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Update on the garden.  Some successes, a couple of failures.

Firstly, one of the items I have to put in the "failure" category, since nothing is as it ought tn be.

One of my co-gardeners didn't seem to get the message about leaving a certain portion of the land fallow, due to the over-fertilizing, massive poisoning, and complete ignorance of crop rotation practiced by the previous owner of the land.

A few days ago I went out to sow ten pounds of yellow clover seed on one of the fallow spots, and found the that "Randy" had beaten me to that part of the garden.  And instead of a green manure crop** like clover or hairy vetch, he had planted melons.  He put cantaloupe seed on the same ground where the previous owner of the place had for several years running planted - melons.

(** A "green manure" crop one which is planted and grown for the express purpose of turning it under after it has matured, to aid in recovery or fertilization of the soil.  Clover and vetch are often used for this because they have "nitrogen fixing" bacteria on their roots, which actually take atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and "fix" it in a solid form as small nodules on the roots.  These sorts of crops or plants help doubly, by adding their carbon to the soil, helping to break up the clays or silts, and also adding a dollop of nitrogen fertilizer in its most usable naturally-occurring form.)

Plus, he did it completely BACKWARDS to boot.

(Continued after the Orange Cheesy-Poof of Death.)

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"How do you plant melons backwards," you might ask?   Simple.  First, you use the big BCS 2-wheel tractor machine, with the tiller attachment bolted onto it, to turn over the thoroughly-worn-out soil.  Once it is well-beaten grey dust, then you attach the "hiller-furrower" gadget to the machine, and run it back through, leaving a nice, deep trench with a solid clay bottom.  (This trench is a good 10 or 12 cm deep, and in a sane part of the universe would be used mostly for walking on, stepping there instead of on, and compacting, the loosened topsoil.)

On either side of that trench, or furrow, there are now nice, deep piles of earth (where, once again -  if sanity rules - you would put seeds and plants, so that they have lots of nice, loose soil in which to set their roots).

So, maybe you can already see where this is going yet?

Yes indeedy.  He put the melon seeds IN THE PACKED CLAY EARTH OF THE BOTTOM OF THE FURROW.  And we're not talking just a few either.  It seems he planted close to 150 seeds....  In the hard-pan at the bottom of these trenches.

Right.  Sure.  OK.  (Sigh.)

I asked him WHY he put the seeds down in the furrow in the first place.  "Thet-thar trench will catch the water!"  (And that is the last colloquially-spelled quote I'll bother with.  Suffice to say from here on if the speaker is Randy, then it's rather thickly spiced with Southern Illinoisanisms.)

Oh, joy.  Catch it?  Well, sort of.  Run it off in the fastest time possible, especially the way you cut them.  They're for DRAINAGE, YOU SILLY ASS!

Before you ask, yes, Randy is a red-neck.  He really talks like that, goldangit.  Heck, I'M a red-neck, and I grew up speaking like one, too.  (I also taught myself how NOT to sound like a hay-seed when I need to distance myself from my red-neckian roots.)  Truth be told, "red-neck" just means someone who works outside a lot, and that is the part which gets sun-burned most and most easily.  But I am starting to suspect that in Randy's case the burn goes a little higher up and a little deeper in.  Something important may have gotten cooked....

Now DON'T get me wrong, I love Randy like a brother.  Wouldn't change him for the world.  But occasionally I want to take a shovel and wham him up-side his pointy head a few times until something sinks in..

To further explain:  "It will catch the water down there."  First off, we are NOT in any kind of drought conditions.  Unlike a lot of the rest of the country, we've had good rains, and had them quite frequently.  In fact things have been almost too wet.  There is NO reason to expect that will change, either.  Secondly, if it does by some chance get too dry in the coming weeks, we already have a plan in place to fix that.  We planned for the worst and have an old, unused, above-ground swimming pool completely full of rain water, about 35,000 liters-worth.  Water is NOT the problem here.

When asked about WHY he put anything, be it melons or rutabagas, on the fallow ground, he just shrugged and said he thought I didn't REALLY mean to leave that much ground un-planted for a whole year.  Or did I?  I did?  For at least TWO years?  Maybe THREE?  Oops.  "Oh well, what's done is done."

{Face-palm.}  Good thing I'm no longer in  an office or it would have been {head-desk}; a good hard thumping it would have been, too.

When I got back to the base question, WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS UNHOLY did he put the seeds in the bottom of the furrow, on the hard-packed clay, his only comment was, "Roots know which way to go.  They will be fine."

