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

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The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Out with the green, in with the brown

Anticipating a big rain, I pushed through pulling nearly everything out of the garden and planting it in cover crops.

We already had a frost, so the squashes come out – their plants are fried despite covering them.  Covering only saved the fruits.  Of course the potatoes, already late, have to come out avant deluge, or they will all rot.

Now everything is bedded in mulch where garlic will go in before too long, or else seeded.  Not a speck of green where I don’t want it to be.

In no time, it will all come up in a fine green mist of mostly winter rye.

There are few tactile pleasures to rival plunging a hand into a sack of seed and hand broadcasting it:)

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Planting in the greenhouse

Finally, I’ve planted the greenhouse.  Sheesh.  Embarrassingly late, but it is a season extender, after all.

We had to build screen doors for the greenhouse to keep the hens out before I could plant in there, too.

A while ago, we threw a truckload of wood chips in there, hoping to mitigate the baking of the already packed down bare soil (post chicken habitation all winter).

It worked far better than I expected.  The chickens have been in there still, especially on rainy days, kicking around the chips, which are so light and crispy dry in the heat of the greenhouse that I worried if it was a fire hazard.

However, when I raked away the chips from a swathe of dirt for a garden bed, the soil was dark and moist.  Wow!  Best of all, no sod!  The hens took care of that this winter.

Exactly as planned.

The top crust of dirt is very black (due to hen fertilizing, I’m sure), and since there is no meaty layer of tangled roots, the broadfork worked completely differently.  Instead of lifting out a big chunk of sod, it just sank in and made a line of neat holes.  Like sticking a fork into a pumpkin pie.  More or less just a big aerator.

So I did a pass with the broadfork/sodbreaker, and then a once over with a pitchfork, to lift and loosen it a bit.  I did not bother turning it, or making it all fine and crumbly garden soil, just disturbed it a bit.  Lazy.  Plus I think the soil is super moist and properly strata-ed already, so the abundant worms will keep it as loose as it needs.  time will tell.

The chickens were in the greenhouse with me, very well behaved (ie, ignoring my starts).  I had one sharp-eyed shadow, though, watching every plunge of my fork for any glimpse of a worm in the cracks of the upheaved earth.  She’d pull them out as neatly as pulling a sewing needle.

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Winter Rye

Sowed winter rye on all the beds that are getting it today.  It could have been earlier, but I think still ok.  It was strangely blissful.

Clearing the beds of all weeds, casting the grains, sprinkling them with dirt to cover.

The soil looks really good, full of worms, nicely friable.  I’m sure happy we dug so many beds this spring.  Now the beds are about one third in rye, one third in heavy mulch, and four beds will be in garlic in a couple weeks time.

 

Coop Management

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In addition to the chicken making mulch cycle, I have a coop bedding strategy that works really well for me, and takes next to no time.  The birds are in a pretty small coop, and they sleep all clustered together, so the night’s prodigious pooping gets concentrated.
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The birds like to perch to sleep on the edge of the nesting boxes, and depending on which way they point, they might poop in the box.  They avoid laying in the dirty boxes, but rarely foul more than one a night.

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Every day when I collect eggs I toss any poop or soiled nest box bedding onto the main floor, and that tends to cover the night’s mess.  If they get low I put in a couple handfuls of new grass, ripped from the ground nearby.  Easy.  Clean feet means clean eggs, so it’s important to keep the coop well-tended so the birds aren’t wading through their own poop on the way to the box.

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Every few days, I cut down some of the tall field weeds (a few seconds with the scythe), and pile it in on the floor of the coop into a soft, clean, green springy bed.  It smells wonderful, especially if I get a stray sprig of mint.  Any handfuls of finer stuff will top up the nest boxes.

The bedding weeds dry out and shrivel up, becoming a poop and carbon lasagna.

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Periodically, like once a month, I take out the whole black composting floor mat and take it to the garden in the wheelbarrow.  It’s so mat-like I can practically roll it up.  Anything remaining falls through the mesh that forms the floor of the coop.  I add a layer of fresh green weeds and begin again.

To recap, I put clean grass into the nest boxes and  throw dirty nest box grass onto the floor of the coop, covering the daily poop.  Every week I put a serious thick layer of fresh weeds that really spruces it up in there.  Monthly I remove the composting result to the garden.

clean Silkie coop
clean Silkie coop

I’m not sure what we’ll keep it going with in the winter.  Perhaps I’ll just scythe down half the field before the snow flies.  True deep bedding method means allowing the bedding to compost for months and shovelling it out in the spring.  The bedding generates heat through decomposition, which is not a summer concern.  My adaptation is just a super easy way of keeping the coop clean.

Chickens Make Mulch

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Yeah, we do. We made this!

