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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.

 

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55 Comments leave one →
  1. Bee permalink
    April 13, 2016 2:53 pm

    Yeah, I keep running into that problem of the spirit is willing but the knee just won’t take it any more. Actually, neither one will, but the right one was the one that got clobbered in a horse wreck lo these many years ago. I can’t really say I like bowing to the inevitable march of time, but since I can’t do anything about it, I’m trying to bow with a reasonable amount of grace so I don’t fall flat on my derriere. So, OK, it’s a weed in the tomatoes — maybe it will make a good companion plant, right? I was griping to my chiropractor the other day that my triceps muscles were pretty sore, but on the other hand, I was hauling a lot more hay during daily feeding chores because my right hand ranch hand (oldest granddaughter) was out of town. He gently pointed out that the average 67-year-old woman probably doesn’t haul hay at all…
    One thing I’ve learned is that I can do more heavy stuff if I break it up into small chunks whenever possible, but I really can’t do heavy stuff for eight or 10 hours a day any more. Hubby is only good for a couple of hours of heavy stuff anyway because of his back. And since it took several years to get the big garden up and running, I’ve had to really focus on more frequent successions and smaller processing batches instead of huge ones, because I only had the much smaller kitchen garden to work with.
    Good luck with your new plan, Nita; I’ll certainly be watching with interest to learn whatever I can!

    • April 13, 2016 4:10 pm

      Bee, I hear you on all counts. I was so done already with canning stuff no one eats, but as I have been able to grow more hardy greens throughout the winter, we have relied less on winter squash, and potatoes to tide us over. I gave away a lot of vegetables this winter, and while the recipients were happy, I would just as soon not done the work of growing stuff just to give away.

      People freak out anyway seeing my wide rows for dry land, so that should appease some, and anger some others with my reliance on plasticulture. Can’t win for losing 😉

  2. April 13, 2016 3:19 pm

    I use that same weed barrier and LOVE IT! But I can’t find it at such a great price. I’ll have to order some from Dewitt.

    • April 13, 2016 4:07 pm

      Elizabeth, omygosh, it works so well, I was happy to find it on Amazon. A farmer friend told me she got some last year on Cyber Monday at a huge discount, I never thought to look at that time 😦

      • April 17, 2016 3:46 pm

        Actually, I looked on Amazon just now and it’s on sale for less than DeWitt’s website plus free shipping! Now if I can scrape together the bucks, bucks, bucks!

        • April 17, 2016 6:14 pm

          Elizabeth, I got mine from Amazon, and there is a couple of sellers on eBay too that periodically have sales. Wonderful wonderful stuff.

  3. April 13, 2016 3:37 pm

    Good luck and God bless!

  4. April 13, 2016 3:47 pm

    Jade is out dragging the last of the stones and dead bits from last year off the gardens. Next week weather willing we will be rototilling and prepping. Time to amend the rabbit manure into the soil and figure out where to add new gardens in. Good luck with your cutting back attempt!!!

    PS A friend and I are splitting an order of 6 silver laced Wyandotte chicks. More pretty color coming tomorrow or Friday!

    • April 13, 2016 4:05 pm

      Yes, weather willing! I miss my rabbits for that reason alone, nothing like rabbit poop on the garden 🙂

      Oooh, I can’t wait to see those chicks, they are so pretty!

      • April 14, 2016 3:58 am

        Were you located a bit closer I have about all we need, I would gladly gift it to you. That said I am just so not shipping rabbit poop thru the mail. I can only imagine the looks on peoples faces in the mail rooms with that smell.

        Also husband and I are going to order a batch, haven’t fully decided on breeds, definitely some more Wyandotte of unusual colors etc but not sure on a few others

  5. April 13, 2016 5:29 pm

    well, between you and Bill over at Practicing Resurrection – I have plenty of things to think about now! My bout with sciatica in December scared the heck out of me so I am paying close attention to what is realistic and manageable. I look forward to reading about how this change goes for you. My feeling is that it will go well and you will never look back.

