Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seeds and seedlings

Planning this year's garden is a bit different from the last two years. First, we're in a new house. Second, the land there has not been farmed for a very long time, which has both positives and negatives to it. Third, I don't have a tractor with a tiller on it this year. Fourth, starting seeds early has been almost impossible. All these things and more have meant that the creation of the garden has been a little slow in starting this year. Usually by April, I have seedlings six inches tall! This year, they're barely poking through the soil. And I have only a tiny fraction of the seeds started this year that have been done in the past. We won't be planting a full acre of food this year, because we simply don't have the means to do so. It is disappointing in some ways, but also very exciting and full of new life and new expectations. I am hoping to create at least a few squash to contend with this specimen from last year's crop!

 Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to go walk around the land at our new home. I picked out the area where I think our orchard should go, and walked over the spot where I figure the garden should be. I still haven't gotten it into my head how we're going to do this, though. Right now, my personal feeling is that I should make the equivalent of raised beds by having Gray use the backhoe to pull up "shovel wide" (ie about 2 to 3 feet) trenches which I would then use the hoe to pretty up for planting. I'm going to have to figure out how to get truck-loads of manure or well-rotted compost there, because we don't have compost there yet, of course. I doubt I'll have time to do proper soil amendment, to be honest, and so I'm going to have to fake it this year. I figure it'll still be better than the clay and dust we planted in when we lived in Maryland!

So far, the things that I feel are necessary to plant this year (not including orchard stuff), are: asparagus, horseradish, Jerusalmen artichokes, and strawberries (all perennial and so I have to choose well right from the start - I can't make changes once they're in!), and bush beans, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, peppers, radishes, spinach, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes. I'd LIKE to plant beets, broccoli, corn, green onions and/or leeks, pumpkins, kale, brussel sprouts, chard, and watermelon, but they might have to wait a year. Until I have better equipment than hoe and "get down on your knees and do it the long, hard way," I need to limit what I'm doing. While I'll have the children to help me, and probably friends as well, I am not willing to over-extend myself and get into a state where I can't keep up with what we have.

My current plan, which is subject to change at any moment, is to have those trenches dug and then work by hand and hoe to pile the dirt in a raised bed style of garden. I would have several two- to three-foot wide beds, about 30 feet long (or maybe more - I don't know the length of the area I've picked out yet!). I will let the grass grow in between, because we have a mower which I can use to mow down the grass. This limits the "between the bed" weeding I have to do, which I think is important. I will also be creating as many of the spiral or round gardens as I can, for herbs and perhaps some small vegetables (I think it would look neat to have a lettuce spiral, for instance!).

All the hens and our rooster Rocky will be coming with us. There's a tiny chicken coop already there, although I think it's too small for our flock at present. I'm also planning on adding between 4 and 8 new hens to the flock, as we lost several over the winter to cold and predation, and I would expect the same this year until I've gotten used to whatever critters and weather we can expect at the new house. The coop is quite a ways from the house, which may present a problem come winter, but we'll see what happens. The one thing I really like about it is that, during the day at least, I should be able to let the chickens just wander. Provided we're not overrun with fox or wolves (which does NOT appear to be the case), there is ample space for them to forage (thereby keeping our bug population down and providing lovely fertilizer) and no roads for them to get squished on. Even if they make it to our "main road" it's unlikely anyone would hit them - it's a class 6 dirt road of questionable quality, and therefore unsuited to any speed racing.

To wrap things up, here are some great links to organic, heritage, and open-source seeds for those who like such things!

  • Johnny's Selected Seeds, who we've purchased from several times over the years. They have great seeds, and though their selection isn't huge, they often have Neat Stuff not available elsewhere.
  • Burpee Seeds, of all places, has some great heritage and organic selections now! I used a couple last year, and was very pleased with the results. 
  • Seeds of Change has been around for a while, and is a  good, solid company. 'Nuff said.
  • Heirloom Seeds is not a company that I've used before, but I've heard good things about them on several of the blogs and gardening sites I go to. I think I might order a couple of things just to see how they do!