Since our laying chickens get to roam wild and free wherever they want, we are hardly putting them to work in every way we could.  Sure, they make manure compost and lay eggs, but we haven’t asked them to kill sod for garden beds, or put them in a tractor for deliberate fertilizing.  They make mulch for me, though.

Before
Before
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During

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After (two feedings)
After (two feedings)

All I have to do is feed them twice in the same place, by scattering their breakfast grain in a grassy place.  They are so vigorously committed to finding every last crumb that they tear up the grass, it dries, and I collect it with a rake.  Clean, soft, dry garden-ready mulch.  Maybe with a little bit of bonus chicken poop.  Could not be easier.

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Chicken approved

 

Garden beginnings

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We are beavering away at the task of putting in a garden.  Priority one: attention to food.  Even though we have no illusions about productivity this year, it’s important to start.

We got off to a poor start- an unusually late frost took out all the tomato starts we’d put in.

We’ve tried a couple methods:  1) digging small holes to put a plant in, and surrounding it by cardboard and mulch.  Over time and continued mulch-piling, ground around will soften up into a bed.  Saves time, but no good at all for seeds.  Good for squash.  2) plastic mulch. Pure experiment.  Neighboring farmer offered us the waste plastic off of his hay bales – those ubiquitous white haybales that dot fields in the fall – and we spread it around to see if it would knock back the sod cover.  So far, the results are not conclusive, nor impressive.  The plastic,is multiple layers of white plastic like saran wrap, only layered up a quarter inch thick on a finished bale, and cut off so the waste plastic has an open clamshell shape.  It’s heavy and insulating, but may be letting light through because it’s white.  3) digging.  We have our labor-saving, painless technique down pat now, with this wicked sod-breaker from Lee ValleyIMGP6853

H.W. goes through with the sod breaker, standing on it and tipping it back and forth, three widths of the tool wide and as long as the bed.

H.W. has to do this part, because I can’t.  I’ve tried, and I’m not strong or heavy enough to plunge the tines into the dirt.  I  jump up and down and get it a whole three inches deep in the ground and teeter there on it, and H.W. laughs and laughs, and calls me a “little feather”, which I can’t say I’ve been called before.  One of many things it emerges I can’t do without him.  IMGP6861Then the sod chunks fall apart and we shake the soil out of them with our hands and digging fork, and shape the bed. IMGP6867 Makes a picture perfect, sod and root-free bed of soil that you’d never guess was just broken from ground unworked for 15 years.   IMGP6879Then we seed it.  If we maintain our beds compaction free, heavily mulched, top-dressed and cover-cropped, we will never have to till again.

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Rooster approved

It’s not horrible work and doesn’t take very long.  Well, after rain it’s much less easy and fun – the sod is heavy and matted; yet it’s still doable in the rain, and we are aiming for steady continuity, not to do it all at once and burn out.

We are aiming for four garden beds a week in June, and that will break a respectable area for this year, easily on top of all the other work we need to do.  Next year we can do the same and double our garden.  So far, six beds.

All hail the mulch

Have I raved enough about mulch yet?  After not setting foot in my garden for four weeks (ahem), I can walk a lap around it and pull every blade of grass in about 15 minutes.  Which is lucky because that’s about how long you can survive the mosquitoes.

Can almost keep your feet moving. Hands up non mulchers who can weed any 4-week neglected garden that fast.  Even the weeds grow in the controlled rows.  I think they’re trying to hide.  (Grass):  “I’m an onion!  No, really!”

The garden is interesting.  In a complete inversion of last year, almost everything that thrived last year is failing this year and vice versa.  Continue reading All hail the mulch

Mulch is magic!

Stressing over the garden underwater was all for naught; it’s as though it never flooded, perhaps it even benefited.  I won’t worry about my location again; it’s all good.

Interestingly, I got my garden in on the exact same day that I did last year.  It’s perfect weather, raining every night.  Except that could be too wet for the beans.

For some reason, everything seems so easy this year!  I give mulch the credit.  Mulch is magic, I say.  There are two downsides, that I can tell:  it would suck if you had to acquire and transport straw instead of having it constantly available as a waste by-product of horse ownership, and it doesn’t work for scatter seeding or plants that reseed themselves.  Which is also an upside, since that’s how most weeds operate.

I just don’t get non-mulchers.  What, do you like weeding? It’s so easy.  Pile on the straw, leave it there, never weed, never till, and when you want to plant something, rip apart the blanket of mulch to expose the soil where you want to seed.   The upper surface reflects the baking heat of the sun, the interface with the soil retains moisture and warmth so you can water less often and more effectively. It  composts and produces warmth, prevents erosion, blocks out the sun so nothing grows where you don’t want it to, and contributes carbon to the soil; the worms literally carry it down into the dirt which aerates it.  I can see it happening; under the top dry surface of my straw mulch, the straw is brittle and crumbling, and under that it is wet and black and hard to tell sometimes what is straw and whats earth. There are endless worms, thriving on the very surface of the dirt, and the soil is much darker than it was last year after my laborious amending.  Not black yet, but dark brown; I’m really pleased.  Continue reading Mulch is magic!

