The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Month: April 2014 (page 1 of 4)

Experimental gardening

I am a tinkerer by nature.  I like to try things out for myself and see how they work. It’s part stereotypical man-who-won’t-ask-for-directions. It’s also how I learn. It’s not enough for me to follow a good example, I need to test the limits and see if I can improve it. Gardening is no exception.

Last year’s garden went in so late I barely had time to plant the potatoes, let alone try new experiments. But this year I’m chomping at the bit to try some intriguing ideas.

I’ve decided to split up my vegetable garden into three trials this year: conventional, no-till, and remineralized.

Conventional Gardening

Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello

Conventional gardening is what you think of with classic gardens laid out in rows, like the kind Thomas Jefferson kept at Monticello. I’ll be using some modern methods like drip-irrigation and plastic mulch. But mine will won’t be 1,000 feet long like our 2nd President’s.

No-Till Gardening

Back to Eden documentary about no-till gardening

Shortly after we moved out here I watched a fascinating documentary on no-till gardening. In it, Paul Gautschi describes how he uses wood chips to suppress weeds and rebuild soil fertility. I’ve been eager to try it ever since. A little too eager. Shortly after watching the film I bought a trailer-load of wood chips from a tree service in town and spread them over a portion of our tilled acreage so I’d have a head-start in the Spring. By the time the snow melted I had changed my mind where I wanted to put the garden and had to rake about 400 square feet of wood chips back into a pile which stood at the end of our driveway for most of the summer (to Becca’s dismay).

This year I’ve got my ducks in a row, so I’ll be trying again with the wood mulch in a dedicated section of the garden.

Remineralization

Remineralization is simply the adding of pulverized “rock dust” to your garden. It’s nothing new, but has gotten more attention lately due to the resurgent interest in organic gardening. It’s not clearly understood why yet, but even sufficiently fertilized gardens benefit greatly from the addition of cheap and plentiful rock minerals.

From an advocacy group’s website:

Effects of rock dust remineraliztion

In this unintended “experiment” in our garden, we remineralized soil in one raised bed with finely ground granite residue from a water well drilling site. The remineralized soil produced the carrots on the left. Carrots planted earlier, in soil not yet remineralized, but otherwise more improved, are shown at the right for comparison.

Remineralize.org

So, along with the wood chips and the rows, I’ll also be cordoning off a section to try out the rock dust.

It might sound like a lot of work for some homegrown tomatoes. But it’s not work to me. It’s all play.


Replanting our field

Tractor getting ready to plant

In a previous post I wrote about why we needed to replant our field this year. It was supposed to happen earlier this week, but rain beat the farmer to our field. And then we had to wait for everything to dry out. I never really knew when to expect him.

Then this morning around 7am as I was trying to figure out where that low rumble was coming from, I saw a huge tractor pull up in our field pulling a 40-foot plow.

Tractor tilling our field

We are extremely fortunate to live up the road from a family farm. They were generous enough to include our tiny parcel among the fields they planted this year.

Pasture mix seed getting dumped into the seed bins

Tractor beginning to plant our field


A new home for the seedlings

Supplies set out for transplanting seedlings

It was long overdue, relegated to the bottom of my to-do list for weeks. But this week my seedlings finally got a new home.

Finished transplanting tomato seedlings

These larger pots will last until its time to transplant outside.

We currently have tomatoes, zinnias, sunflowers and an assortment of herbs growing inside. The seed potatoes are cut and callousing. The garden is eager to be tilled but we just got another drenching of rain, so it will be awhile still before we can start the early crops outside.


Last of the sap

Evaporator at Night

It’s been many late nights but I finally finished evaporating this year’s Maple sap. We collected 65 gallons this year and it took on average one hour to evaporate five gallons. That doesn’t include an hour to scrounge for wood, build the fire and get the coals hot enough to boil water. So, all in about 16 hours outside, tending the fire.

At first, I love it. I’m outside, enjoying a warm fire, making syrup from my own trees. What could be better?

About 8 or 9 hours in I begin to think “there’s got to be a better way…” and schemes for next year’s improvements begin churning in my head.

Then around the 12th hour I figure the fire can watch itself for awhile. But minutes later I look outside to see flames leaping from one of the pans.

Evaporator burnt syrup

Five gallons of sap boiled to a crisp and then ignited.

No, the evaporator demands my full attention. So I dutifully kept it company until all the sap was done.


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