Now that the snow is gone we can progress again on the crops. This weekend we are laying irrigation. We haven’t purchased a hoe attachment for the Grillo yet so we purchased a rolling hoe tool to make the job easier and faster. Once the ditch was dug last year’s subsurface irrigation taped was re-laid in the bed. We invested money into good commercial grade irrigation tape so we could use it year over year. We used the Grillo’s power harrow to smooth the beds back out.
Just to confirm the tapes were still good we tested the irrigation by starting it up and making sure the water fully came through at the bottom of the row. Once we knew it was flowing, we folded and put ends on the base of the tapes. Then we turned the system on once again, leaving it run for 20 minutes, looking for moisture meeting the surface. Circular patterns appear on the top. If the pattern is interrupted there is a leak or blockage and the tape is removed to the garbage.
Over the last year we have created leaks in tapes, once by stabbing a last minute tomato stake in the ground when the plant started falling over and a few times digging carrots out of the carrot beds. We have yet to have a blockage.
Now that the irrigation is in and tested we can move to laying down fabric. Once again we will be reusing what we purchased last year, saving money. The only beds that we don’t lay down fabric is lettuce and root vegetables. The vegetation should be so thick it should prevent weeds from taking over.
We are really close to planting, but there is one more thing to put in. This will be the first time trying low tunnels in the spring to protect our plants. We installed hoops on the rows with the most concern, such as lettuce, and laid Agribon, a light protective fabric, over the hoops. The hoops were made from 1/2 EMT metal conduit pushed through a special bending frame to make hoops for this purpose. The fabric is tight up with Velcro straps until it’s needed. When it gets too cold or a storm is blowing through you just pull the Velcro ties off and pull the fabric down the sides of the rows. The ties make it a quick process for a last minute storm which are very common here.
Now we are ready to start planting!
Watch as we lay the irrigation and test it on the 5280 Artisan 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: