Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tedious

Spring is tedious.  Though I long for the end to snow and the first blossoms of spring, I know that farmers only have a chance to enjoy them in passing, because we are so busy readying the ground, planting the seed and weeding the undesirables in our vast expanse.  If I can give any one advise based on this years experience, it would be to start small.  Do not over plant your fields or set your sights on a bumper crop the first year or two.  You need a small experimental ground that you can test different ways of planting, mulching, weeding, organizing.  Our 84'x84' garden is a bit ambitious for a beginning farmer, but we have done quite well this year as opposed to last year. 

The very first crop in the ground was the potatoes in March.  We ended up having a lot more seed potato from the previous year's crops than anticipated, so one quarter of the garden is planted in potatoes.  That will yield a harvest two or three times more than we will need as a family, but perfect for a few families to buy into.  We decided to try mulching in between the rows with straw and piling aged compost in mounds around the potatoes as they come up.  It certainly cut down on weeds (though not completely), but it seems to be harboring our dreaded enemy, voles.  Those little pests eat many root veggies.  Between voles and deer, we have been stripped of many a plant investment both last season and this.  Our cat has helped some, but the birth rate of a vole is almost impossible to stay on top of. 

On another section of the garden, we decided to try wood chips in the walkways.  This method is far superior on the weed control to the straw.  The main problem with it is that it locks in your beds for some time, because the wood takes much longer than straw to break down.  You also have to be careful to add amendments to balance the acidity you tend to get from the chips.  The best weedless area was the walk where we put down newspaper and then wood chips on top.  However, for walkways, it is fantastic.  We put wood chips around our blueberry bushes, and they LOVE it!  Raspberries, not so much.  I think you have to mulch them a bit lighter due to the chance of root rot and to give the soil a chance to heat up.  The last method we tried was black plastic.  It seems to be working quite well around the tomato plants. 

The process is arduous, but we are ahead this year by at least three weeks in the size of our produce.  Spinach is huge, lettuce doing quite well.  Spring onions are ready, garlic is well above ground.  Summer squashes and cucumber already have their second and third leaves, and we even have some watermelon ready for transplanting.  We plant pumpkins this week - a full month before last year.  We've harvested our first set of broccoli, and the strawberries are already ripening.  (More on strawberries later).  All-in-all, we are well on our way to a good season.