Bunches of onions

I finally winterized the garden,  plucking the last plucky tufts of grass, planting garlic, and pulling all the limp and slimy frozen plants- the dead squash plants like dirt-smelling octopi and the wiggly tomato root networks like Medusa wigs.  I took down the remaining trellises and spread still more hay.  For the second time this year the garden looks like an unkempt haypile.

It was very satisfying to have such a warm day in November, to be patiently separating grass shoots from the bunching onions in the warm sun while Mucky lay dozing near me, standing up in alarm when I knocked the dirt off my trowel.  I have a soft spot for bunching onions, since they produce endlessly like bamboo and return year after year, lasting well past frost.   I planted these from seed, so they won’t get firmly established until next year.  Now they’re delicate and spindly and faintly pungent, and the grass is trying to hide among them like cuckoo chicks, pretending “no, I’m an onion!”  It takes time to sort them all out.

I’m happy with the soil.  It can’t decide if it’s sandy or clayey in places, but it’s rich with worms pulling the straw down, and more loose and black than I had hoped for first year soil.  I’m looking forward to building it more with compost and leaf waste, and expect it to be very impressive a year from now.

I’m opting for not turning the dirt at all, at least in most of the garden, letting the worms and roots do the work, avoiding compacting it anywhere, and planning to topdress it liberally.

Regarding my choice to use old hay, which is abundant and available, for mulch instead of more highly recommended straw which has no seeds in it: this year at least I can report excellent results.  The hay is not seeding itself wildly.  It does seem to introduce grasses, but they are sparse and challenged and start out so fragile and weakly rooted that it is nearly effortless to stay on top of it.  Even neglecting it all for months at a time when I travelled; I have never weeded less.  Completely unlike trying to conquer grass when it grows up from beneath, when you can pull and struggle, and suspect that the grass has a vast sub-surface network rivalling the complexity of the London Underground and it plans to completely defeat you (it will).

Therefore, my field tests indicate: old hay as mulch is a success.

Eventually

I had a big pre-snow afternoon.  The temperatures are hovering 2-5 degrees above zero at night now, and the snow is close enough now to be imagined covering everything, so now is the time to clean the yard of anything that you don’t want to have to deal when it melts next year.

My main goal of the day was to mulch the potatoes that I’m leaving in the ground, and also to take down my upside down tomatoes that were becoming very unsightly.

Here’s how that went.

First I need to put the trickle charger on my battery but before I move my truck I should load in the stuff I need tomorrow, and to do that I need to unhitch the trailer, and then I see the compost is full when I’m looking for a wrench to undo the battery. I might as well dump the compost on my way to the garden, and there’s also garbage; I might as well load that up too but the bags are ripping, and on my way to get more garbage bags I see some plastic by the side of the garage that should go to the dump too and then the whole side of the garage is piled with wood and ancient tires and garbage that were here when we moved in, and I sort and load all of that junk and move the wood into the scrap wood shed, and then I notice a snarl of fencing and barbed wire to drag to someplace better, and then when I move the tires to the tire pile, I see some more plastic in the woods and follow the trail of garbage that some bear dragged away and distributed long ago, and then if I’m loading up for the dump now I might as well address the old slash pile, and clean up the old wood and berry brambles on that, and after that, then I should move all the ash so the burn scar could rehab to grass, and for that I need the wheelbarrow.

That’s the first time I got near the garden, because that’s where the wheelbarrow was.
Continue reading Eventually

Dirty hands

Time to close up the garden for the year.  Weeding, banking up the carrots and beets and potatoes that will stay in the ground for now; waiting for a few last vegetables to expire before I rip them out.

My happy discovery of the day was the state of the haypile that’s been sitting there all year, melting slowly into the ground.  I’ve been using the “new” waste hay all summer for mulch, but now I can get rid of the eyesore midfield haypile and there’s enough of it to thickly cover the whole garden.  I expected it to be slimy and rotten and more or less returning to dirt, but it’s completely not.   Parts of it are dry, and then near the bottom the straw is falling into black soil, but none of it is sour or slimy at all.  Totally mulchirific.

Also today I fell the dead danger tree with a distinct lean towards the barn, big check on the backcut side, and a twist at the base.  It needed to come down before a Bella Coola style storm rolls in to us, because then it would come down of it’s own accord on the barn.

