Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Plantin'O'The Peas

St Patrick's Day as a drinking holiday doesn't mean anything to me. In fact, back in the day when I used to go to bars on the reg, it filled me with white hot rage to have to jostle for position amongst the amateurs. I actually do possess some Irish blood, and I enjoy a Guinness just as much as (if not more than!) the next lassie. But you'll never find me wearing a stupid green felt hat and carrying a giant plastic container of dyed Budweiser around. I promise you that.
Since I gave up the rock n roll life for the farm, March 17th has a different and, to me, much more exciting meaning. It's the day when I actually put the first things into the garden soil. Most years, it's just barely thawed, probably 40 degrees, overcast, sorta gloomy work. I do it on that day because you have to start somewhere and if I waited for the best day every year nothing would get done, lemme tell ya.
This year, however, March 17th fell not only on a super convenient Saturday with both myself and Rebby at home, but also on a day that hovered around 80 degrees all afternoon. Shorts, tank tops and sunscreen weather. Actually almost brutal for the hard work of turning over the soil for the first time.
I find this unseasonable weather extremely spooky, and although I can enjoy extra sun in the moment, I am mostly concerned about what this means for the rest of the season. And, for the planet. I can't help worrying that there is going to be some freak May snowstorm and all the tender little seedlings I'll have out by then will get frozen to death. Sigh. Not much we can do besides load up on hay and hope for the best.
Enough with the doom'n'gloom. Despite the trepidation, I am really excited about what we got accomplished yesterday, and what we have underway for the season. To start with, we are now up to 8 long raised beds and three small square ones, plus a few extra planting areas.

Rebby built the last few beds out of old pallets she rescued from work, and they are extra deep (like 3 feet) to accommodate root vegetables. I didn't get any of those planted yet, but one of the deep ones is going to hold carrots and beets sometime this week.
She also built us a second open compost bin for yard waste:

which is very handy when cutting down weeds that you don't want to go into your garden soil. We'll compost weeds and branches and grass clippings there to use as yard mulch.
The other wood related projects Rebby worked on were the bean teepee(s) and the hugelkultur foundation. I am really excited to try out some new things this year--mostly working toward the permaculture and food forest ideas we've been learning about at the gardening workshops we've attended over the past few years. The bean teepee is going to be a trellis (or trellis-es, depending on how many branches we end up with!) made of branches pruned off our rose of Sharon and some other pieces of wood we picked up at Construction Junction for $4. It won't be bean plantin time for a while yet, but I am super excited for it!

Hugelkultur is something I first saw on Pinterest that kinda blew my mind. It's one of those things that is so intuitive I feel like I should have come up with it myself, but so contrary to the way we normally build gardens that I would have had to undo a lot of civilization to figure it out naturally. The basic idea is you bury a bunch of wood in a pile of compost and dirt and plant your plants in it. As time goes by, the wood decomposes releasing minerals into the soil, and also traps and releases water as it rains so you have to irrigate less. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FOREST, YO. I love it. I also love the charming German illustrations:

Anyway, I am going to build a Hugelbed (I think I made that up) for my squash plants this year. Rebby started busting up a bunch of wood we've had sitting in a pile for three years today, and I'm looking forward to letting it get rained on and then covering it with some compost and dirt. This is all very exciting!
So while Rebby was sawing and chopping, I was digging and planting. I dug up the cover crop of winter rye we had planted on two of the non-raised-bed areas (where potatoes were last year) and chopped it all under to plant onions. I gotta say, I am a total convert to cover cropping. It was so easy to work the dirt with those nice root systems in there to keep it from clumping! I am using onion PLANTS this year for the first time, from Pinetree. Walla Walla, First Edition, Red Zeplin, and Superstar. I put most of them in the two beds at the end of the box rows, and the rest I am scattering in the middle of the wide boxes. I figure if they are in the center where it's difficult for me to get at them I will be less likely to pull them early for scallions. Sometimes I have to outwit myself.
After the onions, I got in to big box from which I've been pulling winter carrots, beets, and turnips since October. The turnips and beets were done, but I still have a few carrots in there so I planted some peas around them. I also planted some radishes(French Breakfast, Cherry Belle, and Easter Egg) under the other three pea varieties, figuring that they will be done by the time the pea vines get full enough to shade them out. Pea wise I've got Green Arrow (my favorite shelling pea), Super Sugar Snap, a German snow pea variety with realy pretty flowers, and some Blue Podded Shelling Peas I had left over from last year (they aren't that tasty but the pods are very attractive and I might just let them dry this year) I built pea teepees with six thin bamboo stakes each, and planted three vines at the base of each leg. So, 18 of each vine. Woo! If it works this will be a much better use of space than the long row down the center of the bed method I've used in the past. I'll let you know.

In between the pea/radish combos, I planted some lettuces: Sweet Valentine Romaine, Rossimo heading, and Pirat Butterhead. I've still got some of the Pirat going from the fall---it's a delicious and really pretty variety. The other two are new ones for this year.
This morning before it started to rain I got in some Crisp Mint Romaine (my fave!) and some Viroflav Spinach to the big center bed which I am going to fill with salad greens this year. It's still got the Pirat from fall, a fall salad mix that seems to be mostly mustard (though I saw at least a few leaves of Deer's tongue lettuce this morning!)some spinach that never really got going in the fall but is coming in nicely now, and a big bunch of giant peppery arugula. There are also a couple of giant mystery brassicas that never did anything (I thought they were broccoli but they never formed heads) and a weirdly random blackberry cane stuck in the middle. We are assume it was a bird poop accident---we'll let it go a little while longer and then see if we can transplant it to a more appropriate area.
I recently read an article about the euphoria inducing elements present in garden soil---I don't know if it's chemistry or just the feeling of accomplishment, but I honestly haven't felt this good in weeks. Welcome back, garden! I love you.

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