No, Randy.  They won't be fine.  The first good rain we get, it is going to wash those seeds right out of there, because those furrows DON'T hold the water, they CHANNEL IT!  It will run like a small river, and like a river, the 'banks' and the bottom of the trench will wash out and that will include a goodly percentage of your hundred and a half seeds.  They MIGHT have held water and slowed the run-off, IF he had cut them properly for that; but he didn't contour anything to follow the way the land slopes.  All of his furrows run nice and straight, right down the slope of the hill where the garden is situated.  The rain will hit, and start running down the furrow, accelerating as it goes.....

And once the rain has washed away what little soil there was around the little roots down there in the hard-pan, the nice, hot sun will cook and dry those fragile roots in one day, two at the most.  Then we'll have a lot of sickly, spindly plants sitting there cooking, sending off all the chemicals that say to bugs, "Come and get it!  Easy to get, no protection here!"

Perhaps I ought to elaborate more.  Maybe you don't understand why his actions perplex me so.  To make it clear, you have to know that I have been sweating like a navvy, running furrows and then following up with a shovel to make paths beside raised beds, raising them on either side of the path, this entire Spring, every time there was enough of me available to manage to use the tools.  And after almost every completed bed, there was at least a day, usually two and a couple of times three, that saw me incapacitated by the arthritis.  Several days I could not get out of bed and walk the short distance to the bathroom.  I had to crawl, I was so twisted up and swollen.

But I managed to keep going when I could, and now there are several meter-and-a-half-wide by 15- and 20- meter-long raised beds, most with old boards and such pegged down on the sides of the raised part, holding them in place and fairly well protecting them from erosion.  The beds are up a good 30 cm above the 'normal' ground level all around.

When the rain falls and you follow the flow as it runs across and through the garden, even when it is flowing fastest off of the beds, the water in the run-off is still clear, and not at all muddy.  The topsoil stays put, since I made certain that the furrows are as close to perpendicular to the gravity-assisted flow of water as I could get it.  It's a bone-simple thing, make the water slow down, instead of gain speed, as it flows off the land.  Leave the soil in place, use roots to hold it back as much as possible so it stays on the land as long as possible soaking in as deeply as it can get; and plan the flow so it doesn't sweep your seeds, plants, and soil along and away.

So, it isn't as if he hasn't seen a raised bed before, or a furrow, or a contour line.  We discussed why my rows and furrows weren't all straight, right out in clear English.  But for some insane, cockamamie reason he has come up with the idea that the plants go in the bottom of the furrow.  Not the top.

As part of the "successes," as well as to illustrate that my way of doing this stuff works, here is the tiniest bit of bragging.  We have harvested over six bushels of spinach leaves off of one 1.5m x 2m raised bed, without ANY additional chemicals.  Just mulch and compost, well-rotted..

After seeing me cut that much spinach off of that little amount of ground, what in the world would cause anyone to think for even a second that the bottom of a furrow would be a good place to stick a seed?

Another piece of self-congratulations:
In an even smaller (0.5m x 2m) bed, we have cut almost 3 and a half bushels of mixed leaf lettuce and various greens like kale and beet greens; some for salads, some given to neighbours and friends, but over 2 and a half bushels to the local food pantry.  And THIS yield, from the raised bed above the furrow, makes him think the clay bottom of the furrow is a better place for a seed than the loose, well-drained, raised areas???  

Another thing, if these seeds of his manage to grow, and don't all get washed away, even allowing for the local food bank,  what in the WORLD are we going to do with four or five HUNDRED cantaloupe melons?!?!?!?  IF they don't all get washed out of the ground in their little hard-pan homes, they won't be any decent quality, if they do grow.  That ground is worn out.  Nutrients are scarce in there.  And I will NOT stoop to placing chemicals on them, like the last land-owner.

Big Sigh.

I have gotten ahead of him in at least a portion of the area we were supposedly going to let rest.  His melons in their furrows are separated by a bit over a meter of slightly raised ground between each of them.  Last evening, I used the little hand-cranked seed-sower machine to put down about six kilos of yellow clover seed in those patches between his melons.  Then I raked it all in very well to make sure it stayed bloody PUT where I scattered it.

It might rain today, and it almost certainly will tomorrow,  With the temperature of the soil at about 23C last time I checked, and a good drenching, that clover ought to be up and around in short order.  The seed has of course been properly inoculated with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria which makes clover such a good crop for helping the soil.  The flowers should also come on about the time a lot of the other things stop blooming in the area, and will therefore be a very welcome food source for the bees in the two hives beside the garage.

That is I suppose one more of the successes.  The bees are still doing fairly well, one hive quite a bit better than the other.  I am feeding the weaker hive with some old and rather dark honey from another hive of my brothers.  It is quite old, starting to crystallize, and is quite foul-tasting for something as sweet as honey.  If I had to guess it was made from soybean flowers and in my opinion that flower makes one of the worst possible honeys.