    • April 14, 2016 5:03 am

      LFF, it sure wakes us up doesn’t it? You have to take the whole work smarter, not harder to heart. Some things I don’t want to change, like my cows and milk cow, which take a certain amount of physicality each day, so gardening can take some tweaking and still be done. So interesting that Bill and Cherie have come to the same conclusion at the same time.

  6. Elva permalink
    April 13, 2016 5:53 pm

    Your Jane looks great, and I am envious of your beautiful grass! My Jane cow (Ayrshire) is due in a couple of weeks, and I can’t wait to have her milk again!
    Your garden plans sound great and still very ambitious! This year, when I transplant my tomato plants into my small greenhouse, I am going to plant them into partially rotted hay bales within the greenhouse, so that their roots enter the warm bale instead of cool soil. I will see if that can produce the much coveted June heirloom tomato!!
    Happy spring to you!

  7. April 13, 2016 6:29 pm

    I hope your knee recovers MOH. Your new plans sounds sensible.

    I was frustrated with drip irrigation when I purchased supplies from chain stores. I also didn’t want to use drip tape or other disposable items. I finally broke down and purchased commercial/vineyard quality drip system fittings and supplies. It’s made a big difference and never had a clog in the 16 raised beds last season. Everything survived the freezing winter without bringing the lines inside. Feel free to contact me at our website (www.verdanthillsfarm.com).

    • April 13, 2016 9:21 pm

      verdanthillsfarm, thank you for the kind words.

      I went with Dripworks and I am happy with my system. Getting a drip winder for winter storage of the different lengths of drip tape has helped immensely. Thanks for the offer.

  8. JessB permalink
    April 14, 2016 5:57 am

    I seriously love that cat! So adorable. Very interesting to read about your plans. I completely agree with spacing out the plantings more. Something I’m working on this year as well. Processing just isn’t fun to me. Cover cropping is a great way to scale down.

    • April 14, 2016 7:07 am

      JessB, I hear you on that, I would rather grow and harvest and leave the processing to someone else, unfortunately that someone else is me :p

  9. Barb in CA permalink
    April 14, 2016 6:33 am

    I will be very interested to follow and see just how streamlined you go. This really has me thinking! Thanks!

  10. Stumplifter permalink
    April 14, 2016 7:54 am

    MOH, Thanks for the post- always brightens my day to read you. As I am starting seeds this year in anticipation of our first real market garden on our first farm, I am wrestling with some of these same issues. DH and I are well into middle age with all of its associated aches pains and realities, and still I managed to seed 300 tomatoes. Damn I can’t resist heirloom varieties. As I wind my way through this season, figuring out the land, weather on the mountain, developing a market, etc., I will have the words of your experience helping me to remember the important thing to make sustainable on our farm is myself. Thank you.

    • April 14, 2016 9:07 am

      Stumplifter, you’re welcome! Oh my 300 tomatoes! Makes my back hurt thinking of picking them 🙂 I am sure you won’t have any trouble moving them though, nothing like a vine-ripened tomato!

      Take care of yourselves 🙂

  11. April 14, 2016 11:13 am

    All this talk of cutting back and I’m up to my eyes in writing papers and doing courses, whilst trying to plan what to grow and where. We can only just get started, as the snow is now gone but the nights are still cool. I need to get a better harvest than last year, partly because our food supplies are rather low. Nettle soup anyone? Hopefully next year, I won’t have all this studying to do – maybe! At least I should have finished writing papers. Roll on planting – I think my brain needs it.

    • April 14, 2016 12:43 pm

      Joanna, I think the brain likes a change of pace, I find then either task I am working on/poring over, gets a little clearer. We hardly had a skiff of snow all winter, just rain for months with nary a break. Mild weather though, and I am not complaining.

