Thursday, May 17, 2012

Progress Report

Progress Report

     In the academic world, it’s progress report time, when many students either rejoice or despair in the fact that this is “only a drill.” In that same spirit, I thought it useful to assess my own progress.  (In true teacher fashion, one always begins with the positive.)

     What I’ve done well:

     After about eight weeks, the chickens are still alive—and growing fast! Although it is still a tad too early, I peek hopefully into the coop every morning for those ethereal and edible artifacts of chicken achievement. Not yet.

     I’ve attributed this year’s continual chicken survival to a few factors: firstly, they (unfortunately) don’t free range. They do however have a roomy and open pen which they seem to enjoy. They have sunny spots, shady spots, and shelter when they want it, and are protected by a large cube of chicken wire (as I mentioned in a previous post, the bottom is buried so they have grass).  We also recently adopted a dog, Jude, an Australian shepherd mix who does a pretty good job of marking his territory. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of fox nor weasel since then. In fact, my husband has taken to redistributing our new friend’s doggie droppings to the perimeter of the chicken coop, and then our property, just in case. Though my dream of clucking followers (termed like this, I begin to think this dream was a tad megalomaniacal) may not come true, at least content chicken survival is, so far, possible.

     Secondly, after years of planting in flat beds and battling weeds and drought, I’ve decided to try a different method. In my 60’ x 60’ vegetable garden, I planned out different size oblong beds and, with a garden hoe, dug them into raised beds with paths in between. The beds range from 4’ x 4’ to 3’ x 6’, and are arranged with companion planting and crop rotation in mind. The idea is that with these “raised” beds I have specific paths on which I can walk, thus inhibiting weed growth, and from which I can easily harvest without worrying about damaging plants. Also, I wouldn’t have to rototill every year and damage the structure of the soil; instead, the paths would become compacted and I could gently work in manure and compost to only the bed areas as needed. Rotating crops would also become incredibly easy. I am aware that most conceptions of "raised beds" require some kind of solid perimeter,  but the whole permanency of that kind of experiment seems unwise-- Lewis Carroll would ask, "What if this doesn't work at all?" With a simply dirt-mounded structure, I feel like I can give it a whirl and plow it all under if I don't like it. 

     What needs improvement:

      I’ve done some experiments with hydroponics this spring with mixed results. After waiting until my easy-grow seedlings (i.e., peas and beans) were well-sprouted, I gently dug them out with my forefinger and transplanted them, soil still clinging to roots, into glass vases filled with plain filtered well water. I experimented a little bit: I put some of each kind of seedling into clear, red, and green glass vases and plunked them on an indoor shelf in the sunlight.  In my results, regardless of glass color, my bean seedlings are healthy (and one has even flowered) while my peas are wilting away. My lesson so far is that peas need more nutrition, not necessarily that they can’t be grown hydroponically. More work to be done on this. Perhaps not warm enough? Started too early?

     Also, I need a better garden water system. Right now, I run a hundred plus feet of hose from my house to my garden and water first thing every morning. Even with that length, the hose doesn’t properly reach all corners of the garden. This is pure laziness on my part. Must revise to a better system.

     What I’ve learned:

     Firstly, to my relief and excitement, I have learned that, apparently,  it is really difficult to kill asparagus. Last October my father, who owns a proper full-time farm, was “coming by” with the tractor and disker and offered to turn over my garden for me. I quickly and rashly accepted, thinking of the labor it would save on my part, only to want to smack myself fifteen minutes later. I had planted asparagus, a perennial, in the southwest corner of the garden, and he had disked over it.

Asparagus rise! Carrot and beet raised beds beyond.
     I was absolutely distraught all winter. I had painstakingly dug asparagus trenches, carefully planted them, and, with baited breath, watched them grow, knowing that it would be three years until I’d have my first asparagus crop. And I’d have to start again.

     However, this spring, that lovely tenacious asparagus reappeared. Not where I had planted it, of course (apparently the worst it had suffered at the mercy of the disks was displacement), but it reappeared nonetheless. I will not, however, be testing its tenacity again.

     Secondly, I have learned that no matter how much reading, planning, and debating I do over the winter, I will inevitably change my garden plan once I get IN the actual garden. I am on my fourth garden map right now, and am still in a process of revision. While I try to adhere to the rules of companion planting, my ideal garden changes depending on the varieties of vegetables available that year as well as the weather pattern of the planting season at hand. I thought I had constructed my final draft plan in February, but now find I am using that “final draft” as a reference to guide what I’m actually doing. So far, I have parsnips, carrots, and onions in the ground, so at least that part of the map is immutable.
200 Onions, red and white, in their own "raised" bed.

     What I have really learned from this? Thinking about the garden is fun year-round, even if it’s only a drill. 

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