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.
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.