  12. April 14, 2016 2:15 pm

    I will be interested to see with the cover cropping, if you get an increase in yield, after alternating back into the cover crop areas. Even though you get a lot of soil microbes by composting your cow manure and adding them to the bed, there’s something to be said for diversifying how those microbes get into the soil. Cover crops might increase a certain microbe which has been missing from your soils. The direct result being, even though you’re cutting back on how much land you grow on, the yield might actually increase.

    • April 14, 2016 3:37 pm

      Chris, it will be interesting, I have been using green manures until I finally got over my fear of using sudan and have someone mistakenly graze it after a frost. Normally I plant fall cover crop, it grows over winter, I mow, let that dry and then work it in and wait until the allelopathic effects are gone and plant. So far I am not seeing in difference in the greenhouse where I planted the sudan last year, except I have a lot of “straw” in the beds. Pretty much for convenience I have been using mostly chicken manure in the garden and the cow manure goes out on the pasture. Sometimes the path of least resistance prevails. Should be a grand experiment. 🙂

      • Gamine permalink
        May 5, 2016 12:22 pm

        I just found you and am so glad I did! My theme this year (and unsuccessfully last year, too!) is “Use what you have.” Having big gardens is no fun if I have to stress and work endlessly on weeds. The rows I’d put at about 4 of 10 in terms of weed pressure and the aisles are up there at 9 of ten. I’m weeding aisles as I can and then covering them with heavy landscaping fabric and covering that with mulch. ka-ching but it’ll be worth it if it eliminates all of that weeding! Bought straw has helped keep weeds down in the actual rows but I need a source of “free” mulch for the rows as I’m blowing the wad on the landscape fabric and shredded hardwood mulch for the aisles. I’m thinking buckwheat for the rows as it is supposed to be easy to cut down and use as a topical mulch. I don’t till at all and no irrigation. Any thoughts? All I know is that I’m done with all of this weeding. Plus I’m in the same boat about canning. 2012-2014 were huge canning years and that’s also when we learned that we 1)don’t eat much pickled food 2)really don’t like the taste of lemon juice or citric acid in our canned tomato stuff 3)we aren’t the biggest eaters of jellies and jams. We are still plodding through some cans from 2012. So, I read your plans with great interest! I may be moving toward expanding perennial plantings in one of the gardens after the landscape fabric is in. To be honest, we’ve started putting apple trees in one of the gardens in the overgrown strawberry plot. Although they are standard trees, we’re trying to keep them small as in that new book Grow A Little Fruit Tree. So much to do and think about! And so much Aleve to keep in stock for muscle strains! We are in our mid-to-late 50’s. So happy to have found you!

        • May 6, 2016 1:19 pm

          Gamine, thanks for reading! Goodness it sounds like you have it under control! I’m really liking the landscape fabric that I have. Wonderful stuff!

  13. April 14, 2016 4:36 pm

    We have a couple of small vegetable gardens. I strained my back only a week ago preparing potting soil for our patio garden. I was able to get all the containers planted but I still have to work our small “earth” garden. Now I’m behind schedule. But I’m not rushing things. I’m beginning to realize my 51 yo body needs a little more care. Time to scale back. Take care of yourself!

  14. April 14, 2016 6:03 pm

    You are still planting about 4 times as much ground as I do -my gardens have always been New Zealand Style – growing to eat fresh.. Small spaces, lots of food – too many herbs. Though I still follow your idea of growing for the dairy cows – my cows eat a LOT of cabbages. You must make very good notes, i will try to follow your example. c

    • April 14, 2016 6:26 pm

      C. Can you grow fresh for winter like we do? Or is it too cold in your location? I sort of feel like I need to keep my civilized agrarian style garden everything is so wild here and if you turn your back, you have a forest. Although I could do a lot less for sure.

    • CassieOz permalink
      April 15, 2016 10:32 pm

      Oh Celi, our two Jersey girls chew their way through all the stored pumpkins, the potatoes and jerusalem artichokes over winter (after they’ve finished the swedes and turnips), possibly because I’ve almost given up on cabbages due to catepillars 😦 .

