Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Progress in the Garden

As I've mentioned, this is the first summer at my new place. We moved in at the end of summer last year, and were so busy getting things set up, that the garden was put off. All I did was buy a few leftover scraggly tomato plants on sale at the tractor store, and tucked them into slits in the yard. I think I got maybe a dozen green tomatoes to fry early in October. My plan was to work through the winter preparing the soil for a real garden this year.

An almost constant three feet of snow stopped me. Winter started early, dumped tons of snow, and stayed late, with snow at the end of April and frosts well into May.  Even now, at the end of May, I relish each warm day because of the recent memory of cold nights and frosty days.  I actually only put away my long johns last week, at last sure we wouldn't get any more freezing nights for a while.

So I started this garden year with almost nothing done. I wanted to start what I hope will be, in a few years, a very large garden in part of what is now an unused pasture.  I want to have mostly raised beds, since the soil here is a clay and silt mix that I find difficult to work in. When it is wet it clumps into reddish grey masses, and when dry it is yellowish, cracked, and powdery, and the clumps are like rocks.  There are dogwood sprouts, thistles and ragweed all over the pasture, as well as huge dense patches of wild onions.  The thought of plowing or tilling that all up and weeding it all is overwhelming, so starting a handful of raised beds and adding some each year makes the task seem less daunting and more reasonable to me.

My daughters built me nine 3 feet by 12 feet beds. Two are only six inches tall, and the rest are 12 inches tall. While the wood was all purchased so the beds would be uniform, I didn't want the garden to be super expensive, so I am determined to get the stuff to fill them all as cheaply as possible, or free if I can.

First, the neighbors, for years, have spread their raked fall leaves in the pasture I now own. They bring them over in wagons pulled by their lawn tractors. I told them to continue to put the leaves on the pasture but to leave them in large piles, near the front of the pasture. One farmer drove over and over the piles with a large mower to chop them up for me and we raked them back up and let them compost over the winter. What started in the fall as three piles three feet tall and maybe five feet wide, by spring were just wet masses by the end of April.

Two garden beds that have raspberries planted in them were filled with these. I ordered raspberry slips  from Stark Bros, and they were just put into slits we managed to dig into the soil. The rotting leaves we mixed with free composted horse poop from a neighbor, along with some wood ash from a bonfire to keep the leaves from making the mix too acidic. This filled up the six inch high beds.

The raspberry plants went mostly into the ground, but a couple inches out into the compost mix- mostly because I couldn't get the holes any deeper. Most of them are doing really well. Three died, possibly because of the late frosts we got, and nine are getting new growth like crazy.

To keep the aforementioned weeds and bushes from growing back around the raspberries, I used a moldy straw bale (they come apart in layers) as a sheet mulch.  This is one of the raspberry beds. The other bed has not been sheet mulched yet, and is too weedy to be presentable.

 I'll soon put four fence posts in the beds, one at each corner. I'll string clothesline wire down the length from pole to pole as the bushes grow, three or four times at different heights and keep putting the branches inside to keep them up.   Since I have two beds, I'll cut down one bed each year, alternating beds, so each year one bed will have berries getting ready on the one year old growth.  I chose primocane berries so I would get two small crops each summer, rather that just one.

I'll be pulling out the dead bushes and putting new ones in ASAP, so I may get a few berries later this summer!

I am so looking forward to the first raspberries!

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