Another success is the repairs to the PTO section of that BCS 2-wheel tractor.  Joel who owns and runs Earthworks out there in eastern Kentucky, is one heck of a smart fellow.  Highly recommend him and his tools.

I described the symptoms my 2-wheel tractor was having,  answered a few questions, and he sent me the exact repair parts required to make the little beast run like a brand-new top again.  He also told me how to improve the functioning of this machine, as best as it can get, but that improvement will just have to wait for there to be a lot more money in the kitty.

It's a simple upgrade, about the simplest there is.  The BCS 715 needs larger wheels and tires.  But oddly enough I don't have the $280 (!!!)  or so it would cost for TWO SMALL WHEELS AND TIRES.  Larger tires would make it steer better, transport better with the tiller attached, and have better traction in loose soil.  But I don't have that kind of cash available,

We'll just have to wait for that.  One improvement at a time, it will come along, with patience, and maybe with some creative scrounging.  Time is all we truly need........

In the mean-time, I am going to try to make another tool, myself.  We need a "broad fork" for deep digging into the sub-soil.  You need to do this deep digging or 'double-digging' when establishing new beds or bringing old and neglected planting areas back into production.  You must break into and start the extraction of deeply-held nutrients from the lower levels of he soil up into the higher levels, while allowing more water to percolate down deeper into the water table.

Quite often you get a layer of hard clay which resists the up-flow of nutrients back toward the surface and the down-flow of water into the deeper soil layers.  Roots also have a hard time getting down past it, too.  Breaking that hardened layer open early on in the preparation of a bed is a good thing.  You needn't do it for more than the first couple of years, but not doing it in those initial passes will cause trouble down the line.

Once the beds are established and the weeds and other undesirables are under control, not only do you not need to use the broad fork for breaking up deep soil formations, you don't really have to even till it in the Spring.  Once over lightly to make an easy-to-plant bed for new seeds, and you're done.  IF you keep the compost and mulch coming so that the soil stays rich.  It's not as if compost and manure are hard to come by, after all.  There is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. that does nothing but dispose of the stuff (BADLY, and wastefully, and in one of the most costly manners possible more often than not).

But that is one of my goals for this garden, to get to the real "no-till-required" condition of the soil.  Once the deep layers are accessed and here is no crusty hard-pan acting as an impediment to the free flow of water and nutrients, you are half way home.  The rest of the trick is to work crazy amounts of humus, in the form of composted manures, fibrous plant matter, well-moulded and thoroughly fungi-infected wood chips and bark,and so on, into the soil, to add fertility and biomass for the earthworms and other soil organisms to work with.

The critters and small plants in the microscopic realm of the soil will all work together with the plant roots, the water from the rain (or irrigation when it is needed) and all of the other things that make up the small biome we call the garden, to make a crumbly, worm-laden, "earthy-"smelling, soft, moist, and rich soil that you can stick your hand into up to the elbow with hardly any effort at all.

(The Monsanto version of "no-till" is completely different.  THEY want you to keep spraying more and more, ever-stronger, chemical cocktails on your ground, eventually turning it into something akin to a brick.)

So, I need a broad-fork to do this the easy way.  A broad-fork is like a weird potato fork, with tines about 50 cm long and a pair of offset handles.  Four or five sharp, wide tines, and a bar where they attach to the handles which you can stomp on to drive the tines in as far as they can go.  Then you grab those offset handles, and PULL like a crazy thing, using your weight as a counter-balance too, and you break the soil down to the full depth of the tines.  It busts up any hard-pan, and really aerates the soil.  Necessary mainly in places where the soil has been mistreated, chemicals have been used constantly instead of mulch or compost, that sort of abuse.  But for new beds, even when the dirt is in half-way decent shape, it's a big help.

This is what a broad-fork look like, and how it is used; from the Mother Earth News archives (from back when it was still a good magazine and before they were taken over by big-money interests).

Anyway, to get back to the initial rant, he has no excuse for planting in the bottom of a furrow, and you would think he had sense enough at fifty years old to know that plant roots prefer loose soil.

And that's enough for one session.  Probably for two or three sessions.  But I'm on one of my "too mangled to get much work done" phases and having to take a bit of time off.  Can't really afford it, there is too much work and weeding to be done to take time off, but I simply CAN'T.  It's not an option, weed heck, I can hardly type.  (For an example, this has taken me almost nine hours to type up, my fingers and hands are such a mess.)

Maybe tomorrow....  Too many weeds.  Too many things that don't get done if I don't do them.

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