Friday, January 13, 2012

No winter blahs in *this* garden!

From the garden of Truffula, who might or might not admit that she planted new seeds just last week.

Despite what the calendar year tells me, my "new year" felt like it began back in October.  After the summer harvest, my attention turned to starting over. My lofty goal: to make our property more productive.  Here's a progress report:

Step #1 = Construction of berms and swales, the planning of which began back in July, and for which the supply-gathering happened in September.

I'd thought about where to site the swales, but before we dug anything out, I had to determine the yard's contours, and mark them.  I identified the contours with little A-frame which Mr. Truffula made me from scrap wood.

Bricks, rocks, and stray mugs were all pressed into service as swale and berm markers
Our soil is hard clay... Mr. Truffula's muscles came to the rescue, which made the excavation process zip right along. Otherwise, I'd probably still be at it, hopping ineffectively on the shovel in vain effort to drive it into the ground. As he turned the soil and sod from the swales onto the berm area, I placed those clods into the position I wanted.  I leveled out the top into a sort of plateau.

Next, it was sandwiching time!  I soaked newspaper in rain barrel water.  I then covered each berm with generous, overlapping layers of paper.  The wet paper went down with satisfying plops!

I covered the newspaper with several inches of composted manure.  Another layer of wet paper went down on top of that. This second installment of paper likewise received a few inches of manure on it.

Finally, I covered the finished mounds with a nice dose of straw.  The straw had gotten rained on (torrentially!) right after I got it home.  That actually made it easier to slap onto the sides of the berms. 

A "cut-away" of my berm construction = soil + manure + newspaper + manure + straw

Coarse wood chips went into the swales.  (In the future, I hope to inoculate the chips with mushroom spore.)

I intended to allow the berms to rest over the winter.  But, I visited a friend doing a similar project in her yard, and saw her adorable kale and arugula seedlings coming up, I had to follow suit.

Step #2 = Low tunnel construction

I moved on to my next research project: figuring out my season extension.  I immersed myself in Eliot Coleman's books, the finer points of floating row cover, and the how-to's of making low tunnels (or hoop houses).

In the end, I bought Agribon-19, a fairly light-weight fabric.  Coleman points out that you want light, air, and moisture to pass through your row cover,and that it is the soil which stores the heat in those chilly times.  That made me decide against heavier fabrics.  They would have afforded a few degrees more of frost protection, but have blocked out more light from getting to the soil and warming it.

My frugal inner gardener also debated whether I should install row cover alone, plastic sheeting alone, or a combination of both.  Coleman convinced me to try one low tunnel of row cover only, and one combined one.

The hoops for the tunnel are 10-foot lengths of 1/2-inch metal electrical conduit.   A friend has this hoop bender, and Mr. Truffula and I used it to create hoops.

There are a few options for setting up the hoops.  I put them directly into the soil, sinking them in as far as the clay would allow (read: a few more inches in would have been helpful).

We did the hoopin' last week -- it was a family affair, with all TruffulaBoyz and TruffulaParents on deck.  Of course, we did this on what was until then the coldest day of the season.  It was also windy, requiring choreography to avoid a full sail imitation on the part of the plastic sheeting. The bad part of this weather situation was that our hands so became so chilly that we could hardly move them.  The good part was that we could immediately feel the difference provided by the sheeting + row cover combo on the second tunnel.  It felt downright balmy in there as soon as body parts were out of the wind, and benefiting from the passive solar heating.

My finished low tunnels. 
The left one has only row cover on it.  The right one has plastic sheeting with an inner row cover layer.
I'm using a combination of clips and double-bagged rocks to keep the row cover in place on the fabric-only tunnel.  I'm especially pleased with those bags!  I repurposed newspaper sleeves, and in the summer, it will be fun to look at the ones with Christmas ads on them.  The rocks are ones I fished out of the soil as I was working with it.  I'm so happy to put them to beneficial use!

So far, the plastic sheeting is staying in place just from the tension I put at either end of the tunnel.  I gathered the plastic, tied twine around it, and attached it to a stake.

Sorry, I could not resist showing off my precious kale seedlings... aren't they cute?!  Ideally, they would have been near maturity before the short winter days kicked in.  Nevertheless, they are holding their own, and some will find their way into the pot very soon as thinnings.


Green Bean said...

Well, look at you!! I'm so impressed. My plans for swales went nowhere. Love everything - including the baby seedlings.

Carolyn said...

You inspire me to try row covers! I too am immersing myself in Elliot Coleman's "Four Season harvest" but I'm planning for northern Ontario (Canada) this we'll see how well row covers work with plastic over for the fall. I think we may get too much snow for plastic to be viable after harvest. I'd be very interested in following along your gardening adventures. Keep up the gardening!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I did three season this year and would love to get a fourth out of at least one of my beds. I'll have to check out coleman's book.


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