Ruth and I Tuck In My Beds

This weekend the air finally turned crisp-we had our 2nd frost of the season-and it was time for the vegetable gardens to come down. The crazy thing about it was that I picked another gallon of green peppers, and another 20lbs of tomatoes-on Oct 13. We lost track of our total harvest when our harddrive crashed this past week, but total take was in the 4-500lb range -with an incredible 50 lbs of that being romaine. With the sunchokes yet to come in 500lbs will be a sure thing.

We delivered the last load of lettuce to the coffee shop, pulled up the remaining beets, cilantro, and carrots and then reached for the scuffle hoe and hand kama to prepare the beds for winter. Once the tomato vines were down, I then ran my electric mulching mower through it to chop it up into itty tiny bits for the critters to eat. Having read Ruth Stout this past year , there can be only one thing to do next: I layered on one small square bale of straw per 80 sq ft bed. This may not be thick enough as it is only about 2″ deep, but total mulch including the green matter is about 3-4″.
I am an incredibly firm believer in the philosophy that we need to start thinking of ourselves as Soil Farmers, i.e. as sustainable growers we must cultivate the health of our soils to produce healthy pest free crops. My soil was dirt when I started-clay, sand and cobblestone sized rocks that the developer trucked in froi ma nearby quarry-organic matter content was in the fractions of a percent. My answer has been to double dig in about 2 yards of compost per 100 sq feet of bed to start, and then add organic matter yearly for the past 2 years. This past Spring I needed to take some severe anti Quack grass measures and meticulously turned and hand pulled rhizomes to attempt to rid my gardens of this plant (Quack Grass is about the only plant I term a “weed” in my gardens). But hopefully that will be the last major disturbance the beds will see. Going forward I hope to no till them and use heavy mulches and a cover crop rotation to keep organic matter and soil life high, and invasive weeds down.

I added 3 new beds this year for the purpose of keeping 4 beds in production and allowing the remaining 3 to set in cover crop for a season to rebuild. The more I read about cover cropping the better I like it. Historically, and by that I mean 60-70 years ago, farmers would use cover crop mixes with upwards of 30 different plants in them to create a lush, diverse soil ecosystem for their cash crop the following year. Thus far all I have used is a rye/vetch mix (pictured), but I am hoping to experiment with annual clovers, oats, and buckwheat next year. Both heavy mulches and cover crops help mitigate the harsh winter conditions for the soil–if it is as mild as last year I could have active life for much of the winter. The plan is to save the mulched gardens for the spring plantings, and the cover crops for the May/June warm weather crops.

On a separate, but very exciting note, the market garden will be trying an experiment in 4 season gardening. The owner has a 20′ hoop house on skids that we will be moving to cover two beds we are cutting this weekend to grow spinach, mache, and endive. He also has dozens of sheets of triple pane glass from a business that was to be demolished, so I intend to cover the beds with simple straw bale cold frames as well.

Wish me luck!

3 Responses

  1. great post. love all the details about what you are doing to improve your soil

  2. Thanks Ed! Looks like you have your hands full teaching our youth A Better Way. Thanks for Being the Change, Ed.

  3. […] and turned it face down to make a 24″x20′ bed that I then planted with Rye Vetch last September. The winter was fierce here in Wisconsin (second worst on record) and the entire bed top killed to […]

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