So we are about half way through the gardening year. Early and Mid spring crops like Spinach, peas and lettuce are gone, early summer crops like potatoes, beets, and carrots (as well as Hoop House peppers!) are harvestable. Tomatoes are heavy on the vine but still green, corn is 4-5′ tall and starting to tassle, fall squash are sending their unruly vines through the paths, and onions are bulbing. Fall crops are being planted in flats -kale, spinach, and lettuce #4 to refill holes in the potato patch and other areas. With a breif respite from chores, its time to document some of my reflections.
To a row, our direct seeded crops have failed. Our market garden plot is a 9 mile drive from our house. That means that I am really only up there once a week for any appreciable time. While the main culprit for this was the 15 inches of rain we got in a 10 day period in June, but even in a “normal” year (haven’t seen one yet) I know the weeding would have gotten away from us. In freshly plowed ground like we started with, carrots, beets, bush beans, onions, and direct seeded lettuce will all be out competed by weeds without almost daily attention the first several weeks. Some rows have been inundated with a perrenial, rhizomatous sedge, but our main problem is super vigorous annual weeds: amaranth, lambs quater, button weed, and thistle mostly. Left unattended these will all crest at over 5′ tall, and in a week they easily get bigger than any growth carrots can put on. My biggest learnings here are that I will simply not even try these on fresh soil again. With more frequent attention mulching and/or wider row spacing would either smother many of the weeds or allow a wheel or scuffle hoe between the plants. I planted them in “wide” rows and the weeds took care of every gap I left. I was planting based on maximizing yield per row ft like I do at home, but at the farm I have all the land I need -I need to focus on ease of maintenance, to maximize yields. I am retrying carrots in the compost beds which have a fraction of the weed pressure to see if that might help.
The B.V.V. (Big Vigorous Veggies)
That last section was depressing… this one will be more triumphant. The same insane fertility that makes the lambsquater put on a foot a week in height does the same for equally vigorous veggies. Our potatoes, corn, fall squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers are unbelievably lush -deep green leaves, great height, and from the harvests on the potatoes at least -very productive. Even at baby stage I am seeing 1# per linear row foot of Carolas, and at full size should see 2-3#. These plants are either very aggressive in and of themselves (potatoes, squash, corn) or transplanted in at decent height (cukes, and tomatoes). In the seeded crops I have weeded about twice 2 weeks in, and again at week 4. After that they are so robust that nothing else stands a chance of causing any significant harm and I only weed to prevent them dropping seed. In the tomatoes/cukes I planted into freshly tilled soil, and the mulched. Again, they put on so much mass that little can cause them harm. This amount of work better matches the amount of effort I am able to put in.
Its fabulous. I bought mine from Fed-Co and love it. Thus far I water about once a week (in the 2 times we haven’t had an inch of weekly rain). Routine is to pull into the farm, turn on the water, unload, weed, harvest, transplant, whatever for 3-4 hours, pack up, and then turn the water off. Done. Its pricey, but will last for several seasons and it has already paid for itself in time savings. I also have 2 auto timers for when the dry season gets here, I just haven’t needed them yet.
In addition to providing some food for local folks and restaurants, the main goal of this project is to make my mistakes and take my learnings on land that doesn’t have a mortgage riding on it. It is easier to be Zen about mistakes when you have no debt! So here is the sum of them:
- Start with Big Vigorous Veggies (BVV) on fresh land if you can’t smother the weeds out first. I will never try carrots, etc on freshly tilled soil again.
- Match your plants to your time constraints. Potatoes are great crops for periodic spurts of energy in the garden. 1 Day planting. 2-3 half days weeding. 1 Day pulling beetles/spraying Bt (if needed!). Lots of little 1 hour days harvesting -and harvesting potatoes is not even remotely considered work by me! Yields will be well north of 1000#’s, with 180#’s already in the hopper in July Wk 2. Corn and Squash are about the same, with less time harvesting. Tomatoes get alot more time harvesting, but the harvest is much easier.
- Consider weed pressure in your rotational planting. In years 1 and 2 of my garden I will plan on growing the BVV almost exclusively and then trading the surplus for beets, beans, and carrots. The BVV will be on the leading edge as my gardens expand and will always follow any freshly tilled in green manures -the tilling will have brought up more weed seeds. Carrots etc will only go in favored beds that allow for extra attention and will get wider spacing to allow better cultivation
- When considering a truly Sustainable Garden -time needs to be factored as an input just as much as water and nutrients. Time will make a garden economically unsustainable if poorly managed, and the entire garden could fail if the time inputs for various crops are not considered wisely.
I am a long way off of using the Sustainable Market Garden Plan, but the idea is still sound. Incorporating these learnings will only make it better. While there have certainly been some disappointments this year, being able to pull out bushels and bushels of potatoes with so little input is making up for it in a BIG way! Other things still to work out -these gardens are not “permacultured” yet, and are still very “problem” intensive when compared to Fukuoka’s Natural Farming (the problem of weeds, the problem of plowing, the problem of fertilizer). In other words the design is messy. Need to work on that!