Friday, May 14, 2010

Double Digging, Double the Pain

I bought my house late last summer, and spent the better part of the time getting unpacked and moved in (not so easy to do with a 4 year old and a toddler running around, and working from home at night), so I didn't do a whole lot of gardening. I inherited a rather large bed in the front of the house that held lots of nondescript bushes, some flowers and other things (probably just really big weeds) by the mailbox, really ugly evergreen bush/tree things by the street, and a backyard full of pine trees. The front yard had several bald spots (actually, by the time I closed on the house, the front yard looked like an Amazon rainforest, and the backyard, well, it took my father three or four passes with some heavy equipment to locate the ground.) So the front yard is grass, spotty, sort of. And the backyard has this pervasive weed that I've been told I will never get rid of, so it's worthless to even try.


And under all of that mess? Clay. Rock solid clay.

I didn't think to throw down a lasagna bed in some of these places before winter hit. The one thing I did learn was that my backyard only got spotty sun, and chasing the spots of sun around with the containers got very old very quickly. So I knew my garden was going to be in the front yard this year. (Sorry neighbors.)

Over the (unseasonably cold, especially in a house with only space heaters for a heat source) winter, if there was a relatively nice day, I'd go out and dig up a bush or two. It usually took at least two hours with a shovel, an ice pick, heavy duty pruners, and a heck of a lot of muscle to yank these things out one by one. (I'd shovel around until I got stuck, poke with the ice pick to find the big roots, clip them with the pruners, and work my way around the bush until I could just muscle the thing out.)

What I discovered, while I was doing this, was that the previous owners had, at one point, laid down plastic weed barrier. Which was now brittle, and every time I hit it with the shovel, it would break off into chunks. They also, at some point, mulched with rocks. A lot of rocks. It's really no fun to be digging with a shovel and crash into more rocks than dirt. Every time I did, I'd curse the previous owners. Loudly.

Sometime in the spring, I decided that the front bed was going to be a wash this season. I built up the barrier around it, and it's just going to be a living lasagna bed, doing nothing but lasagna-ing, the whole season. It's not worth fighting with all of the rocks and the clay. I planted a cover crop of mustard greens on one part of it, but I'm slowly working my way across.

Actually, I've since decided that I'm going to attempt to put my watermelons in a corner of that bed, and give them the whole bed to roam in. Or I might change my mind on that later.

Anyway, so there are other parts of the yard that I wanted to grow things in. I don't want my entire front yard to be the land of the living buckets. And dirt for those buckets just isn't cheap. Plus, someone told me that clay is actually really good for veggies to grow in. I read up about double digging, working organic matter into clay, waited until it rained - a lot, and then got to work.

So, I've double dug an area along the front walk up to my front door, about two feet by twelve feet. It's where my crookneck squash and zucchini plants are going to live. I worked some composted manure into the soil, and buried some veggie scraps in between the transplanted seedlings, to encourage worm activity. The seedlings were happy to get out of their styrofoam cup cribs, and into the big kid bed of real earth.

Zucchini, looking kind of sad, but knowing zucchini, I'm sure it'll perk up in a day or two.

One of the crookneck squash plants

So far, I think I have six total (three crookneck, three zucchini, all heirloom/open pollinated seed), which is obviously WAY too much for one adult, one 4 year old who refuses to eat most vegetables, and a bottomless pit of a 2 year old boy. I foresee lots of drop offs at work and daycare, and the kids' Saturday sitter loves zucchini. (We actually started her a seed this week, but have been informed that there are dogs in her neighborhood who like to eat flowers, so they aren't sure if it'll work there. If not, I'm sure I'll have plenty to share.)

I also read somewhere that beans grow well in junk for soil, and actually help to improve the soil. Since I have a ton of soybeans from the NSRL to "research", I have been double digging an area next to my front door, for beans. Regular garden beans have gone along the edge that leads up to the landing (with a built in "trellis"), and soybeans/edamame are going in the rest of the space.

Some of the soybean sprouts -

I've been covering the individual seeds with 2-liter bottle tops as a cloche (and protecting from squirrels and birds), and that seems to have worked well. I'm slowly working my way across this bed. Hoping to grow enough edamame to last through the winter.

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