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Garden Plans

March 22, 2017

Last year I made some drastic plans to change-up our gardens as a way to reduce the workload while still growing our entire year’s food.  I pretty much stuck to that plan of just planting half of each outside garden space to make a true 50% reduction.

Garden 2016 half planted, half summer cover cropped

Basically it was a sound idea, resulting in a decreased workload and about the correct proportions of various vegetables for fresh eating, and preserving for the winter months.  Over the course of the season I discovered it can use some tweaking.  We’re proceeding this year with about the same expected harvest outcome, but in a different configuration to lessen the workload a bit more.  I’ll be dropping some crops or changing the amounts of what we grow for other reasons too.

My practice of over-wintering root crops in the soil has come back to bite me big time via insect pressure, namely the dreaded carrot rust fly.  In years past we had been able to avoid the pesky critters by timing our plantings to avoid the biggest hatch times.  But a couple of mild winters and we now have a full-blown population of carrot rust flies.  Last year was the first time in many years I didn’t plant any carrots, parsnips or beets for the house cow, or to hold over for seed saving.  My goal was to not provide the carrot rust fly a leg up by providing winter feed and habitat for them. House cow roots for winter may become a thing of the past here, unless we decide to build a very large root cellar or a walk-in cooler for winter storage.  I don’t really see that happening for such a low value home-raised input.  We had the hardest winter in a long time and Jane came through in very good shape with not so much as one root vegetable.

Weather is playing a role too in our garden plan changes.  Two successive springs and summers of warm and very dry weather lulled me into thinking I actually lived further down in the valley and could grow marginal crops outside.  Crop failure is a way of life if you garden or farm, but it is still a little (okay a lot) disheartening to have crop failure.  Last summer was cool, closer to our normal summers of yore, but you have no way of knowing that when you gamble on seed or plant stock purchases.  Live and learn, I wasted money on sweet potato starts, and tried to replicate previous successes with C. moschata squashes outside.  Huge failure.  Especially when you consider that I was so confident about growing those two crops outside that I failed to utilize greenhouse space that I had open.  What was I thinking?

I spoke about re-configuring our outside growing space in an earlier paragraph, I will still be planting half of my outside space, but to lessen wear and tear on me I am going to spread out my plantings to allow for more mechanical means of weeding.  More specifically I will be tilling between my planted rows instead of hoeing.  I know, I can hear the gasp now.  Tilling!! I know all the arguments for and against.  And I know my soil and my own limitations.  I am nothing if not practical.  It is not practical for me to deep mulch, build raised beds, hugelkultur etc.  It is practical to use equipment I have, and cultivate my soil to grow our food.  I know many people who do use the alternative methods, and while it satisfies their conscience to garden that way, I know (because they tell me) that they do not grow enough food to take them through the winter. They instead rely on the store or possibly a winter CSA (that all utilize conventional cultivation methods).  So really, it comes down to the old NIMBY thing.  In our area it’s usually people bitching about commercial logging while living in their wooden houses, sort of hypocritical don’t you think?  It makes no sense to me to complain about tillage and then support that very thing by voting with your dollars. Keeping with the practical theme here too, I will be doing this tilling with my tractor instead of spending thousands on a walk-behind tractor.  Not that I don’t want one, but it is sort of redundant for eighteen less inches of tiller width.  Make it do, or do without.

And like any gardening year, this will be an experiment.  Wide fallow areas between rows may not work, but I won’t know until I try it.  At this point I am more interested in continuing to garden on a somewhat large-scale as I age and finding the best way to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Our Own Weather

March 15, 2017

Greenhouse fluctuations in late winter

 

The winter that wouldn’t end has ended, at least for us here on the west side of the Cascades.  A winter like those of my childhood, one that surely has made us wake up and take notice. It’s been a while since we had such a winter that stretched from early December to the end of February.  We had plenty of firewood and hay which are the big, money-in-the-bank farmstead worries that keep me up at night, but the winter garden was toast or actually frozen.  When kale dies here in the winter you take notice.  Our cool maritime climate is just that, cool, but not so cold. This winter was a different story.

