In addition, we’ve both been reading Eliot Coleman’s book, The New Organic Grower which has been pretty indispensable. Eliot Coleman, who has a farm in Brooksville, Maine, is one of the kings of small-scale organic farming and his book has been a great entry level textbook for us.
However, one of the lessons I’ve learned pretty quickly is that no one is going to tell you exactly how to farm vegetables, instead you’re just going to end up with a bunch of suggestions. It seems as though growing is such a personal thing, that instead of depending wholly on one text, or one afternoon of advice, it’s important to pick and choose what makes sense to you. Each piece of land is different, and each style of growing is different, and farming is about developing a close enough relationship with your land to understand what it needs to be successful, and what you need to be successful along with it. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve heard several times that “farming is as much an art as it is a science”. I’m a sucker for phrases like that. I can already tell that I’m going to be repeating that phrase to people for the rest of my life.
So, back to my (our) garden.
The first step was to take a soil text to determine what our soil’s like. We dug down through the snow and pick-axed some earth from the frozen ground to send into the lab. We’re still waiting for the results, so I’ll post more information later.
Next, I got a map of the property and we laid out exactly where we thought the garden should be (see previous post). It was important to keep the plot about 15′ out from underneath the tree-line, to make sure the plants will have enough sun, and to keep the rows away from Black Brook, which runs between the vegetable garden and the horse ring seasonally. Ideally, the area would be flat, however, our garden has a slight slope to the East. Luckily, it’s slight enough so that apparently it’s not going to be a big deal.
We were ready to plan the plot. Coleman recommends dividing your land into 5′ rows that are each 100′ long, and then planting 4′ and leaving 1′ for a path. We were advised by many people that 4′ was a little too wide of a planting row for us and that 1′ was a little bit narrow of a path. Since we’re planning on doing the planting, weeding and harvesting by hand, it’s important that we can easily move up and down and around in the paths and reach into the center of the rows. Therefore, we decided to make 3′ rows and 2′ paths.
We also learned that it was very helpful to be able to drive a truck right into the middle of the garden. This option will help us to bring supplies into the center of our vegetable patch, and move harvested produce easily and effectively out. With these stipulations in mind we made the following plan:
I had to decide how to fill up all these rows. Enter: seed catalogs. Seed catalogs are so much fun; they are also so overwhelming (someday ask me about my bittersweet one-week love-affair with seed catalogs). I got most of my seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds, because they’re local (out of Vermont), but I also got a fair amount from Johnny’s Seeds, which has everything, and Seed Savers Exchange, which sells primarily heirlooms. I went through vegetable by vegetable and used information from the catalogs as well as information from Coleman’s book and off the web to figure out what varieties I wanted to grow, approximately how much of each vegetable I wanted, how many plants I needed, how many rows of each vegetable I wanted to plant, and, therefore, how many seeds I needed. Then I placed the order. This all took me about a week, and still it felt like mostly guess-work.
This year I’m going to attempt to grow: beans, beets, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, all kinds of greens, kale, leeks, peas, peppers, parsnips, radishes, squashes, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. I got a bunch of different varieties of each vegetable, so I can really find out what I like and what works best in our climate and soil.
Now I’m in the process of deciding what goes where, and attempting to lay out a planting schedule. I have to determine when each seed needs to be planted, and whether it will be planted inside and then transplanted into the garden or seeded directly into the ground. A lot of the vegetables need to be succession planted as well, that is to say that I will need to be planting them throughout the season to guarantee a constant and consistent harvest (aka lettuce, beets, carrots etc). All of this needs to be carefully and clearly planned and organized as well. So far being a farmer means making a lot of charts.
Things to figure out:
Tilling schedule: when the ground unfreezes we’ll need to till the plot before we can plant it. This is complicated and involves a lot of machines and tractors and knowledge. There is also a school that argues that tilling is not necessary. More on this later.
Fencing: we need to figure out how to keep all the rodents, woodchucks and deer out. This is also difficult, and involves deep thought, spending money and possibly various fence erecting equipment. I’ve been warned that deer can eat your entire crop of heritage french filet beans in one night. Chilling.
Cover crops: once we figure out what’s wrong with our soil we can determine what kind of none-edible cover crops we should plant in areas that are fallow (aka. unplanted) in order to add nutrients and enrich.
…and much, much more.
I hope all this is interesting to you guys. If you have any questions let me know!