Gardening

My New Year’s Resolution Type Thing

Well, I wouldn’t call it a resolution, exactly. I’ve never been very good at those. It’s like an annual Set-Yourself-Up-For-Failure tradition that I just can’t get into. I could choose a word or a theme or whatever the trend is now, but as cool as they all sound, they all just boil down to one thing: me trying really hard not to be me until I slip into enough of my old habits to just be me again.

So this year, I’m choosing a focus. The last several years, my focus has been chosen for me by the unpredictable and demanding nature of grief. It went from just getting through the day, to just “the next thing,” to improving our animal husbandry in between everything else that goes along with homeschooling six children while running a small hobby farm.

My focus this year is going to be on the garden.

It has limped along since we first moved here, suffering from lack of weeding and lack of fertilizing and lack of any effective means of fighting the annual plague of the squash bug. Each year we make headway. We get a little more produce, but continue to be frustrated with how much more we could get if we had more time and resources to build the soil, tend the crops and keep up with the weeding.

And so far, my Don’t-Call-It-A-Resolution-But-A-Focus thing is going really well. I circled all the seeds I wanted in a seed catalog, made a plan for the garden and put in an order. I even made a colorful little garden map on the computer because then it is really official.

garden layout

OK, so “up” is actually west on this little map, but it doesn’t really matter. The squares on the bottom represent the 4′ X 4′ raised beds we’re going to make this winter and fill with spent hay, straw, compost, manure and topsoil. I actually have enough room for nine if I leave two feet in between them, but nine didn’t look so tidy on my diagram and diagrams are all about the looks. The kids are each going to grow the salad veggies they like best in their boxes and I’m going to grow peppers in the rest.

In June, we’re supposed to be getting 40 broilers. Now, I don’t really have a good place to put 40 broilers. That’s a lot of chickens and they do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can’t roam. They do a fair amount of damage to pasture if they can roam because they’re so big and lazy, they don’t generally roam even when they can. But that, combined with this lady, gave me the idea to just put their pen in one section of the garden. They can eat and drink and scratch and poo to their hearts’ content, occasionally catching a bug and devouring every green thing that dares pop up in the pen for the nine weeks we have them. They’ll leave it lightly tilled and heavily fertilized when they move to the freezer and I can follow them with a cover crop.

The next year, everything will move up (west) one section so the squash (the heaviest feeder) will always follow the chickens. In seven years, the entire garden will have benefited from having the fertilizing devotion of chickens for an entire growing season. And without even setting out to do so, that little section will get the seventh year rest mentioned in Leviticus.

OK, so I think that actually says to leave your entire land to rest, but we’re not exactly Torah observant here at Roscommon Acres.

The rest of the garden shall continue to receive the benefit of being cleaned up by the livestock at the end of the season and being covered with a layer of straw to be tilled in each spring. But I’m hoping to see measurable improvements to the soil fertility with the addition of chickens to our crop rotation.

The other part of my plan is the hard part. Weeding. Other than just simply to do it, my big plan this year is to space the garden sections so the tiller can pass between the rows. This may seem like a no-brainer, but . . . well . . . you may be dealing with people who aren’t exactly brainless, but do lack significant experience.

  • We tried a no-till method that the weeds really loved. They’ve been begging to go back to that.
  • We had it spaced for a tiller, but it broke down and the newer, hardier one that would actually sort of break through our hard clay in the summer was too wide for the rows we set.
  • Then we planned to make chicken runs in between the rows so they’d do a lot of the weeding except that we never made the runs and the space we left was too narrow for the tiller.

So this year, I’m just going to till. Till, till and more till. Also, I’m getting all bush varieties of plants so the dumb things stay in their sections and don’t overtake the paths. Because in theory, a big ol’ pumpkin plant can spread out every which way, shading out the weeds and taking care of itself. But in reality, it spreads out every which way, making it impossible to pass through and allowing all manner of weeds to spring up within the protection of its prickly fortress.

As far as the squash bugs . . . ahem. I really don’t know. Last year, my solution was to skip all things curcubit, but I miss them. I’m hoping that lessened their numbers, but I think my solution may include the judicial use of sevin dust. I’ve read that you can start a squash plant indoors and set it out in a pot and wait for them to attack. Then you smother it with sevin dust, wait and do it again. Then you can destroy the bait and plant your crop. It doesn’t sound that promising, but I might give it a try. Who knows? Without the pumpkin leaf forest, maybe picking off the eggs won’t be such an impossible task since I’ll only have bush varieties anyway.

So there we go. I drew up a plan and put it in writing. That makes me like ten times more likely to succeed, right?

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