We just started seeding transplants last week, later than some folks in our area and earlier than others.  It’s taken me a while to figure out the timing that works for us.  I had to learn long ago that using lights and getting an early start just didn’t coincide with our late winter/early spring weather.  My plants would do great with the lights and then when they were ready to go outside (because I started them too early) the weather just hadn’t warmed up enough for planting outside or even in the unheated greenhouse.  So now I wait until we have enough daylight and start the seeds then.  Hurry up and wait just never works out well.

I realize some of this won’t apply if you don’t have some sort of greenhouse or outside starting area for your starts.  I have tried and failed many times to start my plants in the house and besides the mess, the plants just don’t do well, I think mostly because of the light factor, low humidity and watering needs that exceed my dislike for wet floors etc.  But maybe some of my heat mat real estate tips will work.

first round – March 9, 2017

Another thing I have learned over the years too, is that while I might like to be frugal and not spend money for things that I don’t think I need, while making do with re-purposed items, I had to redefine my needs with another template besides frugality and possibly being off-grid. Namely how much time do I really have to fiddle around with cottage cheese containers, dixie cups and manure hot beds in order to start plants.  Turns out, not much, plus I don’t have the space, and it’s a $hit ton of work to move plants and replenish your hot bed frequently, I already move enough manure by hand, adding to that chore load is not in my wheelhouse.  And it’s more than that, size matters ( I think) to the plant when it comes to containers.   Plus, who doesn’t want more bang for their buck, if I am going to plug-in a heat mat, I want to utilize that space as efficiently as possible.  That is being frugal.

I won’t lie, it is an investment to buy a heat mat or two, trays and inserts to fill them, but it is our year’s supply of food and I’ve had some of my flats and inserts going on twenty years now.  So I think streamlining your seed starting is a good way to go.  My goal is to start a lot of seeds, and stay out of the store.  I am not a casual gardener.  I’m in it for the long run.

So here is my home garden transplant system essentials and how I use them to the best advantage:

Heat mats – the most common heat mats like these are made for the 1020 trays (10″ x 20″) and come in several sizes depending on your needs. Hydrofarm is the brand I use, and they have lasted for many years as long as I store them flat in the off-season.  They provide heat to the bottom of the flat, that is best for quick seed germination.  Quick is what you want to avoid problems with seeds rotting, fungus attacking, etc.  Since the heat mats only raise the temperature to 10 degrees higher than the ambient temperature I need to provide some sort of clear plastic cover to provide a mini-greenhouse effect until the seeds germinate, and I also place the mats on sheets of rigid foam insulation to ensure the flats are getting the full benefit of the heat mat.  Remember I am starting these in our unheated greenhouse. If you shop around, you can find better prices online.


Seedling trays and inserts – I use the 1020 mesh trays sometimes called Daisy trays.  You can also buy 1020 trays without drainage slots if you are starting your plants indoors or may want to water from beneath.  The tray size is fixed but the inserts come in all sorts of sizes, I use the 200, 72, and 48 the most.  This size tray also can house eighteen 3.5″ pots, the size I use for potting up tomatoes.  Shown above is my frugal side rearing its head.  I don’t always want 200 hundred starts, so I have cut some of my trays in half so I have some homemade 100s in the size want.  This leaves the other half of the tray open for a larger size. Confusing? To make efficient use of my heat mats I need to group seeds together that have the same germination times.  Slow starters like celeriac, celery and some herbs and flowers may take 3 weeks or more on the heat mat to break the soil, you do not want them in the same insert as something like a tomato or bok choy that takes about 4 or 5 days.  Home garden needs might warrant that I plant 50 celeriac, 50 celery with my homemade 100, and then I use 4 six packs to fill the other side of the flat with something like kale which I can then remove as soon as germination takes place, then that open half flat can be used for another succession of any fast growing green or brassica.  Note here – brassicas kind of rule Cascadia where I live, so in your area it might be something like okra or … .

sugar snap peas

Essentially, moving my seed starting outdoors to the greenhouse actually gave me more leeway and freedom than one would expect.  No mess, and more room for experimenting with new varieties. While the environment is a little less controlled than an indoor setup, many days the heat mats are off due to solar gain, so we are actually using very little power.

