In the Vegetable Garden (Grow Write Guild)
Saturday, 27 Apr 13 Partly Sunny 4°C / 39°F
I’m following along with the Grow Write Guild at You Grow Girl. The third
garden writing prompt was to “describe your garden right now”.
My main vegetable garden is entering its fourth growing season. Carved out of what was an abandoned hayfield I see: Quackgrass. Rocks. Mud.
Even with a season of (albeit less than perfectly timed) buckwheat cover cropping the quack grass insists on growing in this garden. Ideally I would dig over the garden by hand and pull all the runners out. However, in a garden measuring over 5000 square feet, that approach is just not practical. Last fall I did manage to till thoroughly before the ground froze and the optimist in me said “maybe the quack grass will be worn out and just decide to stop growing in my garden.”
Sadly, quack grass does not just give up. On the bright side, the quack grass situation is not as bad as last spring, when distinguishing the garden from the surrounding field was challenging at times. I am eager to attack the quack grass with the tiller just as soon as the moisture level is right. The soil is on the clay end of loam: as much as an early tilling might help deplete the energy stores in the quack grass it would probably spell disaster for the soil structure.
At the south end of the garden I can see the remains of the overwintered fall plantings. The south end is a little lower lying than the rest of the garden and closest to the hose, which made it perfect for getting seeds started during late summer drought conditions. Unfortunately it also meant that the area was quite wet and at times flooded in late fall and early spring. So, instead of harvesting overwintered lettuce and spinach I’m looking at an enormous mud pie topped with a crust of rotten plants!
There are about six very small raddichio plants which appear to have survived nicely and some ‘Purple Top White Globe’ and ‘Golden Globe’ turnips that have overwintered. I’m debating trying to save seed, though efficiency will probably demand that I pull the roots in order to get the area tilled. Perhaps I’ll see about digging them and replanting the best looking roots for a seed crop.
Following the hoof prints from the southern and western edges of the garden brings me to the broccoli and kale plants. The broccoli is long gone, but some of the kale leaves were green-ish and not completely rotten under the snow. Before I could get a photo of them, the deer gobbled them up in what was presumably a welcome spring treat for them. I’m relatively okay with that, as “green-ish and not completely rotten” doesn’t quite describe foods I like to serve at my table. There are signs of life on a few of the plants, and with a little luck they’ll put on some new growth and provide an early spring harvest. Then again, there’s the need to get the tiller out and attack the quackgrass…
In the southeast corner are the four asparagus beds, raised slightly and delineated by 2 × 4s. They hold over 60 asparagus plants I started from seed in the spring of 2010. Last year I was hopeful that the layer of mulch I added to the beds after weeding them in the spring would keep the weeds out. It did a pretty good job, except for the quack grass which spreads underground and doesn’t mind growing through even a thick layer of mulch, and the plantain, and the nettle, and… well okay, it didn’t keep everything out, and I’ll have to weed again. Carefully though. The other day, while looking for asparagus sprouts, I nearly pulled a clump of nettle seedlings. Fortunately my brain screamed “stinging nettle…. do not grab with bare hands!” just in time, and I was saved from what would likely have been a pretty negative experience. As I’m short on overwintered greens, I may let some of the nettles grow and harvest them to use like spinach.
Moving north from the asparagus and the overwintered plantings I see bare soil (with quack grass) until I reach a raised bed about 5’ wide. Last year, partly in an attempt to deal with the quack grass, and partly because my tiller is less than cooperative in my rocky soil, I built up a raised bed with lasagna style layers of chicken litter, grass clippings, leaves, garden debris, and mulch. I added little bits of finished compost to and planted about 100 strawberries. Unfortunately by then the bare root plants were in less than prime condition, and only about 25 of them took. It looks like only three or four survived the winter.
Behind the raised bed is a strip of landscape fabric, some partially decomposed cardboard, and some compost hills. Another technique I employed in plan “kill the quack grass without running the tiller” was covering the soil with cardboard and landscape fabric. I added hills of compost down the centre and grew vining squash in them. It worked fairly well until the landscape fabric blew off one day in the spring (presumably the garden staples were loosened with the freeze/thaw cycle) and has strewn bits of cardboard around my lawn and into the field. Thankfully the quack grass looks significantly weakened and even dead in places.
Behind this space, at the very northern edge of the garden are the raspberry canes. They had to battle it out with weeds for much of their first growing season in 2012, so some of the plants are smaller than I would prefer. That being said, I’m pretty sure that the living mulch of weeds actually kept them a bit shaded and slowed soil evaporation during the long drought, so it may have benefited them in the long run. With a little luck I’ll be better able to deal with the weeds this season, and perhaps be rewarded with a raspberry harvest!
Behind the raspberries is my rock collection. It runs about 50’ long and 4’ wide. As I pull large rocks from the garden I move them here. At some point I’d like to put these rocks to use and build a proper rock wall, or perhaps I am really ambitious, a chicken coop built using slip form construction.
1. The vegetable garden this morning
2. Roughly to scale sketch of the garden (north is at the top)
3. Overwintered radicchio
4. ‘Purple Top White Globe’ Turnip