The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Gardening (page 1 of 10)

Minnesota May

Waterlogged garden

How does your garden grow?  Minnesota doesn’t seem to appreciate all the effort we put into Spring planting. Our Zone 4 official planting day is around May 15th each year. Last year saw a hard frost descend a few days following setting out my tender starts. This past week gave us daily 40-degree temps and nearly 8 inches of rain. This, after a hot, dry, 90-degree weekend.

Everything in our garden is waterlogged and stunted. My tomatoes and peppers barely survived and will take weeks to regain their composure.

Waterlogged tomatoes

Sweet corn appears to be rotting in the soil, and carrots, lettuce, and beets are mostly washed away. They never stood a chance. The biggest drawback to Back to Eden Gardening I’ve found is that under heavy rains the woodchips will fall down over rows you have just seeded, preventing sprouting. With average rainfalls of <1″ per week and temps in the mid-70’s this time of year, that is rarely a problem. But the last two years have seen abundant rains (8″ last week!) and 30-degree below normal temps. That combo just isn’t conducive to growing annuals.

Strawberries flowering

The crops that don’t seem to mind much are the perennials: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and asparagus. Except for the blueberries which lost most of their fruiting flowers during the strong winds, these have all fared well. Perennials are deep-rooted enough to withstand the harshest surface conditions (like Minnesota Winters).

I am researching hoop houses now to cover the entire garden. It may be too late this year, but with May being such an important–and unpredictable–month weather-wise, it would make a significant difference to create some shelter from the storm.


Gautschi’s Gardens

Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenI’ve written on a few occasions of Back to Eden style gardening. Back in October my Dad and I made a pilgrimage to the Sequim, Washington in the Olympic Peninsula to meet the man who started it all and see his own gardens: Paul Gautschi.

 

b2e_paulgautschiI edited together a short highlight reel that captures the essence of our visit, complete with amazing edibles and Paul’s unique wit and wisdom:

The trip was unforgettable. From the moment we arrived Paul welcomed us into his gardens, offering perfectly ripened fresh fruits and vegetables for the tasting. All the while Paul described his gardening journey, declaring God’s handiwork in every step. I would call it bragging on God. “Taste and see!” Paul would tell us, referring to the Bible passage “Taste and see the Lord is good.” -Psalm 34:8

b2e_meetingpaul

Every Sunday from April through September strangers from all over the world show up at Paul’s 1/2-acre garden to see with their own eyes and taste with their own mouths the incredible bounty of his gardens. And Paul is not ashamed to share the secret of his success. For two hours or more on his garden tours, Paul preaches about the goodness of God.

Giant pears at Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenDespite the hordes that descend on his property weekly to sample his fare, he still has more food than his family can eat. “My biggest problem is abundance!” Paul would often say.

The pear I’m holding above was literally a meal. I felt full after eating it, which kind of bummed me out because I wanted to keep eating! Paul explained I felt full because I was eating live food. Fruit starts losing nutritive value the moment its plucked from the tree. When you eat live food, you’re body is absorbing the maximum quantity of nutrients, minerals, and water-soluble fiber.

b2e_orchard-cabbage

Because of the deep-mulch wood-chip gardening Paul uses, his orchards are so healthy and loaded with fruit the branches bow down to the ground. “You can’t prune a tree to do that,” Paul said.

The soil is so healthy he can grow many vegetables in full shade under the tree canopies. Turns out most vegetables do not need full sun — they need good soil!

Back to Eden Gardens

Besides abundant fruit trees, what’s the big deal about Back to Eden gardening? Tasting is believing. It’s hard to explain flavors I’ve never tasted before. The best I can do here is show you some pictures.

b2e_parsley

Cilantro - Back to Eden Gardening

Winter Squash - Back to Eden Gardening

In this next picture you’ll see lavender growing next to a blueberry shrub. As anyone who has grown blueberries knows, they require highly acidic soil. They will absolutely not survive in high pH environments. Yet in Paul’s garden they thrive high-pH plants next to low-pH plants.

Lavender grows next to Blueberry in Back to Eden Garden

Same thing with Sage and Wasabi. This shouldn’t be possible, but there it is!

b2e_sage-wasabi

While Paul started with woodchips, he now grows all his own chicken food (they eat mostly kale and other garden scraps). His chickens turn garden and lawn waste into nitrogen-rich compost which Paul uses for a Fall fertilizing each year.

Paul Gautschi's Chicken Composting Factory

When I say visiting Paul’s garden was a spiritual experience, I’m not exaggerating. Paul does not separate the things of God from the things God made. Within a few minutes of arriving, tears welled up in our eyes as Paul talked about Heaven. During the tour you come to realize that Paul’s relationship with his heavenly Father is the real miracle and it leaves you hungering for a deeper spiritual walk yourself. Upon returning, my dad wrote this about our experience:

My mind and soul continue to reverberate in the aftermath of our time with Paul last Sunday. He is the epitome of God’s working in the lives of a person. Here is a man whose body has been ravaged by agent orange during the Vietnam war and yet exudes the loving grace of God beyond anything I have seen. The real benefit to people who come in contact with him is the potential of another changed life coming into alignment with the God of the Universe. The garden is only a byproduct used as a tool to bring people to Him. Maybe not intentionally but that is what’s happening. Wow! Thanks for introducing me to him! That time will forever be a pearl in my life!

Here is just one of many conversations we had about the goodness of God:


How much to grow?

How much do I grow?One of the most common questions I get asked about gardening is “How much should I grow?” Another question that goes along with it is “How  big of a garden do I need to feed my family?”