      Matron, I’m overwhelmed and exhausted as always, even listening to your ‘pared back’ plans. Your organisation and planning always put me to shame as my own style is equal measures of careful plans and winging it. Still struggling to get fitness and strength back so I might have to rely more on the ‘careful planning’ side.

      • April 16, 2016 8:43 am

        Hey Cassie – isn’t the milk great when the cows have been eating pumpkins! Our favourite! c

      • April 16, 2016 8:54 am

        CassieOz, I didn’t say I wasn’t overwhelmed and exhausted, I am. But one silver lining has been Jane on a longer lactation. I don’t have the worry about calving this summer anyway. I’m coasting so it seems.

  15. April 20, 2016 11:08 am

    I find your posts so informative and inspirational, thank you for sharing your garden experiences and photos. You have helped me figure out what to do on a number of occasions just by writing and sharing. Thank you!

  16. Brindel permalink
    April 21, 2016 1:59 pm

    Cutting back in the garden may be just what you need to revitalize yourself, just so long as you don’t cut back on the blog posts! 🙂

    • April 22, 2016 2:10 pm

      Brindel, Thank you! I fear I have cut back too much already, I hardly can make myself sit down to write. I need to do a follow up post on Jane’s lactation and problems this year…sigh. So many interesting things to write about, so little time to do it 😦

  17. Adele Virtue permalink
    April 22, 2016 9:31 am

    greenhousemegastore.com has DeWitt weedbarrier for $69.00/3×300 foot roll. It is able to be reused also. I am also putting it down between rows to keep the weeds down in that area also. the walkway of the hoophouses and such. It and drip irrigation was really a relief last year and we had better crop and healthier plants. We rotatoe our crops so will also rotate the weedbarrier for that crop. We do not have as good of a soil as you do since we have not been gardening here as long as you have. We have been here 5 years and have figured out which crops will grow in our short grow season and which will keep the best in the root cellar with the least amount of preserving processing. I have learned a lot for reading your blog. Thank you!

    • April 22, 2016 2:09 pm

      Adele, thank you for the kind words. I have read some prefer the 6′ weedbarrier that covers the row and the paths. It just depends on spacing and price for sure. I ended up using the 4′ and it works really great. I have some 6′ that I’ve been using in some areas where I want to really set back some invasive weeds and it seems to be helping as long as I leave it all year. Sure a time saver.

  18. Brindel permalink
    June 27, 2016 11:30 am

    As much as I love the Instagram pics, I miss your more detailed blog posts. Any plans to update the blog soon?

  19. August 15, 2016 10:29 pm

    have you decided to end your blog?

    • August 16, 2016 8:27 am

      Hi Bruce, I just haven’t had the time to write. I’m finding Instagram to be a more user friendly format to get out daily farm information than writing blog posts after the fact. I need to reassess blogging when the fall rains commence. Still enjoying your posts although I notice you’re not writing much either.

      • August 19, 2016 4:06 am

        We Miss your updates SO much 😦 could you post your instagram to see?

      • August 19, 2016 4:18 am

        ok found the instagram 🙂

      • August 21, 2016 5:05 pm

        I completely understand not having the time to write. for myself, I’ve had some off-farm issues come up that have delayed my farm progress. Right now I’m doing the basics but not making much progress towards my goals, which is frustrating.

        Which is not to say that I’m not farming; 2700 bales in the barn, corn is growing well, combine and tractor working.

  20. September 15, 2016 3:47 am

    How long have you used azomite? I’ve a friend who started using it but I haven’t seen him to get an update on results.

    • September 17, 2016 10:44 am

      Woody, seems like forever…maybe 5 years, it’s so hard to tell though what makes the difference. But the garden is steadily improving and at least not going backwards.

  21. Ginni Erion permalink
    December 11, 2016 8:53 am

    Miss you! you were my morning read for such along time…

  22. Craig permalink
    December 17, 2016 2:06 pm

    Would love to hear an update on how your gardens did this year with the cutting back. Did you still grow too much or about what you hoped for?

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