Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Harvest Life - Episode 3: Half a garden of nutritious decay

Year 1 -  Summer Day 10

Unsurprisingly, because I'm still a Novice Farmer, about only half of the plants I planted are growing well.  Interestingly enough its all of the plants I planted in the first half of the garden.  I'm not sure if this is due to rabbits getting in and just eating what was closest when they hopped in or if the plants in front are getting too much sun.  Either way, I do have some plants which are growing well.

Five of the 16 tomato plants I planted are growing and about half of the carrots and a quarter of the onions are growing.  Interestingly enough all of the bean plants sprouted and grew, and all of the Lemon Cucumber plants grew pretty hardily.  Only two of my spinach plants are growing, out of around 8 or so, but they do appear to be doing well.

I ended up thinning a bunch of the plants a week or two ago, pulling out the tomato plants where 2 were growing in one spot, and thinning the cucumber hills to 3 plants each.  Today I did more thinning, reducing the clusters of basil plants, since the ones with less clustering were looking healthier and the onions were bunched in some areas, so I thinned out the weaker plants to allow the healthier ones to thrive.

The garlic seems to be doing okay, it doesn't seem like it's grown much in the past week, but the cucumber plants are getting large, as well as the bean bushes.  To increase the nutrition in the soil today I also did a pH Test to check the soil alkalinity of the garden as well as my compost, and once happy with the results added the compost to the garden.

pH Testing

A website I came across had a very simple way to test if your soil is very alkaline or acidic, and while not highly accurate, can give a good idea of the pH.  You can view the article here: PreparednessMama, but the gist of the instructions are:
  • Put soil in one cup, and soil mixed with water in another.
  • Add vinegar to the first cup and watch for a reaction, if there is fizzing and a reaction your soil is alkaline.
  • Add baking soda to the second cup and watch for a reaction, if there is fizzing and a reaction, your soil is acidic.
So I tested both the garden soil to see where it was at, and the compost I was going to be adding so that I could get an idea of where each was and if it needed to be adjusted or the compost needed certain things to adjust it one way or the other.

Garden Soil Results

The garden soil was almost entirely soil that was added from bags at Home Depot, so going in I expected the pH to be fairly neutral.  As you can see before and after, the first image is the raw soil, and the second is the soil with vinegar poured over it and water and baking soda added.  As you can see there is essentially no reaction to either so the soil's pH is neutral.  This is good, since having a neutral base will allow the compost to be more of one or the other.



Compost Results

The compost was a slightly different story.  We have quite a few pine needles in our yard due to large pine trees overhead, which cause the grass we put into the compost to be slightly acidic when it breaks down.  As you can see in the second picture there was a mild reaction to the baking soda, but not a large one, indicating the compost is slightly acidic.  Since it's only slightly acidic, that will be fine since the plants in the garden should do well with a lower pH soil.  At least from what I've read on that site, the garlic, onions and beans should do well with it.


Nutritious Decay

Finally today I added a bunch of the compost from our compost bin, which is really a giant brick square that I dump grass, dirt, sticks, and compostable food scraps into.  We started the compost bin last fall, so this is the first time using some of the broken down grass and leaves in it.  My back was dying from leaning over the bin and I had to shake out a lot of dirt and filter out the best dirt I could from the compost bin.  It also took quite a bit of flipping to get to the really good soil at the bottom of the bin.  I had made the mistake of putting a pallet at the bottom of the bin in order to hold it up to let water drain, but all that it ended up doing was making it extremely difficult to flip the compost.  Once we empty out the majority of the bin this fall when we till the garden with it, I'll pull the palette out and let the compost rest on the ground where it can just drain into the ground and create a nice place for creepy crawlies to break things down.

Finally I added the compost to the garden, nestling it around plants and pouring it into the rows between them to allow the nutrients to get into the dirt below.  Today I also did a deep watering with the hose instead of just the watering can.  This Article has some information about watering that has bene helpful, but I'm still learning.  I might be over  watering, as I do try to water with the can every morning, but it has also been rainy lately so it might be too much. 

That said, the plants that are still alive seem to be doing well, so I'll continue my efforts.  All in all its exciting seeing the plants get larger and grow, and though I'm still learning, next year I think I can get more of the plants to grow and stay alive.  Certainly I will invest some time next year in a better fencing situation.  Perhaps including a top to the garden so that birds do not pick away the seeds.  That's another reason that perhaps some of the plants did not grow.  Either way, next year I'll be more careful about how I plant them and hopefully more than half the garden will actually sprout and grow!  Art imitates life, but it does feel like a game sometimes where my level just isn't high enough yet to achieve consistent results.  This is a fun experiment though, and I do look forward to the harvest season as well as building neat contraptions to help automate the work.  It's very enjoyable to see the little seeds I planted a month ago sprout and grow.

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