Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No Wireworm Found

I've been expecting to see some wireworm in our garden area. Wireworm is the larval stage of the adult click beetle and prefers sod for its food. Wireworm will attack corn (which is a grass) and all root crops such as potatoes and carrots.

So I set some traps. This is the prescribed way of looking for wireworms. I poked a long stick through a potato and buried several traps in the soil. A week later I retrieved the potatoes. Voila! No wireworms! This doesn't mean they're not there. It may just be that I missed them. Anyway, I've decided to to be concerned about them.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More raised beds

Those are grass rhizomes in the picture. The grass will grow vigorously from these. Without extensive mechanical tillage or smothering with black plastic, newspapers or cardboard the grass will grow back fairly quickly.

The last two days I have dug 7 raised beds about 3 ft x 10 ft. The soil consists of sod-bricks and is not very smooth. I plan to construct a 3' x 3' soil sifter of 1/2" hardware cloth to sift enough soil, removing the grass roots and breaking up the clods to get enough fine soil to make seed beds a couple inches deep atop these raised beds. This will do for the small seeds like onions and carrots. The seeds need firm contact with moist soil to get started. I'm afraid that if I just seeded directly into the pile of sod bricks, most of the seed would not germinate. As soon as the seeds are up, I will cover the raised beds with black plastic to keep the grass smothered. I'll let you know tomorrow how that works.

Other beds I will cover with black plastic to start and just cut holes in it so set plants in -- cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, etc. My wife is opposed to black plastic because it is a petroleum product and hence not 'organic.' I say it's OK to use black plastic the first year or two until the garden is established. After than, I'd prefer to use green composts such as grass clippings to control weeds and grass.

We may not be able to farm the entire 1/4 acre this year. Too much work. Some may have to wait until next year.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Canary Grass

I believe that most of the grass in the field is Reed Canary Grass. I will quote from google: "Reed canary grass is a large, coarse grass that reaches 2 to 9 feet in height. Reed canary grass is difficult to eradicate; no single control method is universally applicable. In natural communities, mechanical control practices are recommended. Small, discrete patches may be covered by black plastic for at least one growing season; the bare spot can then be reseeded with native species. This method is not always effective and must be monitored because rhizomes can spread beyond the edge of the plastic."

It spreads by seeding and by rhizomes (roots). It is great for wetlands (loves wet feet) and withstands heavy grazing. In other words, it is ideal for the use the pasture has been put to in the past.

Raised Bed

Well, friends, I have been working my plot for several days now, and learning all I can about the environment we're dealing with, and it is not encouraging. Tonight my wife, Jennie, and I worked about 30 minutes to make a 10 ft x 4 ft raised bed. We dug down in a pathway and threw the dirt onto the bed. The idea is to get the plant root zone up away from the water table which right now is less than a foot below the surface. Most vegetables won't do very well with wet roots. They need water, but they also need good drainage. By piling the soil up into mounds, we can get better drainage. At 30 minutes per 40 sq ft, it will take us 138 hours to mound 1/4 acre, if we could work at the rate we worked this evening. That is more than 3 normal work-weeks of back-breaking work.

The soil that we're working with has been plowed once and gone over twice by Bruce King with his tractor-mounted rototiller. It is mostly 'bricks' of sod. It takes a lot of chopping to work it fine enough for most seeds to sprout in it. So figure on at least another 138 hours or a total of 276 man-hours of work to prepare 1/4 acre by hand before planting.

Now that is for garden-quality seedbeds. Most farmers are satisfied with a lot more coarse ground than that. I can plant corn in a furrow made in the existing tillage, but that corn will be planted within about 6 inches of the water table. Corn needs better drainage than that. So I am not encouraged about corn. I'll do it, but I won't have high expectations.

I suspect that one of the best crops for this area will be broccoli and the other brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc). They will have to be on raised beds to get good drainage. I plan to prepare lots of seedlings to be set out in July for fall and winter harvest.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cheap Greenhouse

Here is a design for a cheap plastic greenhouse that should last many years, though it will require a new cover every year unless you can find some sort of ripstop, UV protected vinyl cover. The plans are a .pdf file that you can download here. The greenhouse uses mostly parts that you can get in any hardware store. If you wish, the referenced website tells how you can order a few special parts.

In previous years, I have used such a greenhouse to grow tomatoes. In our climate, tomatoes often don't ripen and in the fall you have a lot of green tomatoes going to waste. This greenhouse should allow you to get ripe tomatoes earlier in the summer and later into the fall. With our high water table, watering the tomatoes should not be a problem.

Our neighbor, Bruce King

If you haven't done so, I highly recommend checking out the Ebey Island Farm blog authored by Bruce King, our neighbor. It's on the links list on the right side of this page. Bruce did the plowing here for StarBird Farm gardens. He is not an organic farmer and he focuses on meat production, but he has a lot to say and he has good knowledge of growing conditions on this island.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We've Got Peas!!!!

It was a cold, windy, rainy day early in March when we laid out our first mulch bed and planted peas in hopes that they would be convinced that Starbird Farm is a good place to live. Well, after all these cold, rainy days they finally have the courage to peek their little heads out.

In the four weeks since we put in this first bed, 20 feet long and 3 feet wide, we have been preparing 3 more beds which will be home to a variety of peas and beans. Yesterday, we planted a row of snow peas and put in a low fence to act as a trellis between the two rows.

We've also put in two blueberries, black currants, red currants, strawberries, and rhubarb. As an experiment, (which much of this garden is for us) we planted potatoes. All we did was chop a slit in the sod and stick a slip of potato in it. Once they start coming up and we can identify the plants we'll put down layers of newspaper and mulch around them to kill off the weeds.

In our greenhouse here at home we have tomatoes, squash, melons, and cabbage started in pots. Once the weather shows a warming, drying trend we will put them in the ground at Starbird Farm. Each plant will be planted in it's own mini-garden by digging a hole about the size of a small dinner plate, loosening the soil and adding compost with the plant. Again, we layer newspaper and mulch around these mini-gardens to kill off the weeds.

Yesterday we finished digging our well. It is about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep. Next time we go out we will be stabilizing the sides by sinking a big tub with holes in it, dropping a few good sized rocks in it so it won't float to the surface, and shoring up the edges with more rocks. It's amazing how deep the roots go down. We were digging out roots down to about 3 feet!!!

I hope you are all as enthusiastic as we are about this. I would like to hear more about others' plans and methods.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

At Long Last Spring

The weather seems to have finally broken. We're in a week-long dry spell finally. Most of the plowing and rototilling has now been completed at StarBird Farm. Two of us have had lime spread on our plots. I think this weekend we will start planting -- strawberries, broccoli for us. We will also get some supports installed for raspberries and boysenberries. Life is good.