These are good questions and ones that I haven’t had a good answer for. Until now.

I just plant more of the things I like to eat and less of the things I don’t and hope it all works out in the end. But after doing this for several years, that system is not working. It’s a lot of work to plant crops you won’t end up harvesting and there’s a limited amount of time and storage when harvest season comes around.

Corn and potatoes

Planning the harvest to your specific needs is the only way to ensure you aren’t wasting precious time, money or labor. There are various “rules of thumb” on the Internet, such as “grow 5 celery plants per person”. But everyone has different preferences when it comes to diet. It makes a lot more sense to figure out plantings based on how much food you actually eat rather than vague per-person estimates.

So over the holiday weekend I created a spreadsheet that lists every vegetable we grow. Next to each vegetable I enter the serving size for each meal and the number of meals we consume that vegetable each month. For example, 1/2 cup of corn once a week or 3/4 cup of potatoes 3 times a month. Then it calculates the number of plantings needed to produce that much harvest for the whole year. For example, 78 stalks of corn and 17 potato plants.

Spreadsheet used to figure out planting calculations based on food we actually eat

Spreadsheet I used to figure out number of plantings based on food we actually eat

I also added fields for Family Size and Sufficiency Goal so it is easy to change the calculations as our family and goals change. This year our goal is to grow 50% of our own produce.

Lastly, I converted the spreadsheet into an online calculator and published it on this site so I could share it with others. It’s been a tremendously helpful tool already. Besides knowing we need to plant 177 onion bulbs, I also know how much area is required for each vegetable, so I know how big to size the garden plot.

I used the area calculations for each vegetable to lay out the garden plot

I used the area calculations for each vegetable to lay out the garden plot

At 50% sufficiency for our family, we need a garden plot with just over 600 square feet, which is about 25′ x 25′. But if we wanted to produce all our own produce, we’d need a garden double that size.

Click here to see the How Much To Grow Calculator or find it under the “Gardening” tab in the  menu bar. Let me know your thoughts to improve it and any other vegetables you’d like me to list.

 


Back to Eden Garden Update

Garden Update -- Blueberries & Cherries!

It’s a happy day when blueberries and cherries are ripe for picking!

We spent the the evening in the berry patches after dinner. Strawberries have come and gone, blueberries are ripe right now, and the raspberries are a few weeks away from fruiting.

Raspberries

The raspberry canes were cut to the ground at the end of last season and heavily mulched. But the soil underneath is so healthy they have grown to enormous proportions. We’re still enjoying raspberry jam from last year’s harvest but we expect another huge harvest this year.

Garden plot as of July 2016

The main vegetable plot is much smaller this year as I slowly transition to a Back to Eden (deep-mulch) approach. I can only make the space as big as I have wood chips to fill it with.

I first experimented with a Back to Eden plot two years ago. The results were incredible. Minimal weeding, no watering, and much larger produce. But not having more wood chips I decided to go back to the traditional tilling method last year. Despite a herculean effort to keep weeds out (I even used black plastic and mulched the walkways), I was still overwhelmed. I probably spent 3-4 hours a week weeding, but a short vacation in mid-July was all it took for the weeds to gain the upper-hand. It became a lost cause by late summer.

I am happy to report the Back to Eden method virtually eliminates the weed problem altogether. Since planting I have spent no more than an hour weeding all year! Whatever does come up is simple to pull because the woodchips are so porous. I haven’t watered either.

However, I have had the same problems with germination as I did a few years ago, due mainly to woodchips falling back over the soil I had pulled back to plant. Being one of the wettest Springs on record, I also had a lot of problems with slugs (wood ash takes care of that problem… until the next rain).

But the biggest problem has been the overall tepid progress of the garden as a whole. It’s as though the garden is about a month behind schedule. This has been quite disappointing and confusing because I experienced the opposite result when I tested this method out a few years ago. And this time around I even gave the wood chips a full 6 months to break down.

What I was finally able to discover was the difference in quality of compost I laid down before adding the wood chips. In my experimental plot a few years ago, I laid down several layers of high-nitrogen fertilizer (litter from my chicken coop) before adding the wood chips. This offset the nitrogen-robbing effect of the carbon in the woodchips.

Wood chips will eventually break down on their own releasing both carbon and nitrogen back into the soil, but it’s a long process. Many people I have talked to with Back to Eden Gardens have said that it wasn’t until year 3 that they really saw their gardens take off. And each successive year is better than the previous because the soil continues to build.

B2E gardens are definitely a huge time savings in weeding and watering. But if you want a really productive first year,  it makes a difference what kind of compost you use. I know this to be true because of the mammoth growth of our cherry tree planted in our chicken pen.

Cherry bomb

This tree was planted a mere 9 months ago, in the Fall. But it is the most productive vegetation on our entire property, producing a full crop of cherries in its first year and prompting my sister-in-law to say “that’s the healthiest cherry tree I’ve ever seen!”

Here’s what the tree looked like when we planted it:

Cherry tree when planted last Fall

Clearly, the quality of compost makes a difference. Just as Paul Gautschi does with his garden, I have begun harvesting the top layer of this nutrient-dense soil as a fertilizer for the garden plot. But it will take some time to work its way down to the root zone.

Elsewhere in the garden, our Bee-Friendly Garden perennials are beginning to bloom. Purple coneflower, wild bergamot, and blue flowering borage:

Purple Coneflower in our Bee Friendly Garden

Beebalm in our Bee Friendly Garden

Borage in our Bee Friendly Garden


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