Always seed more than you think you need, plants die, plans change, and stuff happens.  Seeds are cheap insurance for your garden.

Set in My Ways, or So I Thought

February 3, 2017

It’s been a long time since I have seen such fervor surrounding much of anything since the wave of electric pressure cookers has swept across the kitchen landscape.

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When my slow cooker gave up the ghost last summer, I bought an electric pressure cooker, specifically an Instant Pot.  I have not looked back since.  However in that time I have been chided, and praised equally.  People either love or hate the idea of this small kitchen appliance. I did not “sell out”, rather I have a new outlook on cooking that I’ve haven’t felt in years, decades to be exact.  I am a reluctant cook.  I would rather be outside, doing anything.  Instant Pot, thank you, cooking is kind of fun now. I’ve convinced a few farming friends (men) to get one and they love it too.

A good friend of mine has had an electric pressure cooker for a good many years, and she loves it, and always raved about it.  Dinner would be ready when she got home from work, and if she had to work late which was often, the smart electric pressure cooker would switch to the keep warm setting after the cooking time was completed.  No! I don’t want a hot meal waiting for me when I come home from a long, trying day at work.  Said. No. One. Ever.  Stop that you damn pot!!!

I have to admit I was a little skeptical while she raved, but she kept on raving and posting about her delicious meals.  So over the years an idea was planted, and I did some research.  I too was chiding myself.  You don’t need this said the little voice.  I already have a stove top pressure cooker, I have a slow cooker, I have good stock pots, and a cast iron collection that would boggle your mind.  But, I wanted this new pressure cooker.  So the struggle in my mind went on for a long time.  I am not a gadget person.  How many people do you know that don’t own a Kitchenaid mixer?  Be truthful.  Not many I bet.  Well, I don’t own one.  I bake bread, I bake pies, I bake just about anything, I do not own a stand mixer.  It would just be a waste because I really don’t bake that much, and as much as I want one just to look at the colors, that would be a colossal waste of money for me.  Plus I couldn’t pick which color to go with my Fiestaware anyway, so that’s that. Just not into kitchen stuff. But an Instant Pot isn’t just another gadget that will languish in your kitchen.

Six months in now, I find that I am using the Instant Pot more and more.  I don’t see myself ever making a cheesecake or something like macaroni and cheese in an electric pressure cooker.  There are a few settings I probably will never use, maybe.  But who knows.  Where it excels for me is cooking meats, bone broth, beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Soups and stews are a close second.  The sauté function is nice, you can brown your meat, remove the meat, add your mirepoix, cook that a bit, add the meat back in, a cup or so of liquid, close ‘er up, set the timer, or function button and bye, bye.  You can leave.  (And I don’t know about you but I am that person who has blown the weight off the stovetop pressure cooker when cooking beans while I got distracted :p) When you come back you have a meal, or the makings of one.

The bone broth is a work of art every single time.  BIP (before Instant Pot) my broth making sessions were always hit and miss.  Too cloudy, too smelly for hours on end in the kitchen, (cue vomiting sounds, sorry it just isn’t appetizing to me) mostly due to the fact that I am a reluctant cook.  I’d boil it a little too much, and the results were just not consistent enough for my liking.  I’m into nuances of a field to table meal as much as any bona fide foodie, but wow, Instant Pot you take the guesswork out of it.  Consistent to die for broth every single time, and no kitchen smell.  I’m in heaven.

So if you know of anyone who is busy, likes to make great meals for their loved ones, and is open to try new things I would highly suggest this as a gift.  If that someone is you, don’t wait.  The Instant Pot has truly been a gift to myself.

Feeding Shed Particulars

January 30, 2017

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Since we’re in the thick of the winter feeding period, this is as good a time as any to talk about the whys and hows of deep bedding.  And believe me I have a shit ton of thoughts about this system.

