We finally have the final Garden Plan for the 2020 season!
This picture is our West Plot. We have reduced the number of rows and combined items within the rows to take advantage of companion planting such as Basil between the Tomatoes which is known to deter pests.
We will have a bigger variety of vegetables with a number of herbs and flowers mixed in to assist in pest control and theoretically increase yields. For instance, Radishes among Cucumbers is said to increase Cucumber yields. Dill by Broccoli deters Cabbage Beetle and Cilantro is peppered in the lettuce and other rows and considered a yield increaser.
We’ve also decided to try our hand at going vertical. Hog panels will be lining the Cucumber section so we can hopefully pull the cucumbers hanging from the panel instead of stepping over piles of vines on the ground. This should reduce plant damage and result in cleaner Cucumbers.
We are also going vertical with Luffa. We successfully grew a Luffa last year in our test plot so are undertaking tall arched hog panels that will be high enough to walk under! A little fun having squash hanging overhead.
The East Plot was the Pumpkin patch last year which will be expanded with multiple squash types and 2 rows to test our ability to grow Watermelon and Cantelope. We will also add Sunflowers to this area which are considered a good cover crop.
The growing plot is in full swing. This is a picture of just the expansion. It’s outperforming in every way. The weed block is everything we hoped. Spending less time on weeding and more time on managing the plants themselves has been more productive. The produce is larger and there is more being harvested than in the old plot. The old plot has it’s advantages. Although it has many more weeds, it is a cooler more protected area that lends itself to growing celery, peas, garlic and lettuce.
There are some challenges. Using the biointensive method of growing vegetables we find ourselves wading through a sea of cucumber plants, very scratchy by the way, to pull so many cucumbers that we know we are going to have to donate because the distribution plan for this year did not pan out and demand is currently lower than the yield. We are having a hard time keeping up with harvesting with working a regular full time job. We’ve spent early mornings and evenings with a head lamp strapped on so we could see in the dark.
It’s hard work and time consuming but very rewarding when we see how much our customers like our vegetables. I guess you could call this a labor of love.
Many people want to see where the vegetables are grown so I took some time to create a quick video tour that you can see on the farm YouTube channel:
The biggest inefficiency we’ve had since we started growing vegetables is the amount of time spent pulling weeds. Since we manage the plot naturally we do not use herbicides. It requires pulling by hand with small tools or a hoe. The stirrup version we purchased this year is now our favorite method. While the straw we used last year significantly reduced the weeds, we now have a plot 3 times the original size to tend to!
The biggest decision we made to save weeding time was to purchase weed blocking fabric for the first time. It was actually cheaper than we expected, even for the heavy duty version which is supposed to last for 3-5 year. It’s a little more complicated to use than you’d think. Rows aren’t perfectly straight but the fabric is so laying it down by hand can be a little awkward. There are a lot of metal clips you need to push through the fabric into the clay soil. Then there is the question of how do you put plants into the ground under the weed block?
I’d seen farmers take a knife and cut an X in the spot where the plants would grow, pull the folds up to expose the soil and pop the plant in, folding the fabric back down around it. After doing research online we found the best way to create the holes without doing a lot of damage to the fabric. Burn holes leaving no sharp edges that could easily tear.
We started with a spare piece of plywood and drew circles with a compass spacing them the distance we wanted our plants to be apart from each other. For instance, in intense gardening tomatoes are planted 9 inches apart. We drew one circle and then measured 9 inches from the center of the first hole to find the center of the next hole, using a yard stick to keep them in a straight line. We drilled the holes out and now have a template or stencil for the holes. This 9 inch template can also be used for zucchini which is planted 18 inches apart. We even added a second line to the template to plant beans 4 inches apart or by burning every other opening, making holes for basil planted 8 inches apart.
Burning the holes is easy. Using a small propane torch, we laid the stencil down on the row and rapidly burned the fabric showing through the template. I say rapidly because we don’t want to start the template on fire!
We didn’t put any fabric down on the rows with lettuce or root vegetables because it would be difficult with the intense gardening method (I’ll explain in a future post). Those rows will still require a lot of weeding.
Now that the holes are burned, it’s time to start planting!
You can see how we burned the holes in our weed fabric watching our YouTube Channel:
Can you see it in the background? That is the expanded bed which is twice the size of the original plot in the front of the picture. It’s finally almost done.
We took off the black plastic, added some organic top soil amended with composted manure and tilled it in. There was so much half dead grass tilled up that we had to rake it out, till again and rake again.
We plan to keep the rows static, using a no till method going forward . Double digging to build the rows by hand last year was too much work so we looked for more automated ways to build the rows. Unfortunately, row builders are costly and if we plan to rarely rebuild the rows, we didn’t want to spend too much money. After measuring the tractor we found the distance between the tires is 30 inches and the tires themselves are 18 inches wide. A perfect match for the 30 inch rows we were planning to build. We bought a pair of 16 inch discs and attached them to the front bar of the box blade and tested it out. For a system that was red neck engineered it worked very well.
Finally, we purchased a high grade permeable weed block and covered the rows to reduce the chance of weed seeds taking root. This is our first year trying a weed block. Since 90% of our time in the garden is spent weeding, this is an important next step to reduce our work.
Now it’s time to take a little break before working on the irrigation.
Watch our expansion progress on our YouTube channel:
Snow is almost gone, transplants are getting big, so it’s time to prepare the bed! It’s been a long winter so I will probably be sore tomorrow. I completed about 1/2 of the rows by double digging and forming by hand the wider, deeper rows than last year. This should reduce the erosion we had last year. I also spend time with a yard stick and string to actually make them straight this year! An irritation for my better half who tried to lay the drip irrigation.
Hopefully I can get the other 1/2 done tomorrow because we are running out of growing time!