View from the deck on a glorious morning in early June.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Digging New Ground

Originally posted on Multiply, September 21 2008

We finally had a wonderful stretch of sunny dry weather. The summer company is gone and plant sales at the farmers market are done till next spring. It is time for some serious land work.
What this land wants to do is grow coniferous forest. Anything else is a struggle. You can take any young tree, dig it up and transplant it, and it will say "Oh, you want me here? Sure, no problem!".
The trees near the old house in the picture  were not there when we bought the place in 1970.
The 10 acre (4 hectare) plot had been a hayfield, but was too rocky to be productive farmland. We were told so honestly. We had no ambition to farm, just to garden. You can see the tall grass, weeds and above all bracken fern that covers the ground before we start digging.

Originally the vegetable patch was an open space in front of the house. Deer might wander through and take a nibble occasionally, but it was no big deal. Somewhere in the early nineties the deer population exploded. It became necessary to build fences. Son Alex did a heroic job of building fences with young trees from the land. Cut tree, strip off branches, drag it over, dig the hole, all by hand. It was his summer job while he was in high school. Alas, an untreated pole will eventually rot. Last spring we bit the bullet and actually paid someone to come over with a machine and put treated fence posts into the rocky ground.

Small cheat here, this is the same friend on a different chore.

Chris did the job of extending the fence upwards. Deer can JUMP.
In the process the garden space was enlarged. Black plastic was put over a strip of the extension. This week I finally got around to digging part of the new stretch. We're talking back-breaking labour here. Stick fork in, pull up bracken root, remove rocks, repeat...

The pictures above show the junk that comes out of the ground. For a raised bed of approximately 5 by 7 feet I removed five, yes five, of those five-gallon pails full of bracken roots and 4 pails of rocks of various sizes. Some were big like this one, though I have dug out bigger ones in the past.
It took more than a day of work, but here is the result: a raised bed, double-dug, enriched with dolomite lime and composted manure. A worthy home for soon-to-be-planted garlic. The area surrounding the bed is covered first with flattened cardboard and then with cut grass/bracken etc. I used to use landscape fabric to keep down the weeds but stuff always ends up growing through it and then you have to remove this tangled mess. Cardboard or newpaper just dissolves into organic matter. Thanks to Mike Groarty's terrific newsletter for that tip.

There is even a creative use for all those rocks. The big pots that people gave me at the market this year are held in place by the rocks that came out. The edge will bloom with marigolds and nasturtiums next year. I can hardly wait!

Postscript: The garlic was fan-tastic. But the combination of a late spring with a very dry summer meant that the potted plants were disappointing. I have removed the pots and replaced them with hens and chicks and Rodiola Rosea, a medicinal sedum, as edging.

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