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WHY:  For many years we fed our cows outside by hauling the feed to them and feeding on clean ground (where we hadn’t fed yet) and by far that is the simplest way to feed cattle in winter.  Throw the hay in pickup and drive along dropping hay.  I used to do this by myself, put the truck in low-range, first gear, and head for an open spot, get out of the cab and climb in the back.  I am no longer nimble enough to do this by myself.  So this job requires two people, or one if you’re willing to pack the bales and spread them by hand.  Feeding outside does distribute the manure and leftover hay well (yeah! fertilizer and re-seeding), but there is a price for convenience, lots of vehicle and animal impact on wet soil. And the worst in my opinion is that the cattle are constantly nipping at the plants.  Of course I am talking about non-brittle Western Oregon, the ground doesn’t freeze much at all, and we rarely have snow cover to protect the pasture.  Even though the grass isn’t growing this would be considered over-grazing and if you consider over-grazing costs you 30% of your pasture growth the following growing season, that is a sobering thought.  Feeding outside works great in brittle or cold areas, but that is not my farm’s makeup.  I think sadly that the biggest thing missing these days in the information era of farming is the ability to discern.  Joe Blow is bale grazing in the North Dakota prairie and it seems to work, so Nita in Western Oregon thinks, hey I need to do that… well, one size does not fit all.  Each farm and each farmer is different, do your homework.

April 2016

April 2016

These days we do a little of both.  The first few years with the feeding shed, we strictly kept the cows in a small sacrifice area and didn’t allow them access to the pasture at all in the winter.  I really didn’t like that (and the cows didn’t either.) it was just too muddy.  Our farm lies on both sides of a county road, and it is difficult due to traffic to rotate through all the pastures during the grazing season.  So the pasture in the zone one area is always reserved for hay and the house cow.  Not much true animal impact and only one use, hay.  It’s good to change things up in the rotational grazing world, different species or different uses, and the timing of those uses bring in more diversity. One use repeated the same time every year stalls the landscape and adapts the plants there to that one use. It’s always good to mix things up. So with that in mind, we decided to allow the cattle into the hay-field/pasture in the off-season while still feeding and bedding in the feeding shed.  Our thinking was that the cattle using the pasture for a while in the off-season would get some much-needed disturbance going.  We also needed them as bushwhacker supremes to work on the hay-field edges as the brush was starting to encroach due to just cutting hay each year in that pasture.  Not only do cattle like to browse to balance their diet, they love to itch and scratch on brush.  A small thicket can be destroyed by cattle if that is what you want. So these days, when we are done with the rotation of stockpiled forage and need to start feeding hay we move the cows across the road and onto the pasture in the photo above which is adjacent to the hay barn and feeding shed.  We allow access to the pasture during the winter months if there is no grass growth, but once we start to see the tiniest bit of new green (usually about the first or second week of March) we restrict the cattle to a sacrifice area.  A sacrifice area is an area that basically you’re okay trashing in order to save an area of pasture you don’t want to trash.

I feel it’s only to fair to mention that no matter how you choose to feed your livestock there is no free lunch, it’s all work, just different work at different times.  Setting up a deep bedding system is not a time-saving practice, it is a on-farm fertility capture practice. Basically protecting high value manure and urine from being wasted during the wet months when it will just degrade in the weather and possibly runoff.  Proper manure handling makes economic and ecological sense.

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HOW: The term deep bedding simply means allowing bedding to build up during the winter months. A marriage of manure, urine and carbon that keeps the cattle clean and comfortable since it heats up as the bedding pack builds, and keeps manure odors at bay.  We use straw, but any carbon material that you can easily procure and store is fine.  Low carbon materials like straw can’t absorb as much moisture as high carbon materials like sawdust, so we need to bed almost daily.  If you have access to, or want to spend the money wood chips, sawdust or shavings work well and since the carbon content is higher you won’t need to add bedding as often.

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Also just because you have barn and animals doesn’t mean that deep bedding is a good fit.  The barn design is very important.  We built this barn in the photo above exactly like the barn that was here before.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I love this barn, but one season of deep bedding and we realized that we were in danger of ruining our wood siding with bedding buildup, and it was a bugger to clean out.  Scratch that idea.

