Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prepping the New Bed

The thaw last week provided some great sunny hours and, since I'm incapable of sitting still when the sun is out (or ever, now that I think about it) I took advantage of the fickle weather and started working on the new veggie bed.

This bed is going to be home to our tomatoes, greens, peppers and pretty much anything else I can afford to stick out back. It's the farthest from the house, so I'm going to have to net it with deer netting. I also have tentatively planned to use premier electronet around it if the local wildlife (or sheep) becomes a problem, since it will be easy and cheap to hook up so close to the electrified temporary sheep fences.

Last fall I came up with a great way to prep for new beds while experimenting with the raspberry patch. I have purchased an ancient troybilt tiller that works wonders on exposed earth. The areas that we're planting were previously planted for livestock so they are home to a dense network of dead grasses, however, and are impossible to till through. I discovered that by using my weed-whip, a featherlite weedeater, diagonally I can basically shred the thatch that covers the ground until nearly everything exposed is dirt and nearly-obliterated grass crowns (is crown the right term for a monocot?). The next step last fall was to till down several inches and then mulch with started leaf/grass mold until spring.

During the thaw last week I was able to get a large patch, roughly 8' x 25' cleared using the weed whip. After this I laid down a thick layer of composting manure and straw, both duck and sheep. Duck manure is very hot, but this stuff is already partially composted and as I don't expect to plant this bed until late May I figure it will have some more time to decompose. Gosh that photo at left is terrible! If you look closely you can see the eight foot wide strip of yellowish straw and manure I laid down over the stripped earth.

My final step this past week was to cover the manure with plain cardboard that I'd been squirreling away over the past year or so. Jeremy calls this "Cardboard Village" since when the wind ruffles it up a bit (if there's no snow) it stands up a little and looks like houses and streets. This is another terrible photo - Sorry folks! The idea with the cardboard is that when the big spring thaw comes it will soak and keep the composting manure moist and sheltered from direct elements, as well as absorb sunlight and trap heat under the cardboard. I was unsure if this was working last year, but then I discovered the colony of snakes living under my test patch and figured since they require warmish places to shelter at night they were a good indication that the cardboard was holding a bit of heat. Probably not much, but any bit counts. In the spring, I will lift and discard the cardboard, probably by using it as mulch between my rows, and I will proceed to finish prepping the bed by loosening the soil.

The one sticky spot is that I would really like to implement the french intensive double digging method with any new veggie beds this year. Of course, double digging through thatch and 50 years of crowded grass roots would be hellishly difficult and time consuming. The idea of double digging is to keep the biostructure of the soil intact, with deep microbes remaining in deep soil and shallow in shallow. I've decided that I'm going to compromise.

If you're unsure of what double digging is, there is a great series of videos on YouTube that explain the concept and show how to do it yourself.

After I remove the cardboard, I'll till the first 2-3 inches to break up the bulk of the grass roots. Then I plan to double dig my rows beneath that, to keep the microbe structure of the soil similar to what it was originally.

My hope for this bed is to expand it in sections as things are ready to plant out. I'll have to post updates in the future, obviously. It's difficult to decide on a fixed size for the overall bed, but I'm a terrible planner anyway. Hah.


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