Monday, April 14, 2008

Garden Napoleon

We managed to knock several things off our to do list this weekend, including the plowing of two new garden areas, which means we'll finally be able to get the potatoes and the oats in the ground. Jim finished the last of the perimeter fencing last weekend, freeing him to plow, and luckily the weather cooperated.

Jim was able to rig a plow borrowed from a neighbor to fit the tractor, letting him create the beginnings of two new gardens for me. We're doubling the size of the market garden this year, and we had the pigs doing much of the clearing work for us all last year. They removed all the turf and plowed a bit for us, but still the new ground is pretty compacted and really needed a good, deep turning over. I'm hoping to move away from till and plow as the gardens improve, but for the near future, anyway, we're just not there yet in the lower gardens. The kitchen garden has been showing dramatic improvements with the compost, however, so I'm hopeful.

We have good soil—silty loam—with pretty good nutrient levels though with quite a bit of shale. (That unplowed portion is home to a couple rows of carrots.) I'm due for soil tests again in the spring, so I'll have a better sense of what these new gardens will do by then. My previous soil tests in these areas were for the pasture as a whole because I hadn't gone all Napoleon yet. Now that I've taken over more and more land, I'll need to redo the soil tests. I'll be doing compost testing as well this year, which should give me a better idea of what's going on with my soil and where it needs amendments, as I continue to figure out how best to work land and animals and plants together. This is our largest garden at about 1/3 of an acre; it's the main market garden and will be comprised mostly of row crops, corn, and potatoes. The kitchen garden is only about 50' x 50' or less than 1/16 of an acre, and it will be used nearly exclusively as a winter garden and summer greens garden with shadecloth over the hoops.

I've added another garden this year as a test plot for grains: hulless oats, quinoa, and amaranth. This is where the pigs were penned in the barnyard this past winter and will likely be a permanent rotation with them. I'm hoping to eek in a cover crop of beets after the grains and before moving the pigs in for the winter, which will provide some self-harvested food for them. This particular soil is quite compacted because of overuse and under-improvement. It's basically been the sacrifice area for our own animals and the horses that lived here for about 20 years before we bought the place and was covered mostly with plantain, medic, and other beneficial weeds, but unfortunately to the exclusion of grasses. This area is roughly 60' x 100' or about 1/8 of an acre. We also have a berry garden, which expands yearly with transplants but is still pretty small, and we'll be adding a medicinal garden in the front yard as well. All in all, I still have under an acre in production.

Jim still needs to disc, and once he's done that, my plan is to put the chickens on the plot for a few days to help with pest control. Of course, this is easier said than done, and I'm sure Jim will be shaking his head upon reading of these plans. The chickens, geese, and Maya and her piglets are all that's left in the barnyard, and we'll be moving them out into pasture rotation within the next month as soon as we work out the rest of the paddock fencing. With the plowing of the grain plot, the piggies got some fresh barnyard, which we'll overseed with a pasture mix in the next couple of weeks, hoping to get in on some last spring rains and begin to improve the condition of the pasture for winter grazing. The chickens and geese should go out very soon. With the piggies, the plan is that Maya will be moved out first, to begin the weaning process and to give us space to cull a couple of the boar piglets for roasting before moving the remaining feeder pigs into a separate paddock.


Madeline said...

"Cullling" for roasting - I had to ask Gillen if this meant fattening up in a different pen and he seemed sure that it did, just hadn't heard the word before. We have learned so much animal farming vocabulary from you. you are doubling your market garden! You go. Anyone else, I'd say, "are you crazy?" But you can so do it, Ma Conger (we're reading "Little Town on the Prairie" and I think of you when Ma Ingalls does her multi-tasking homesteadin' thing).

Hayden said...

Whew! A lot accomplished! I will be so happy (when I finally move) if I am able to simply maintain a 4-season kitchen garden, a couple of hogs and a few chickens. Your plans are daunting!

Danielle said...

lol Madeline. I'm not sure how I feel about that moniker!

"Culling" basically means to select out, so it can mean for sale or butchering. We will be separating our breeders from our feeders because we won't be fattening up our breeders. But what I was talking about here—and I should've been more specific—was getting Maya out of the barnyard so she won't freak when we pull a couple of the babies for butchering. I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Squeal like a pig," but until you've actually heard one squeal, you have no idea.

We're planning to pull two for spit roasting in the next couple of weeks. We'll pull two more about a month after that for pit roasting. The rest we'll likely feed out for about 7 months to butcher weight.

Hayden, I'm a fool with too much energy to burn, so don't go by me. I'm kinda like a chihuahua on crack, though I have my down times, too. If they'd had the ADHD label when I was going through school, I'm sure it would've been velcroed to my forehead.

I have taken baby steps, however, with each thing leading into the next, so I haven't just jumped into this. We started with the kitchen garden and then expanded to the market garden, which I've now expanded again. We started with chickens, then goats, then pigs and turkeys, then geese and sheep. Next maybe a cow, though I keep waffling on that one because it seems like such a huge step.

Erikka said...

hi there. i would like to mail order chicks some day and want to find a reputable, caring hatchery from which to do so. any recommendations?

Paige said...

Sounds like some exciting plans! How great to be able to extend your garden.

Christy said...

I'll be watching your grain progress closely. I plan to plant amarath next year (or maybe even later this year if things work out right). I already have the seeds.

Ren said...

A chihuahua on crack...I LOVE this!

I'll never view you the same again.:)

karl said...

wow, what an accomplishment. what measures do you take to contain and protect your chickens during a garden work over?

Danielle said...

Erikka, I've used Ideal and Privett hatcheries with success. In my opinion, McMurray is very pricey for the same stock. Sand Hill Preservation is a really great source, but they're difficult to order from in terms of timing, logistics, availability, etc.

Christy, I'll definitely do a post about the grains at the end of the season, as I'm quite interested as well. I'm trying to become more "scientific" about my approach to farming—better record keeping, data taking, etc. It's a hard shift for me to make.

Karl, now that Jim finished the fencing, we have our entire perimeter hard fenced with a combination of woven wire goat fencing and field fencing. We're able to run electric on top of that, which lets us use the step-in electric netting to subdivide the pastures into paddocks wherever we want them—a really useful feature.

Ren said...

I can't remember if I told you about the meme I tagged you for:

Not sure if you'd want to play but CG tagged me and I finally got around to doing it.