I have a feeling that the 2013 gardening year isn’t going to be as productive for us as I imagined when I was buying all those seeds. We’re getting a bit of a slow start, mostly due to our busy schedules, weather, and some other delays. My starts are a lot smaller and/or weirdly unhealthy looking, which makes me question how well they’ll do in the field. At the same time though, I think we’re going to get some of the kinks worked out compared to last year, and resolving those issues is important to long term gardening success.
Our biggest issue last year was lack of time (understatement of the year right there). No wait, our biggest problem was total grass invasion. Or was it a serious problem watering? Whatever the root cause was, the garden looked pretty neglected and overrun by mid-summer, but not a lot of what was out there was actually crops. Grass ate a lot of my beds (I never did find the strawberries again), and the areas we plowed but didn’t use were grass and other weeds. By the end of the season I just walked away from the whole thing. We were plastering, moles were invading, and there was hardly any produce. The tools were still where I dropped them.
This year we’re trying a new garden prep strategy. I didn’t realize what a huge leap there would be between a small garden you can work entirely by hand and a garden this size that you really need bigger implements to tend. Last year we plowed the field (to turn under grass), tilled the field (smooth out the soil), and then I went through each bed and rototilled and raked them again to try and get out more grass roots. We didn’t use our tractor efficiently and we didn’t get out the weeds.
Our soil is clay and grass roots, which makes any soil preparation difficult. This year, Mr. B plowed up parts of the field just to break the soil. He couldn’t plow the entire field because the clumps of grass roots/clay clogged the plow too much. Next, we used a disc to break up the soil that he had just plowed (picture above). We borrowed the disc from a neighbor down the road and it is a real beast:
Then we repeated the process again, only this time we were able to plow and disc the entire field.
Finally, we used a spring tooth harrow/cultivator to pull some of the grass roots up to the surface.
Spring tooth harrows are the preferred implement to get rid of grass in your fields. Our farmer friend is trying to get rid of quack grass on his property, and he suggested using the harrow every week if possible. Each pass pulls more roots up to the surface where they wither and die. Insert maniacle laughter here. You can’t water the area at the same time though, so we will probably harrow once or twice more this spring. We’re also going to use a tiller to incorporate compost into the beds next week, and that will chop up some of the grass roots. Hopefully in future springs the whole process can be streamlined, maybe just to harrow-disc (since we don’t own and can’t afford a tiller). I’d like to try using pigs to turn over the garden and fertilize the in the fall as well.
We decided to plow up about twice as much space as we currently need with the plan to improve the soil using cover crops. In the future this area could be an expanded garden, we could use it to grow crops for livestock, or we could let parts of the garden rest every year. Last year this area turned into a weed field, but I’d really like to (a) prevent weed growth, and (b) start to lighten up our clay soil. You can lighten clay with compost, but that route is expensive, especially if you aren’t going to be using the field. This year I made up a cover crop mix at our local feed supply store out of oats, red clover, and field peas. These should add nitrogen to the field, suppress weeds, and eventually add organic matter. I’m still not really sure how you are supposed to manage cover crops, but at the very least they should help suppress the weeds and make our neighbor’s bees happy.