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Two Gardens

April 8, 2013

Having two gardens is like having two children or two dogs, or really two of anything.  Kind of the same, but different too.  For the most part both gardens get the same treatment as far as tillage goes.  On our last dry day this week I really wanted to take advantage of the dry weather and get the ground opened up, and I wanted to set back my cover crop rye.  I know that sounds bad, but I didn’t want a repeat like I wrote about in this post, since we never really know what spring weather will bring.  It could haul off and start raining and continue until late June 😦  Great for grass growing, but it makes it really hard to get the garden planted.

Della - December 2009

Della – December 2009 RIP

I also have to say I am very fortunate to have grown up gardening with access to composted cow manure.  It’s pretty easy to get complacent when you have a bunch of fertilizer factories at your disposal.  Depending on the garden, crop, and rotation, some of our garden spaces get composted chicken manure bedding, composted cow manure bedding, or sometimes sheet mulched cow manure/bedding, and when I leave crops in the ground for winter, I leave the land bare.  We don’t really have a one-method-fits-all, and I’m always messing with the “system” to make my job easier and gardens better.  Or the shortened real time farming version, “Oh crap!  Where am I going to put all this CRAP?”

Last year under the umbrella of the Tweaking Department, I decided to just use a plain straw mulch on my plot slated for potatoes in 2013.  Normally I follow corn with potatoes, mostly because the corn gets a good dose of compost the prior growing season and the corn patch is relatively weed-free going into fall.  Sometimes I underseed a cover crop hoping for winter kill, and sometimes I don’t.  This year the straw looked easy and was handy so I used that like any good carbon junkie would.  I was not really prepared for the differences I would see between the straw mulch and the nearby rows that were sheet mulched from Jane’s “garden contributions” during December.  Once I started tilling, I could really see the contrast between the animals versus no animals for the ongoing farm sustainability debate.  Obviously, I am biased being a bovine buff but truth be told,  I think any livestock manure you have would doo. 😉

one pass

one pass

To the far left in the photo above are the straw mulched rows that were mulched in October.  In the middle are Jane’s root crop rows that I left bare for ease of harvesting throughout the winter.  On the right is the beginning of the sheet mulched part of the garden that received a daily wheelbarrow of stable manure, made up of a few shavings, soiled straw and cow manure in December.  As you can see there is a lot more straw that didn’t break down over winter on the far left, despite having a few more months of typical Pacific Northwest winter.  Why this is such a surprise to me is that usually my entire garden looks like the soil on the right, because I rarely, if ever, use just carbon in garden.  I guess this really shows diversity at all levels.  Obviously more kinds of soil critters enjoyed the smorgasbord of mineralized cow manure and soiled straw than the poor fellows on the eastern side of the garden who just got a straw bed.  It’s not that any of this is bad, it’s just that some of the garden is better.

I was able to till both gardens the other day, but there were no surprises in the main “old” garden.

cover crop grazing

cover crop grazing

I had set the sheep to grazing the cover crop rye in order to allow the soil to dry adequately for tillage.  I could mow, but the sheep need to eat, so this is one of those fuel and time-saving tasks that I can leave to the animals.  I prefer moving fence to switching three-point implements any day.

The sheep don’t really care for chickweed or deadnettle, but they relished the rye and other miscellaneous plants and their actions in the garden really helped get the air circulating at ground level.  This garden gets a little afternoon shade and subsequently takes  a little more finessing when it comes to tractor work.

Superschmelz kohlrabi

Superschmelz kohlrabi

While the sheep were harvesting the cover crop, I was busy gleaning any rapini that I could find.

Garden helper

Garden helper

The dogs were busy harvesting as well.

Red Bull brussels sprouts

Red Bull brussels sprouts

good enough

good enough

With my soil, I can tell by color when it is ready to till, but it never hurts to check to see if it is truly dry by trying to form a clod in your hand.  This soil would not form a ball, so I know it is safe to till.  Tilling when your soil is too wet will set you up for a season of clods that will not break, so patience really is a virtue when it comes to soil prep.

one pass

one pass

Now I can bide my time waiting for the cover crop to decompose and dissipate its allelopathic properties, and sit back and wait for warmer weather.  One more gardening chore crossed off my list.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2013 6:05 am

    Like you many of my carbon additions consist of rabbit or goat straw bedding, a straw manure blend. I also add composted chicken and turkey manure mixed with straw. It makes a huge difference in my garden soil. Love the picture of the dog eating cabbage! My female scottie loves cherry tomatoes and pulls them off the bush to eat. Used to have a dog that ate sweet corn : )

  2. April 8, 2013 7:18 am

    I’m on straight-up, fine silica sand here and have been adding leaf mold, composted leaves/kitchen scraps and later this year I’ll FINALLY break into my manure pile that has a few years of composted goat, chicken and horse manure, shavings and straw. I’ve told my husband that we’re dirt farmers. Newly created planting beds get load-after-load of compost of some form and leaf mold and are left to breakdown for at least six months before we plant anything (new beds usually get created in the fall for this reason). I haven’t had the horses here for a few years and will be bringing them back this summer if plans go accordingly – the compost pile will thank me for it. Dirt farming is a wonderful thing.

