Well, my garden beds are finally in! We had the dirt delivered on Friday and on Saturday we set about moving all the dirt from my driveway the 150-feet to my back lawn. I ordered a yard each of leaf humus and garden bed mix (sand, topsoil and leaf humus mix) for the beds, 8 yards of untreated, unaged wood chips for my future chicken/duck pens and filling in the small lakes in my lawn… And an extra yard of bed mix for my sister.
This was NOT an easy task. We shoveled dirt and wood chips onto tarps and dragged them into the back yard. The real problem with this lies in the fact that my hip began to ache after all the stress of putting together the coop in five days.
I haven’t mentioned this much but degenerative bone issues runs in my familly quite strongly. In all but one of my five sisters our hips, back, knees and even our ankles are a mess. Tendon and cartilage issues start cropping up in our early teens and by 14 we frequently find an arthritic like ache in our bones. There are days that my joints will pop apart multiple times in the same day and I can barely walk. It’s bad. Very bad. And beyond corrective surgery later in life there is nothing to be done about it.
Most days I function just fine, but after doing nothing but manual labor on the chicken coop for five days, I had a severe ache in my hip. I knew it was my peculiar joint issues acting up. Despite this, when the dirt came in on friday, I took a tylenol and Greg and I went out to start moving the wood chips. After only one load, I lost my footing because of my hip, tripped and fell half-on the sidewalk to our yard, now messing up my knee on the same side as my hip. I spent the rest of friday limping around the house when I was walking at all, and the next day we had people coming over expecting to move dirt – and expecting that I would help.
So when push comes to shove I grit my teeth and get things done. Things have to get done, bad joints or not. I spent the early parts of the day pre-making dinner for my friends. Then later, with three extra-strength painkillers in my system I went out and moved dirt and wood chips with the rest of them. I ended up spending most of the time prepping the garden beds that never got finished while most people carried materials. Double-digging was easier on my hip and knee than walking and hauling back and forth but it was still hard work.
So I built the garden bed seen in the first picture, as well as a special one for my root veggies. I prepped the root bed well in advance. I double-dug my bed not once but twice, the second time mixing in sand and old leaves. Then a layed down a layer of newspaper, and on top of that went a few bags of topsoil I had in the garage. Next came the garden bed mix several inches deep. This loose, sandy, weed-free soil will be great for growing my carrots and beets, as well as shoving all my onion sets into. We will see what takes and what fits. I set my seedling carrots in the soil and covered them with green-house imitating plastic containers before shoving a few dozen onion sets in the ground. I am waiting another week or so before I try direct-sowing carrots and beets.
For the rest of the garden beds I had to employ something a little faster. I did my best to quickly double-dig the mossy topsoil, and then raked woodchips over it to even the dirt out and help soak up the immesurable amount of water that we get in my lawn. It was raining lightly the whole time. The woodchips will take nitrogen out of the soil, but I have chickens now that have extremely high-nitrogen manure; adding it back in won’t be hard. When the wood chips someday decompose they will be rich, organic, soil that will help break up our clay. For now they help smother the grass and weeds while leveling the ground for the next layer, which was the garden bed mix, a few inches deep. The layer after that was the leaf humus. Leaf humus is like infinately better mulch/topsoil. It’s full of nutrients including nitogen that get added to the soil as the humus beaks down even further than it has. In the state I got it in it hasent quite finished decomposing so it’s a wonderfully loose soil without being sandy. It won’t support huge roots, but it will nuture seedlings quite well, and maintain moisture deeper in the soil. This is the same sort of stuff that nutures whole forests into being!
The rest of the wood chips filled in the foot-plus deep gap across my whole end 10 feet of lawn. My ground suddenly plunges down back there and the wood chips fix that, in addition to being a good chicken pen beding. They too will break down into the most fantastic topsoil some day, even faster than those in my garden beds.
After all the dirt moving was done we retired indoors for Thanksgiving in April! I made a whole roast, stuffed chicken laden with veggie sides and biscuits! I prepared everything early in the morning so all I had to do was turn the oven on. It was awesome.