Deep doodoo - four feet to be exact

Deep doodoo – four feet to be exact

Like most things farmstead related, the beginning and the daily doing is pretty easy.  It’s the harvesting and processing that will kill you.  Most crops are pretty innocent as seeds or starts but when ten pounds of seed potatoes turns into one hundred pounds that need digging, packing and storing it’s a whole other ballgame.  Likewise with a deep bedded manure pack that you and the cows work on a daily basis.  You put in the bedding, the cows add their manure and urine and then proceed to compact the material into a nice tidy chunk of material that is hard to clean out without equipment.  And a good equipment operator.  Because this is a task that cannot be done by hand labor, you need to take into consideration the best way for equipment access.  We built this shed exactly the opposite way we did on the other barn.  Open entrances on the ends instead of the side.  Cows are flexible like that, tractors are not. The shed is much easier to clean when you can drive straight through. Confession time here too, I have never cleaned out this deep bedding, either my husband does it, or my daughter,  my hat is off to them, it is a big job and takes some finessing with the equipment.

Deep bedding 2016

Deep bedding 2016

A few key points:

♥  Don’t deep bed if you don’t want to use equipment to clean out the barn.  You don’t have to own a tractor, but you do need to be able to borrow or rent the necessary equipment to do the spring clean out.  The task is just too great to manage by hand unless you only have one cow or at most two. And personally I wouldn’t recommend deep bedding for dairy cows just because of udder cleanliness issues.

♥  Using pigs to loosen the deep bedding before clean out works too, you just need to be prepared to have about 25 feeder pigs on hand when you turn the cows out.  We just weren’t that into selling pork and had disappointing results with a handful of porkers.

♥  Deep bedding will require some cash outlay to obtain carbon for bedding.  Plus you need a place to store the bedding to keep it dry.  One way to offset this in your mind is to think of this as your fertilizer expenditure.

♥  Don’t be tempted to use hay as bedding because the whole idea is to provide a clean, manure free space for your stock to eat.  Bedding should be unpalatable, in my opinion.  Cows by instinct are able to avoid soiled bedding when they eat, but calves don’t always have their repugnance zones established and may eat soiled bedding and pick up parasites.  It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.  DON’T FEED YOUR CATTLE HAY ON THE BARN FLOOR despite what you see on the internet.

♥  Allow for a feeder in your design plan, see previous note. Feeder design depends on your hay supply.  We use manufactured feeder panels that the cattle have to put their heads through in order to eat.  We use small square bales so this works for us, if you buy in hay you’re at the mercy of the hay seller, it may be round bales, or large squares.  We designed our feeder panel to raise and lower to accommodate bedding depth, so take that into consideration too.

♥  If possible have your feeding shed next to your hay and bedding storage.  We just added a shed to the side of the hay barn so the hay is right where we need it.

Every farm is different so take all these ideas and personal thoughts with a grain of salt when reading this post, what works for me, may not work the best with what you have to work with.  Just my two cents.

 

A New Year, and an Amended Plan. Sort of.

January 28, 2017
tags:
Jude

Jude

Well, long time, no write.  I’ve been absent from this space so long, it’s hard to know where to start.  Maybe with a Hi (insert waving hand).  Many times I have sat down and got to the point of transferring photos to the gallery for a blog post and then writer’s block or blogger’s block sets in.  So many things have changed, and stayed the same it’s hard to know what to write about.  Jane and Jude need a proper blog post, the garden reduction plan needs a blog post, and since many “readers” on Instagram are new I think the whys and hows of why we use a feeding shed in the winter is a good candidate also. Instagram is great and more real-time, but you can’t really get into the nitty-gritty of much of anything.  Plus typing is just so much more enjoyable than texting.

We miss our old doggie, Melvin, but I have to honestly say two dogs is a good fit.  Especially two dogs that get along.  Melvin and Grady wanted to fight to the death every single day.  Many times I wanted to strangle the both of them, and I am sure Trace did too. Trace pushing ten is showing signs of age, and Grady, at three is getting, let’s just say, more mature.  I’ve had mostly Aussies in my life, so I have no idea if their propensity for turning into a calm dog at age four is the same with other breeds or not.  But, sigh, we’re almost there with Grady.  He acts about 20% pup, and 80% dog now.  And he loves his big brother Trace (sometimes too much according to Trace) so not a hint of any kind of aggression.