It really intimidated me at first, since it’s been years since I fell any trees, indeed, spent all day, day after day, falling trees, back when I knew everything and was missing the wiring for fear and respect. I can still frame a wall my dad would find no flaw with, but can I still fall a tree exactly where I want it to go? Continue reading Dirty hands

Garden, R.I.P.

I can’t say I didn’t expect it.

What I didn’t expect was that it would go down to deer.  Not weeds, or lack of water.  Deer utterly destroyed the garden, and more so by trampling it than eating it.  It looked like a herd thundered through it.  Mucky must’ve had an off day to allow this.

Even with the destruction and inconvenient conclusion that a deer fence is vital, guard horse notwithstanding, I’m happy with my gardening success this year, and even post-deer, there are quite a few meals on the ground.

The scarlet runners were as fail-safe as always, and many escaped the depredations.  I’m sorry I missed the amazingly quick spiral climb they do up their trellises.  The other beans and peas, despite being completely defoliated (by the looks of the stalks, they were quite healthy before attack), forced out a fair number of pods.  Celery- healthy, ignored, but not long like you’d buy in the store at all.  All leaf.

The corn are the most successful and unmolested vegetables, if you don’t count the zucchini that won’t fit in the fridge.  I’m already wise enough to only plant one zucchini.  A megalomaniac  among squash, they are.  Tomatoes, trampled, although my upside down tomatoes are passably successful.  Possibly too much water.  They aren’t reddening, although I hear everyone’s tomatoes are doing that.

I got the cutest, perfect cucumber- amazing considering total neglect and trampling.  I’m surprised it had enough heat, likewise for the jalapeno peppers, which also came through.  My favorite of the flight-of-fancy plants, though, is the watermelon.  At the end of a gnarled, shriveled, pale thread of a stalk, a perfect, green sphere of a watermelon, exactly the size of a softball.  ♥! Continue reading Garden, R.I.P.

Mulch rules!

All that garden, and I can “weed” it in minutes, the first time I’ve weeded at all since planting almost a month ago.  By weeding I mean pluck out the few visible wisps of grass seeded by the hay, and only where the mulch is too thin.  So I spent more time piling on more hay.  It’s melting fast into the ground.

I planted garlic far too late.  About six months too late.  I had these luscious heads from West Coast Seeds that were delivered last September.  But I was moving last September, so I took them with me, and we didn’t move in here until spring, and then built the garden late, so I end up guiltily contemplating these heads of garlic in June.  It seems a shabby way to treat  six beautiful heads of Russian heritage garlic.  I rationalized that they spent the winter in temperature uncontrolled storage, so they definitely froze, and they’ve been in the dark, and they certainly won’t be any good next year.  Some of them were trying to grow, in that way that onions forgotten in the crisper do.  So I planted them, deep.  All over through the tomatoes.  It looks like a gopher was punching holes in the mattress of mulch.  I figure, we’ll never know if they’ll work or not without trying.  Sure enough, the more advanced cloves are already punching through.

I love the way there are so many types of green.  Celery green, bean green, pea green, garlic scape green, squash leaf green, corn green, and tomatoes hold multitudinous greens just among themselves.

Since it’s all a giant experiment, I’m interested in observing what does well in the clay and manure soil I concocted.  So far, potatoes are flourishing, and beans are the happiest of all.  Peas are coming well, and the squashes are ok.  The seed lettuce is struggling, which I didn’t expect, while the lettuce from starts is generally just fine, red romaine much happier than the leaf lettuces.  The carrots are really showing poorly, spinach even worse, and the tomatoes are expressing their displeasure, although still growing.  All else is average.

I spoke too soon about the internet.  It lasted four days, and then- kaput!  Lost to the unsolvable snow leopard glitch.

Everything’s up.

This is the grape vine on the barn, earlier this year

Today or yesterday, everything popped the surface in the garden.  Peas, beans, radishes, clover-esque kale sprouts, tiny blades of beet leaves and green hairs of carrots.  The onions are charging away.  So satisfying.  They made it!  Wasn’t too rainy for the beans, or too exposed for the carrots.

I haven’t been too ambitious.  I had a lot of unassigned garden space that I bought random starts for at the garden supply, chosen by what interested me.  A cucumber, and celery, which I consider exotic, and two watermelon plants that are a flight of fancy.  I have high hopes, though, and they are looking transparently plump with water and thickly endowed with white prickle hairs.  They look like happy watermelon plants.

The hay mulch is introducing grass by seed, but the tiny grass seedlings are the most vulnerable sprouts of all, easily swept away, totally unlike the rhizome-rooted counterparts that look innocuous when young and tiny, but are really just the surfacing tip of a diabolical rampaging root system.