Obviously this is not a square foot gardening project; the nutrient levels in the soil are not high enough. I am not doing any growing-compatible-plants-together, and I’m giving each plant plenty of space. I am just trying to get a significant amount of plants growing strong enough to give me some great and maybe even abundant fresh veggies.
My tomato plants have been wilting and not growing lately. I did some research and found out they were cold stressed. My house is 62 degrees. Is that really so cold? They’re two months old and only two inches high. They should be eight by now. I poured some manure tea made from the chicken poo on them, put the reamining solids on top of the soil and stuck them into Ophidian – my snake’s – cage along with one of my stunted peppers. The result? In 24-hours their leaves etended, they stood upright and began growing again. They have some catching up to do but Ophidian’s light is 24/7 on half of his cage (the other half is dark and both halves have hiding spots if he wants it dark) so the plants should start growing again rapidly. They’ll be about a month behind, but I think they will make it. The yellow is fading from their leaves. It looks like I will have several tomato plants that will grow big and strong, unlike my mere three peppers. My kale is questionable at the moment along with my carrots, but my arugula’s going strong along with my one, large pumpkin plant and my two+ extra-large corn. My spinach, basil and parsley have all begun sprouting as well. And my peas… Well, where can I start? My peas are huge, strong, beautiful and will likely be the most bounteous of my crops! I have six seedlings in the ground and their leaves are extending madly already, their roots plunging extremely deep into the ground. Peas are amazing.
And the chickens. They’re in the garage still, and will be for a few more days but the day after we got them they gave up three lovely eggs. Every day since we have gotten two eggs consistantly. I love it; it’s like easter every day and these eggs taste awesome! They still haven’t gotten the hang of laying in their nest boxes but I found one egg in one nest box twice now, so maybe they’re getting it!
I gave four eggs to my neighbor who was happy to get them. I told him I had some hens I’d be moving out back as part of an uban farming project and he was extremely accepting of the idea. He complimented me on my nice fence, thanked me for the eggs and after a bit of light conversation and asuring him they wouldn’t make a peep at night I went on my way. It was a good conversation and I’m glad my neighbor has no qualms with my birds.
The chickens have also been having fun eating every veggie scrap and lawn clipping they can get their beak on. I have been bringing them outside with me. Their wings are clipped but I have been setting them in enclosures anyhow, just to be safe. I have been bringing them out one at a time. At first I was putting them on the compost pile in a dog crate, but then I stuck them in the empty rabbit cage to clean up all the spilt feed (especially the cracked corn) that had fallen into the cage.
But today I brought out the third chicken and let her just sit and browse on my compost while I cared for the rabbits cage-free. She immediately set to work eating all the seeds that the mice leave behind in their bedding. She did not try to fly off, or even move off the steaming compost. She just kept digging for goodies until I brought her back in. She was dang near silent the whole time she did her job of turning my compost. In the end I just picked her up and brought her in and she didn’t fuss at all. I hope she didn’t over-eat with all those goodies out there!
And because today is such a long and picture-heavy post I figure I’ll throw in a bit about one of the plants I’ve been investigating lately. It seems to be one of the few things that is prolific in these areas, and it is called Deadnettle.
It is known for being a bitter plant with edible tops that tends to repel rabbits due to flavor alone. It’s indigenous to europe but is a non-native invasive here in the US. It helps to attract bees early and late in the year when there are few flowers around and is extremely cold-hardy.
My rabbits and chickens aren’t too picky so we’ll see how they feel about this edible “weed” some time. They’re all around here and if they like them then I may try to cultivate them some. They might even attract bees to (and repel wild rabbits from) my gardens! Here’s hoping!
I still have a yard of dirt in my drive for my sister, and I need to color-mark all the baby bunnies and can some chicken broth (not to mention start more seeds) so the work is never done. Maybe next time I will finally get some shots of small, cute, fuzzy animals to post.