Our winter this year has been like the winters of my childhood, lots of snow and our usual transition from cold spells with a whopping ice storm.  We’ve had two, and I have to honestly say, I don’t like it much.  Too much work just to maintain the heat, water, and livestock.  We have definitely gotten spoiled these past few mild winters.  We went into winter with a full barn of hay, and an overflowing woodshed so I shouldn’t really grumble too much.

So, I’ll leave off now with hopes to try to blog on a regular schedule.

Farm Dogs

August 31, 2016
Shan 9/23/01 - 8/31-16

Shan 9/23/01 – 8/31-16

Long time no post for sure.  While it has seemed like for a long time writing about the day to day, year to year farm stuff here is pretty boring, once in a while milestones are passed.  We made the decision this past week to put down our faithful Mel before life for him became undignified.  It’s awful hard to let go of a pet, especially a velcro dog like my Shan.  He absolutely could not relax unless he knew where all of his humans were.  He definitely was no cattle dog, not in any sense.  But we didn’t buy him to be a cattle dog.  Our cows are pretty much confined, never need herding or chasing, but having a dog that has a smidgen of cow sense can be helpful.  House calf un-tethered or out of bounds?  Shan would bark, not just any a bark, a bark that told you to listen, something is awry in the barnyard.  Our dogs are companion dogs plain and simple with a little garden guard dogging on the side.  Cheaper than a tall deer fence and much easier to look at.

We will miss our old boy terribly, but he really resented old-age and having to be helped to get up every single time he needed to go outside, or up and down the stairs.  A few months ago Bill at Practicing Resurrection wrote an obituary for one of his goats, Penny Lany Guerrant and I thought that was a nice touch, I wish I had thought of the idea myself.  Thanks Bill, for writing that. Here is Mel’s obituary.

Trapper Creek Blue Moon Mel

9/23/01 – 8/31/16

Blue Moon Mel (Shan) was born in Gresham, Oregon and moved to a farm in the Egypt area of Larch Mountain at age 7 weeks. Mel is survived by his human parents and sister, and his adopted brothers Tracey Darryl and Grady Badger. His wife Belle preceded him in death, they had no children.

Mel’s first job on the farm was to plant garlic and he continued to do so each year until this year. One of his favorite pastimes was gardening, but his true calling was farm security and half-hearted barn cat chasing. He was a natural at knowing just where to stand to get an errant cow to go the absolute wrong way… however; he made up for that by barking when the milk cow was headed for the corn patch each time the milkmaid forgot to secure the gate. Mel never met a foe he couldn’t keep at bay, and notches in his collar included bobcat, bear, raccoon, numerous skunks, countless deer and elk, and possibly a cougar or two steered clear because Mel was on duty. Mel worked full time in farm security until the age of 6 when he began splitting his time between guard dog duties and teaching his younger brother Trace to be his replacement in the garden and orchard.

At his request there will be no service, and he will be buried in the orchard near the deer trail where he can keep guard.

Changing Scale

April 13, 2016

Nothing like an injury to bring you up short, and make you reassess.  It’s been six months since I hurt my knee, and with lots of gingerly stepping here and there, and physical therapy under my belt, I feel ready to spring into action…he, he well sort of.  Over winter, with more time to think, and pretend to be wiser, I have come to the conclusion that I need to, want to, cut back on my gardening endeavors.  A variety of factors came together in my mind this winter, perusing garden notes, pantry inventory, and just plain being tired of being stressed out about weeding, etc., brought to my current garden plan of cutting back in some ways and changing how I am gardening. I grew a lot of food last year that we just didn’t eat.  Sure I can feed the surplus food to the hens or now the piglets, but in reality it represents waste, and a waste of effort that may be better spent in other areas.

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I am going to make good on my yearly threat of using half my space for gardening and half my space for fallow/cover cropping.  Using drip irrigation last year was a freeing practice.  After years of doing dryland and bioextensive gardening, I am ready to give up change to more intensive plantings and drip irrigation.