  3. Racquel permalink
    April 8, 2013 7:33 am

    I think the “Cabbage” the dog is eating is a giant kohlrabbi.I always love to read your blogs as I am way behind in this game. You are always informative, fun, and down to earth. I mean real earth. I have a question about the potatoe mulching you mentioned. When we grow potatoes we have been just covering them up with the dirt that is left from making a trench to put our seed potatoes in. We have a fairly sandy loam soil that is great for root crops but I sometimes get low quantities for my work. I see alot of reference to mulch and I’m wondering if you cover those potatoes with just mulch or a combination of soil and mulch. any advice will be appreciated as the trench is waithing for me to drop in those taters.

    • April 8, 2013 8:09 am

      Racquel, you’re right, he is kohlrabi fiend 🙂 Well, actually they both are.

      The mulch for the potato patch was just for winter soil cover as opposed to planting a cover crop. I do hill my potatoes with soil and am happy with that method, mulch here is a recipe for slugs so I think it depends on your location etc. But I really prefer the soil hilling method, but I only plant the seed potato about 2 – 3″ deep and build the hill throughout the growing season. I find the potatoes much easier to harvest since they are formed above the seed potato on the cover vines, and I don’t really have to “dig” them I just scrape away the hill and expose the potatoes.
      Here’s an old post about the “digging.”

      • Racquel permalink
        April 8, 2013 10:39 am

        thank you so much for the rapid response. I am amazed at how many personal responses you give and the amount of work you accomplish in a day. I kind of get a kick out of so many people envying your life while they are living in a subdivision. I don’t think they really realize that the “simple life” is hard labor but it does feel good to see the accomplishments of a good hard days work. Even the stiff, oh-it-must-be-planting-time-again muscles feel pretty good.

  4. April 8, 2013 10:29 am

    Nothing much to do with two gardens; just a comment that Della certainly was a fine looking cow. She reminds me somewhat of my Grandfather’s red and white dairy Shorthorns – circa 1950s, so an older, more traditional, conformation than some current strains of British Shorthorn.

    • April 8, 2013 11:25 am

      Carrie, I know she was a beauty wasn’t she? I have one of her sisters with that conformation and one that is a tall drink of water like Jane. I hope to get Jane AI’d with a bull that has the older chunky phenotype. I wasted one straw this past breeding season so maybe this year 🙂 I only get two more chances with that bull. And then there is the hoping it is a heifer 😦 Oh the stress of it all. On top of Della’s good looks she was a great cow friend.

      • April 9, 2013 12:26 am

        Fingers X’d then for you and Jane this coming season! As a backstop, is there a chance of Della’s sister with the older-type confirmation throwing you a good heifer to train as a house cow without using up ‘Jane’s bull’ (so to speak)? Perhaps too complicated to manage unless really necessary? Isolating sister from the herd for a while might cause problems for her on re-introduction? Interesting stuff.

        • April 9, 2013 5:19 am

          Carrie, yes, fingers crossed. Della’s sisters maybe…and Jane’s calf this year could be a candidate, maybe…her calf will be a composite of Guernsey, Hereford and Simmental although it just depends on how that udder escutcheon looks, maybe a big milk producer maybe not. Last chance too, a friend and I are sharing that semen so she may get a heifer too that she doesn’t want that I could purchase. Complicated!

  5. April 9, 2013 5:02 am

    Fascinating! And Jane is looking very well, this spring.

    • April 10, 2013 12:06 pm

      MOH, I don’t think I ‘know’ anything about udder escutcheons – what I see or understand re cows I learned by osmosis; by following my Grandfather about for 11 years of weekends and school holidays while doing ‘helpful’ tasks. (Well, maybe not so helpful aged three, which apparently is when I had my first wellies and insisted on going out and about with him in all weathers.)
      I perhaps intuit about the escutcheon but not by name or by whys and wherefores. (I know now because I looked it up!) At what age do you get a good idea about the likely milk productivity then? In other words, how quickly do you have to make a decision to keep a heifer as breeding stock or get rid? I never really thought about it before because my Grandfather always insisted on running his calves at hoof for… if asked now I would have said three months or so, but maybe until the cow weaned the calf naturally?

