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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sugar Sprint peas from transplants.
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.
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.
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.