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My experiment with sudan grass last year as a winter-kill cover crop was the cat’s meow.  So much biomass and so dead.  I am weary of green manures that never die.  Too much tillage, and always the potential that you get a wet year and end up with cover crop like this back one in 2010.  No thanks.

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Intensive is the word this year.  I quickly learned last year that I was still planting too much at one time despite my strict succession planting schedule.  Tiny baby seeds are so innocent, even tiny plants are innocent, my biggest downfall was harvesting and processing, those innocent little seeds and transplants grow up to be big demanding plants.  So this year, I may plant as many plants or row feet of a vegetable over the course of the growing season, but I am going to break the successions into smaller bites.  Smaller bites means less to harvest and freeze or eat, and represents a change in my mindset of freezing 10 gallons of snap peas (or whatever), I may end up with 10 gallons, but they will be in more manageable quantities spread out over time, not several gallons at a whack.

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So without further ado, here are my plans (not set in stone, my family still doesn’t believe that I will actually plant less) but I’m pretty much sticking to the paradigm shift and breathing a sigh of relief.  One less guilt trip to contend with.  I’ll start with the main garden pictured above and just move from west to east to give you an idea of our layout.  I use my tiller for my bed shaping/row width so in my garden binder I just use ruled notebook paper, and each line represents a row.  It’s easy to jot down variety notes and dates with this format, and the margins are wide enough for more long-winded notations.  This garden has nine rows including the fallow outside rows, leaving seven rows to plant if we choose.  In this garden we will only plant two rows and work on stale seedbeds (weed the soil not the crop) for the remaining rows and sow to a late summer sudan/field pea cover crop for winter.

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Next up is Greenhouse 1, we usually start planting in this greenhouse because it has power, and we can consolidate seed starting and planting.  It’s a nice space to be in during late winter, while unheated there is still some solar gain even on a cloudy Pacific Northwest winter day.  We treat this growing space just like an early garden, greens successions, early potatoes, snap pea, carrots and beets planted in successions, and some summer onions like Walla Walla Sweets and Red Long of Tropea that can just be harvested as needed.

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Sugar Sprint peas from transplants.

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This entire row is devoted to quick succession salad blocks, and some later maturing early cabbages, kale and broccoli.  I just move south down the row when the next succession is ready for transplanting, in this row is arugula, tokyo bekana, joi choi, kohlrabi, cabbages (3 varieties), kale (4 varieties) broccoli, and one small block of romaine lettuce.  As blocks age out, I will just amend and plant again to a fast growing crop.

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Succession planting keeps you moving, these little plants will soon be ready to transplant.

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Directly adjacent is Greenhouse 2, which suits warm weather crops better, although I do grow some cool weather crops in here on occasion.  This greenhouse has six rows also to play with.  The plan this year is to work on the cleaning up the weed bank in rows one and six and planting those to overwinter brassicas.  Not so much for winter protection because the poly will come off come November, but more to neaten up the outside garden space and allow us to plant a complete cover crop outside, without a row in the middle needing harvesting.

In order to use plastic mulch and drip irrigation we prepared the entire space even though we have only planted about two and a half rows.  The tomatoes (red row) and strawberries are all planted, and a few zucchini and slicing cucumbers are planted in the cucurbit row, leaving room for later successions of melons, butternut squash and a few more cucumber plants at a later date.  I have to say I am not entirely convinced that the red mulch makes a difference over other colors, but I have a roll of it, and I am determined to use it up.  Truth be told, I am so enamored with the results of the Sunbelt weed barrier I am using, that I will at some point probably invest in that, something that can be used for many years.

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The final space is our square garden that consists of twenty-two rows, and will be easy to divide in half.  One half will be planted, and the other half fallowed and cover cropped.  Next year we can swap.  The plan is to plant less potatoes and winter squash, and probably skip a year of flint corn, since we just didn’t eat as much of those items this past winter.  The jury is still out on sweet corn too, I’ve got two months to decide on that one, and possibly the corn space just may go to popcorn this year.

So the plan is loose, but it feels right at least for this year.  As long as I take care of my garden space by cover cropping, it would be easy to scale up if the need arises.  Even though I will be doing less gardening it is kind of exciting to be doing something different with the garden spaces this year.