Saturday, April 14, 2007

Garden prep in words and pictures

So, like a good gardener, I did some soil preparation last fall for this year's big veggie garden. I piled up all the wood ash, manure, straw, and organic matter I could find. Like a bad gardener, some would say, I rented a rototiller and tilled it all in, with as little tilling as I could. The turf was torn up and incorporated into the rows, and in the end, the soil tilth looked pretty good - small and crumbly. I covered a good bit of it with straw and called it a season. All that was left was to wait for Spring to arrive.

Or so I thought. After pulling back the straw, here's what I ended up with:

Turns out, you can't overcome the clayey nature of clay quite that easily. So, back to work.

I went after the first row with a broadfork. In this heavy clay, it ends up working more like a very large shovel, but that's ok. A bit of hard labor, and I managed to get to this point:

Better, but still tough to plant in. What was really needed was more organic matter. Lots more.

OEFFA to the rescue! After consulting my member directory, I found an organic dairy farmer about two miles away from me. A quick phone call and I was in luck. All the compost my pickup could carry. He was a little concerned that the texture of the compost wouldn't be what I expected - they don't screen it or anything, so it wouldn't look like what comes out of the bags at the garden center. I assured him that the stuff in bags never looks like I expect, and that coarse compost would be just fine.

More than fine, in fact. This stuff is gorgeous. (Leave it to a gardener to get misty-eyed over what used to be cow dung...)

So, more work, but at least this felt like significant progress. E5 had the ceremonial first scoop:

If you click to enlarge, you can see the fabled clothesline, a bunch of wonky 4x4 posts that will eventually morph (theoretically) into a lovely grape arbor, and a bright blue rain barrel destined for our pole barn (if it ever gets built!).

But back to the compost.

Oh yeah!

I had the ceremonial second through two-hundredth scoops, with some hundreds more to go. But hey, if I have to grow my veggies in pure, organic compost, so be it.

Aaahhh. Much better.

For what it's worth, this year's garden spot is apparently still in the subsoil zone, where they spread out the dirt they dug out for the foundation of our house. While digging holes for some peach trees, I discovered some much better soil about 50 feet further from the house. The top inch looks like the same awful clay, but below that is some much nicer, blacker, crumblier clay. Can you say "garden rotation"?

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At 4/14/2007 2:33 PM, Blogger Matt said...

That's awesome! I spent the day today shoveling compost. Strangely, it's more fulfilling than my normal job. And I see the results a lot better. Yeah!

At 4/14/2007 4:27 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Matt, I agree about it being more fulfilling. And the results are better to me too. If I could pay the mortgage with gardening, I'd quit my job.

At 4/14/2007 6:46 PM, Blogger Robbyn said...

Oh, wow, black gold!!! You can tell a real gardener cause they're the folks who covet barn poop. Gosh, all I can think of is how happy those plants are going to be...congrats!

At 4/15/2007 12:14 AM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Hey! I tagged you.


At 4/15/2007 9:38 AM, Blogger El said...

That compost IS gorgeous.

And about the clay: we have a similar situation here. This is our third year with the gardens and even after tons of amendments, including beach sand by the bucketfuls from a mile away, our soil still looks like yours does every spring when I pull the green manure mulch back...but dang, that clay grows some great veggies. Let's hope yours can, too.

(I also think there should be some kind of dispensation for using a tiller if you have clay soil. There was absolutely no way I would ever have been able to bust the sod without it, or at least before the snow started falling again.)

At 4/16/2007 9:01 AM, Blogger Morgan said...

When did you become so popular?

Nice dirt dude!


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