I started this as a quick facebook update but the amount of info became too large so it turned into a blog entry, most likely for the very, very specially interested.
What’s this about?
After a lot of thinking I have finally started with a long due project hereby named “Easter break project”. It consists of switching the direction of my veg rows/mounds. It’s due on Easter because I know I will have a break from my teaching job and because by sacrificing further frustration loaded carrot, leek and beetroot plantings in late summer, I then get a breach where the soil is free of crops between the sweet potato and squash harvest and the onion+garlic planting. Hence, last thing I planted were the sweet potatoes, squash and zucchinis (basically done by now) in November-December and next plantings will be garlic and onions in May-June. January and February are too hot to plant anything so summer holidays are a self imposed break of sorts in this latitude.
I currently have 2 patches of approx 250 square meters each, with beds running in a north-south direction which is also the main direction of the slope. These patches are separated by an area some 3 meters wide and 20 something meters long (length of the patches) in the middle.
But what’s wrong with that?
Because the direction of the mounds is the same as that of the slope I experience runoff and nutrient leakage to the bottom of the patches, despite heavy mulching. I also have an unused area which also means approx 40 extra meters of borders to weed and grass to mow in order to be on top of the invasive creeping Scutch grass (Cynodon dactylon) and other grasses I’d rather keep at bay. And, strangely enough, we have noticed that the plants on the east facing side of the mounds look better then those on the west side, as if the morning sun were only being enjoyed by half the population on each mound. Not fair. I can’t really explain this but we do see a difference and whether this changes in the future is yet to be seen.
I am not one to favor soil disturbance but I did want to do it this time because it was the best way to get rid of the worst of the grass in this middle access area and I am a bit curious as to what the result might be. In order to do this, I got a friend with a rotavator to break up the first approx. 10 cm of soil in this middle area and I am now covering it all up with some 10 cm of horse bedding, a few wheelbarrows at a time. The idea is to leave the bedding as mulch to stop most weeds from growing and to slowly get it incorporated into the soil until it all gets re-done in April.
By the end of march I will harvest the sweet potatoes and a few peanut plants, soja and black beans that I tossed for seed production and then in April the mounds in my two patches will be free for my friend to run his rotavator on them. I will do it on these even if they are weed and grass free since it will be a much harder task to make new mounds perpendicular to the actual ones if we do not dismantle the actual ones at least a little bit first. I know I might not be making sense but despite me being all in for no dig/no till, I do want to mix things up a bit. I have been adding A LOT of organic matter to that soil since 2017 and it has been pretty much in a “whatever I get my hands on-whenever I get my hands on it” matter so I would like to mix it a bit and maybe somehow redistribute the different nutrients around a bit and I am curious as to what will happen afterwards. I think of it as a new fresh start.
Once it is all bare and somewhat evenly distributed and no real mounds to be seen (I know it sounds awful but bear with me) we’ll check the direction of the slope using a laser which we hope can rent. Once we know the precise direction/s of the slope I can rebuild the mounds perpendicular to it and they will end up being in a more east-west direction. This will hopefully result in a much more organic looking thing given that the slope runs in two directions and I will no longer be looking at 2 rectangular areas with straight lines of vegetables but rather slightly curved mounds of mixed plants. This in turn might help us achieve better use of rainwater since the mounds will hopefully work a bit like swales do. Swales act a bit like retaining walls holding rain water and slowly seeping it through and further down a slope from one swale to the next.
Plant more thoughtfully and carefully this time around. Tall perennials like for example artichokes (making new plants already) might be on the last mound with asparagus in the one before that and chilies in the one before that one. Reason being artichokes grow really tall in the spring and would shade anything behind them, asparagus are tallest when the artichokes have dried out and chilies need permanent protection structure that would shade whichever annuals I decide to plant but not the previously mentioned perennials since the structure is rather low. I might have perennial herbs in the ends of these mounds, things like lavender, rosemary, lemon verbena… Trying always to consider growing cycles, size and possible permanent structures needed for each crop. All this sounds so logical and obvious now but I never really got the chance to start this way because I was rushed by an agronomist that knows nothing other than conventional agricultural techniques at the time and trusted him. But I have never been happy with the current setup really. It feels very good to dare to do what I think is best and to aim at what I want the place to look like. There will also definitely be more flowers. Much more.
But for now, I need to finish covering the already tilled area with horse bedding and have patience until Easter comes.
I am sooo anxious and curious. Aren’t you?