All the action on the Sub Acre Farms have been hogging alot of space here at Onestraw, so I wanted to double back and show some of the work that has happened on the Suburban home front. The bed pictured at right was created last year when I made my permaculture beds. I had taken the sod I cut off with my uber cool hand sod cutter 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 form a 4″ thick mat of straw, only to regrow to this 3′ tall stand by May.
I had decided to mow it down for a few reasons. I am still working on when to cut and when not to. Hairy Vetch is notorious for regrowing if mown before it flowers, but more importantly: the Rye was going to seed and I want to plant this bed to tomatoes in 2 weeks.
One of the biggest struggles with gardening in a brand new subdivision is the complete lack of organic matter. The soils are dead, and you have no trees for leaves. So last year I began growing my own green manures, primarily Russian Comfrey and Red Clover. Having seen how long it takes the ecologically challenged soils on my property to break down raw materials, I opted to mow off the green growth with a hand sickle. The scrub that is left (at left) I then rototilled under with the Grillo. In the future, I would like to trial the practicality of using a stationary chicken tractor at this point to scratch this layer in over the course of a week or so, but the HOA says “Hell No!” Anyone able to answer why it is ok for me to use a stunningly loud and smelly air cooled diesel tractor in my backyard but not house 6 quietly clucking hens would do a great service to this country. The soil when done bore no resemblance to the dead caked black clay that the sod roots had attempted to pierce last year. Light, rich, and full of organic matter, it was a stark transformation, and the vetch should provide much of the nitrogen to get the tomatoes going.
The mown grass netted over 10 cu feet of material some of which I used to supercharge my compost bin (went from 90 to 136 degrees in 1 day!) and the rest to mulch a third of one of the permaculture beds.
To review: for $1.50 in seed I prevented erosion, grew my own mulch, accelerated my compost, re birthed my soil, mulched a garden and fertilized my tomatoes. Not bad for watching plants grow for 3 months!
Covercrops and green manures are not just for farming, they play a critical role in ALL soils-even if all you grow each year are tomatoes and zucchini, cover the soil the rest of the year with a simple mix of Rye and Hairy Vetch which can be bought from most seed sellers or Johnny’s or Fedco seeds. Small outlay, little work, and HUGE gains.