Sunday, March 13, 2011

Alternative Gardening Methods

     I have been studying different types of gardening methods that will allow me the the most amount of production with the least amount of input.  My homestead is shaped like a bowl with a pond in the center so I have problems with erosion.  These are not that as bad as they could be because I have hundreds of mature trees on the "rim" of the bowl holding lots of the dirt there. However, my homestead is surrounded by a farmers field and when we get massive rains, they tend to wash dirt away or the sand that the field is left with on to my property.  It's weird looking at the difference in the color of the soil at my property line.  The field is brown sand and mine is loamy clay.  I talked to a local who has lived around here all his life and he said my place used to be a drainage ditch so I guess it is only natural.  When the house was built the first owners were really thinking!  They put tiling in under all the downspouts and the tiling runs right into the pond so (knock on wood) this basement has NEVER flooded.  Another minor problem I have found with my place besides the runoff is a mucky pond.  After the ice formed on top of it this year I went out and drilled a hole in the ice to see just how deep the pond really is.  I was shocked!  I drilled through about 8 inches of ice and then there was only about a foot of water below it.  Then I pushed the auger down further and it sunk all the way to the handle.  When I pulled it up it was full of dead leaves.  I'd be willing to bet that I have about 3 feet of decaying plant matter on the bottom of the pond.  Maybe this sumer I will have it pulled excavated out or ill pump all the water out and shovel it myself-this is not being lazy so it may not happen.  I would like to get at this material and use it for compost.  I would also like to have a deeper pond and maybe stock a few catfish in it.  Anyway, that brings me to the first alternative I will be applying to my garden this year and that is swailing.  Not sure if I spelled that right but oh well.  This is basically a drainage ditch on a slight contour that I would like to apply to my bushes and grapevines.  I want to run it in a zig zag pattern down the slope of my hill and plant my perennial fruit bushes and grapevines along it.  This will slow the water down and ultimately feed my raspberries.  If I do not decide to go with that method I may just use the more common method of terracing.  I like the idea of swailing a bit more however.
     Next, I recently watched a video on a method of gardening for drier climates called hugelkultur (hoogal-culture).  In this method a hole is dug and filled with wood.  Then it is filled back in with dirt and planted on top of.  The wood acts like a sponge and over decades, releases water and nutrients for the plant or tree that is planted on top of it.  I have TONS of wood from trees that I moved last summer and this would be a perfect use for most of the wood, at least until I get the fireplace going.  Here is a link to the video I watched I would highly recommend watching as many videos buy Paul Wheaton as you can if you are into this sort of thing.  Anyway thats just something I thought I would share with you today.  Have a great one!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seed Starting

   Sorry it has been a while since my last post.  I think I am going through seasonal affective disorder.  Are you as sick of winter as I. am?  I'm a bit jealous of those folks down south who can be outside tending their gardens.  I have been browsing seed catalogs for almost three months now and have made all my orders.  Some of them haven't come in yet as they were trees and bushes and they would probably not make it till frost scare is gone.
     Though this winter has been long here in MN it has not gone without homestead gardening work.  These long winters give us northern gardeners a LONG time to plan what they will plant and where they will plant it.  I read a book last winter called Carrots Love Tomatoes and it gave me a TON of great information on companion planting.  I will have a better idea on what to plant together as some plants perform better when they have a companion.  Some also do worse if they have the wrong plant planted next to them.  I'm not going to go into what goes with what in this blog but if I have peaked your interest check the book out.
     Today I started two flats full of tomatoes and peppers.  I have ten varieties of peppers and five of tomatoes.  I have 4 more flats to start but the potting soil that was in my garage all winter is FROZEN on the bottom.  Tomorrow it should be thawed out enough to finish the rest.  I have broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and artichoke-that one is an experiment, to finish staring.  These plants I will be starting will make up about 30% of my garden for this year as I have popcorn, melons(5 varieties), beans, cucumber, carrot, parsnip, and peas to directly sow into the soil.  I also plan on planting small grains as another experiment.  These consist of flax, 2 varieties of wheat, and amaranth.  Oh yeah before I forget I'm planting some forage crops this year too.  I hope to fence off a few different areas in my yard to plant crimson clover and hairy vetch.  These are cover crops that pull nitrogen out of the air and (fix) it to their roots.  I want to have maybe 3 different fenced off areas of these plants to use as chicken food.  Apparently chickens love the same forage crops that bovine animals and deer love.  This will maybe save me some money on chicken feed, and a bit of work.  I will let the birds in on maybe one section a week and rotate them so they don't eat everything to the ground. Can you say sustainability??  The fencing may cost a bit at first but if I purchase quality stuff it should last almost a lifetime.
     Yeah, spring could be a busy time for me as I have to do all the initial tilling on my land and lots of perennial planting also.  I'm experimenting with blueberries and goji berries this year as well.  My first born daughter will be joining our family around April 1, so I may have a bit of non-gardening work to do as well.  I never meant for this blog to be just about gardening but this time of year its all I think about.  Having a daughter on the way has put everything in perspective for me too.  I want to build a property that can give back to us as we take care of it.  If I don't have any kind of monetary inheritance for her, a food forest might even provide more than money can buy.  Her name is Lily........I like flowers too!!