Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Preparing the Garden

I've been lamenting for a month now how cold it is and how late our spring is this year.  I find it so difficult to think about planting when it's been snowing still.  I've had a few items on my gardening prep to-do list for a month and finally got to them in the past few days. 

Item #1 was to clean out the compost bin.  Here it is, in the middle of being emptied:

Emptying my informal compost:  5 pallets with the front a hinged door.
When I had a composter like this a few years back at our previous house, it got so hot that the shredded paper was smoking, even on snowy days!  Unfortunately, I do not live on a farm anymore so access to manure is sporadic, and I don't get many fish carcasses either.  Those are the two keys that keep my compost from really heating up.  Basically, it is a matter of getting the carbon (dead stuff) and nitrogen (live stuff) ratios right so that things decompose.  What went into my compost over the past year was kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, shredded paper, hay (BIG mistake!  I put too much in at once, didn't mix it up and it was still there, smack dab in the middle, not decomposed at all.), garden plants after harvest, alder leaves and sawdust. 

If I was good I would have 2 of these compost bins set up next to each other and would take the top stuff from one and put it in the other when I'm cleaning out like this.  But I'm not so I just pulled out all the stuff on the top that hadn't decomposed yet and put it aside on a tarp.  The hay in the middle I pitched elsewhere.  After I put it on last year I considered how many weed seeds are probably in that hay and decided it was just Dumb (yes, capital D) to put it in there.  If it got really hot it could kill the seeds but it doesn't so they're outta there! 

I ended up getting 4 wagon-loads of compost from a year's worth of collecting.  Two loads were nicely composted, while the other 2 still had some recognizable "stuff" in it.  Growing up in Wisconsin, we just buried our compost directly in the garden, but here it just doesn't decompose fast enough, and I read that having the undecomposed stuff in the garden actually leaches nutrients from your plants (or at least doesn't allow the plants to access the nutrients).  So I made my judgement call about what was composted "enough" to put on the garden.

I spread it around, putting it in areas that didn't get compost last year.  I wish I'd taken a picture of my garden last August.  The spinach plants that had compost soil were about a foot taller, darker green, lush and thick compared to the ones in the natural soil in that area.  Wish that would motivate me to compost more! and better! but I muddle along with what time and energy I have.

Pre-tilling garden
We got some dirt last summer for a yard project and had some left over so I'd put that on the garden.  It was supposedly really good topsoil, but nothing was growing on it so I did a soil test on it (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash) and it had nothing in it--zilch--no nutrients at all.  So why did I put it on the garden anyways (you can see it in the picture above--a lighter color than the local soil)?  The dirt in the lower half of the garden is WET--thick, heavy, goopy stuff.  In fact, I stepped in it yesterday after tilling and my foot sunk 6 inches and when I tried to get out my foot came out without the boot--leaving the boot stuck in the muck.  So my hope is that this 'light' stuff will improve aeration of the soil in that section of the garden.

Ahhhhh--a beautiful garden all ready to plant!
So yesterday was 'till day.'  I'd contacted my friends to see if anyone else needed some tilling done while we had the tiller rented (just one did).  I picked up a tiller rental at Ulmer's:  they have 16hp, 13hp, 6 hp and 5hp tillers with 4 hour, day and 24 rentals.  Because of our schedule we had to keep it overnight so it was $50 for a 6 hp on 24 hour rental.  Normally we do 4-hour rentals on a weekend but we've run out of weekends this year (been busy attending track meets!).

Last year's potatoes from my garden ready to plant!.

This is such a tiny little garden compared to the two huge gardens we had growing up.  But we got plenty of food from this little plot:  5 large laundry detergent buckets full of potatoes (see below for picture of the leftovers, ready for planting for this year), our onions (in cool, dark spot) lasted until December, our kale (frozen) lasted until November, our spinach (supplemented with some from my aunt's garden) lasted until March.  The cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower we devoured fresh.  From the greenhouse the zucchini lasted until February and the chives until April, while the beans, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers we ate fresh.

For this year so far the garden 'bill' has been $100, fifty for the tiller and fifty for plant starts for the greenhouse.  I am always doing a cost-benefits analysis to make sure I don't spend more than the food is worth.  With prices as high as they are here, and the home-grown organic element as well, I think we are way ahead of the price curve.  I don't want to try not planting to find out though!

With today the last day of school, the next couple days are going to be planting days.  It is a bit early as there was still thick frost in the soil a few days ago, but we're about to launch off on summer adventures so it's now or never!  My attitude toward's gardening is "throw it in and see if it grows!"  If it doesn't I replant (taking advantage of the crazy-fast Alaskan growing season) or put something else like lettuce or spinach in where it didn't come up/died.  No space goes to waste!  Hopefully in the craziness of planting I'll snap a few pictures and keep you posted on how it goes!

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