Tiny farming: mulch

Choosing straw!

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[From 13-Jun-2013] Mulching peppers with straw. So pretty! Plastic mulch is cheaper than straw, also, quicker to lay down and clean up, and generally more effective in suppressing weeds and retaining soil heat, but plastic is also less fun! Hahaha, those crazy business decisions. I’ve used plastic before, and like as not will again—in tiny farming, thinking small in 50′ and 100′ beds, flexibility comes easy. In any case, this year, we choose straw!

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Garlic check-in

Garlic

Yep, the garlic is growing steady, unfazed by 25°C/77°F days tumbling to sub-freezing nights, still apparently unappetizing to deer in spite of their almost unnaturally healthy green standout glow against the hay and straw mulch. Very nice! The difference between larger cloves, planted in the middle bed, and the smaller ones on either side, set up by Tracy and Jesse, is still quite noticeable. We’ll see how they catch up.

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Garlic rising

Garlic in early April

The garlic really pushed up in the freakishly summery end-of-winter days, already around 6″ high. Don’t recall exactly how far ahead they are—there may be pics on the blog from this time in past years, I haven’t checked—but this is pretty big early growth. I’ve been wondering about deer tucking in as they are about the greenest thing around at the moment, but it seems they’re not to the deer’s taste. And they’ve done fine through a couple of -5°C/23°F nights, and a bit of snow. So it’s so far looking good for the first crop up this season!

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Somewhat submerged!

Waterlogged in December

It’s a wet December! After only a couple of days of rain, the ground is pretty well waterlogged, to the point where I can’t move the Kubota compact tractor without leaving deep furrows that’ll be totally compacted and eventually dry like concrete. So, before being rained out entirely three-quarters of the way through the job, it was slogging on 100′ round trips through boot-sucking muck, one forkload of hay at a time, to mulch garlic—not a big deal, there’s only a 100′ bed and a half to cover, but the EASIER plan was to use the tractor to push the big round bale to the garlic bed. Guess not. Lesson: Um, don’t wait! :)

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Carrot-burlap method gets a twist

Landscaping fabric over carrots

Here’s one of the more extreme displays of crazily labor-intensive tiny farming technique. Andie surveys our work, the result of deciding to try landscape fabric in place of burlap to help carrot seed germination. It’s actually a double experiment, because one of the beds is green onions.

The burlap method has been the way to start carrots around here for the last two seasons: tried and true. The main purpose is to preserve moisture in the seed drills, and the increase in heat helps as well.

After a good run, the first round of burlap expired, and I couldn’t find rolls of it in time for this season (I know it’s out there, somewhere). But, I spotted this gear, landscape fabric, a porous plastic mulch used to permanently suppress weeds in…landscaping. It’s light, and just wide enough (3′/30 cm) to cover 4 rows of carrots (that’s a little closer than usual for the bunching onions). I tried it on two beds earlier in the season, and it works fine!

One little problem: it tears easily, so how to hold it down? With the burlap, we made wire staples out of heavy gauge wire. Here, we placed a LOT of heavy rocks, close enough together that there’s no room for the wind to get under and start really pulling. This does the trick for now, but overall, it’s a little TOO intense. The hunt for burlap: still on!

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Last of the spring planting

Transplanting winter squash & pumpkins

It’s another week till the start of CSA shares and the first picking of peas, and at least 3 weeks until some of the heavier crops—broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash—are ready, so Friday’s are still about general fieldwork, not HARVEST. Just ahead of the end of spring, Lynn, Libby and Jordan planted out a last wave of winter squash and some fast-maturing (80-90) Neon pumpkins. That brings the spring planting to a close, a little later than usual, overall, but considering the first-year, start-up situation, really good!

We also put in one bed of melons under infrared-transmitting (IRT) plastic mulch (above).  For a couple of years, I planted 5-10 50′ beds under IRT mulch (more heat to the soil), but yield wasn’t worth the effort, including the extra watering (didn’t use drip tape under the plastic). This year, with one bed to focus on, it’s an experiment—we’ll try to give them extra special care!

Lynn vanished early from lunch, only to be found reading her new herb book under a tree. This photo (below) doesn’t nearly capture the scene: it looked like an impossibly peaceful countryscape, from a simple, carefree world—fit for a postcard. We were laughing, and Jordan spontaneously got out his camera and took photos, too.  I asked her if she’d scouted the location for the setting (joking, but I can also be a bit of a cynic! :), she said it was just the best spot she could find for shade!

Reading in the shade of a tree

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