Since we recently diverted from our usual poultry post, I thought it would be nice to share some of the other things we’re doing on the farm. Aside from pastured poultry, we are usually working on something in the garden. Last summer we had, well, less than remarkable results. So, determined not to fail again, we struck out on a plan for a bountiful fall/winter garden. Following in the steps of Mr. Jeavons, we set out to double-dig our plots. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, but you haven’t done it before, we recommend a good shovel, a good digging fork, and lots of icy-hot when the job is done (your back will need it). This is good work, but it is hard work.
Having prepared the beds, we set up small boarders, using just 2″x4″, treated with a toxic-free water repellant to reduce warping, swelling, and water penetration. Because double-digging increases the air volume in your soil, what was once a flat plot will become a 4-6″ raised bed, with no addition of soil. So these small boarders help prevent erosion, and define your beds nicely. We did mix in some organic amendments, including aged compost, but we don’t add any synthetic fertilizers, period.
Once the beds are prepared, we ran drip line along each frame, and then set 90 degree misters in opposite corners of the bed. It’s not perfect, but it covers the bed well. Square beds would probably lend to less water loss from a “corner” mister, but anything over a 4’x4′ bed would hard to work with, especially in the middle. For that reason we stick to 4′ wide beds, up to 10′ long. That means you don’t have to reach more than 2′ to get to the center. As a result, we have some overspray from water, but that’s an acceptable result for us.
Because our winters can have sub-freezing temps, this year we add hoops to our plots. Cutting appropriate lengths of 1/2″ PVC, we used two-hole clamps to fasten them inside of the boarders. Next we purchased seedling cloths from OSH, and secured them to the outside of the PVC with that old favorite of farm wives, the clothes pin. These hoop houses keep our veggies about 6-8 degrees warmer than the ambient temperatures, and still allow in plenty of light and air. We can even water under them if necessary, and fold them back for additional sun with removing them completely. The combination of tight planting and hoop houses has resulted in a zero-loss winter garden.
Finally, the plants. Here the fun is in finding the seeds and seedlings we want to grow. For this, we often turn to Seed Saver’s Exchange, Peaceful Valley, Seeds of Change, for seeds, and Nature’s Touch in Templeton, CA, or even our local OSH, for seedlings. These days, we are trying to find artisanal produce from Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste.” We joined Slow Food USA (SFUSA) last year, and this is a great way to help preserve pastoral produce (alliteration anyone?) endanger of extinction. SFUSA calls them “cherished foods” and to make the list, they foods must include the following qualities:
- Outstanding in terms of taste—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
- At risk biologically or as culinary traditions
- Sustainably produced
- Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice
- Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies
The food categories include, “vegetables, fruits and berries, nuts, cereals, cheeses, fish, shellfish, game, livestock, poultry, beverages, honey, spices, syrups, vinegars, and more.”
This fall we found a wonderful butter lettuce known as Tennis Ball. It has quickly become a family favorite. You must try it! Here are some pictures of one of our hoop houses. We hope you enjoyed this little walk through our garden. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. Blessings.