      • April 10, 2013 1:55 pm

        Carrie, there are folks who claim they can tell by looking at the area above the udder and below the vulva and they can see if the calf will become a good milker or not. I see some of what they say, but I would never feel confident in that decision at least until a heifer was close to breeding age. Of course you get where you can tell from the get-go who will be a meat animal but I like to take as long as possible to make the decision for keeping or going. I can always sell them for meat, but once they’re meat I can’t make them into a cow!

        As for the weaning, I have done it both ways, separated at 6 months and kept separate until the cows dry up, but now we let the cows wean, and they do that about 9 months of age. I know we can always make cow quality hay, but putting calves onto just hay and no grass or milk mid-winter would mean I have to supplement their feed. It’s more economical to not fight them, and let the moms provide a little milk, while she is on the hay we can raise, and when spring comes those calves are fully fed and ready to really take on the grass.

        • April 11, 2013 1:36 am

          Thanks for the info – I looked at the Gerald Fry site [] and I can see what he means but… Not sure I’d want to make a judgement solely on that either.
          Being a small mixed dairy farm, our calves almost certainly went to market at 6 months then. Makes financial sense with spring born – there was a rent due on the September quarter day (Michaelmas).
          Best let you get on with some work! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  6. April 9, 2013 6:34 pm

    I love that the sheep are in the background of your blog and never really make a starring appearance. We know they are there. Once in a while they graze the pepper plants out of a greenhouse or something. Then you seemingly fold them back into your pocket. I guess it’s harder to hide cows…

    • April 9, 2013 9:20 pm

      Must be similar to husbands, horses or kids…

      • April 10, 2013 6:02 am

        lol…smarty-pants. It would be nice to see some posts on how you graze the sheep, how you fence them, how you keep your horses from getting fat with rotational grazing. I’m not that interested in spouses or children as I get all the entertainment I want on that front from home.

        • April 10, 2013 7:54 am

          My poor sheep are just lawn mowers and they are geriatric now. Basically I keep them busy eating things where I don’t want to mow, or can’t get close enough. They are excellent at eating the grass to the nubbins around the greenhouses – think week whacker without the whacker…or the fuel and noise. My electronet bit the dust a long time ago, so now I am just using the poultry net that has held out for 14 years. Works much better for the sheep than the electronet we purchased just for them 😦

          As for the horse, it helps to have an old horse! He needs to put on weight, but that’s not my department so I don’t know all the details 🙂

        • April 10, 2013 8:25 am

          Dad keeps horses. When I want to switch from a fungal breakdown of pasture stomping to a bacterial breakdown of soil organic matter I invite a horse to eat the grass down to nothing. They don’t mind fescue. They puncture and push material into the soil with hooves and they manure everywhere. I just don’t think it works the way Carol Ekarius says it does. Horses get fat quickly on rotation and spook right through the fences.

        • April 10, 2013 8:38 am

          I would love to see a horse manure everywhere – I’ve only seen them pick toilet areas like pigs do. Which is for their own protection but doesn’t really work in my setup. Rotational grazing is a pain with horses…plus they worry the soil too much for my liking 😦

        • April 10, 2013 8:43 am

          Oh, don’t misunderstand. I am not a horse fan. They spook, buck, bite, kick and find the most creative ways to hurt themselves imaginable. BUT, they’ll eat stale fescue just to have something to do. They’ll even eat thistle, though they ignore cocklebur and burrdock. Once in a while, when I want to renovate a pasture, the horses do the work. Or the pigs.

          I have used corral panels to set up rotational grazing for the horses…just to keep everybody safe and locked up.

        • April 10, 2013 8:54 am

          I didn’t, I’m not that much a fan either, just this past week I know of two people hurt severely by their horses. Like in laid up for weeks now with broken bones hurt. Must be terrible to have fescue, it’s not a concern here at all.

        • April 10, 2013 9:29 am

          The burden of fescue is in culling your herd. I have one cow, the skinny one, who won’t touch the stuff. The other cow, shorter and barrel-shaped, alternates big bites of fescue with big bites of orchardgrass or rye or clover. But the skinny cow is easier to milk. Ugh.

        • April 10, 2013 11:51 am

          It’s always something. I butchered Jane’s older sister because she was a wild thing, although I bet she would have been an easier keeper 😦 Mox Nix.

  7. Racquel permalink
    April 10, 2013 2:32 pm

    You had me at two gardens. You lost me at AI’d. like I said I’m waaaay behind in this game.

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