Monday, April 29, 2013

Garden Journal: Late Planting

I used to keep a "Garden Book" of my observations on paper, and I still may record facts there, but a blog provides an excellent record-keeping device in the form of tagging and fodder in case this project morphs into a book. So here goes for what has been a brand-new garden.

We had to pony up for a cubic yard (about 1500 lbs) to good bedding soil from a local firm specializing in soil, mulch, and gravel. That began but did not end the Kitchen Garden just outside our back door. We fenced with short, green-enameled welded wire, fastened to 4' tall treated posts set in quick-setting cement. That took only a day and the seedlings are now in there.

Yesterday we also seeded the back half of the big garden, really a field, with yellow clover as a soil amendment and as forage for the honey bees. The big garden, 88' by 42', awaits fencing 10' tall and with subterranean barriers for Phil, our groundhog. I don't relish shooting Phil, but the second he gets into the garden, Phil will learn "Rule 303" as quickly as any character in the old film Breaker Morant.  Groundhogs can excavate 700 pounds of earth for a single burrow and dig down a foot, so the old chain-link sections, rolled and buried about the field's perimeter, should keep Phil at bay.

Given our recent move to this land, I did not get my basil and tomatoes germinated on our porch but instead purchased them from firms doing business at Maymont's annual Herbs Galore show. In particular, for my fellow Central Virginians, I recommend Amy's Garden for veggies and A Thyme to Plant for herbs of all sorts. I tend to raise from organic stock or seed, but in the case of tomatoes I went with old favorites among the hybrids suited for a clay soil. Heirlooms have brought tears to me and mortality to my plants, so I  chose Mortgage Lifter, Big Beef, and a Roma variety. In my experience, they have all shown good VFN resistance. The only amendment these plants will need is some calcium spray as they flower and begin to set fruit. This will prevent blossom-end rot.

Tricycle Gardens, a local urban-farming nonprofit that has revitalized empty lots all over the metro area of Richmond, sold me rhubarb.  I love the plant and recall it fondly from my grad-school years in Indiana. In a couple of years, our patch should produce enough for pies and rhubarb divisions for friends.

With a cool and generally wet Spring, I can get away with planting this late. Corn will be sprouted indoors and transplanted to deter crows from picking seeds, and cukes will grow up and over a trellis. Soon the hot weather will arrive. We are lucky for this rain and coolness, even if it delays our gardens.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pressed into Service: Bring Out the Antiques!

I've read in one of the coffee-table books about old tractors that unlike other collectibles, antique tractors often get pulled out to do useful work. This happens most frequently at planting or harvest time on a large farm.

Our property is modest in size and ambition, but when a broken hydraulic connector on our new tractor put it into the shop, the grass and weeds would not wait for it to return. Thus a 1950 John Deere M, very much in need of TLC scheduled for this summer, got to bask in the glory of a lovely Virginian April. It's a unique machine, having been modified by a local contractor so my father-in-law could step into the saddle after his injury. An M is no easy mount, so I am very thankful for the "back stairs" it now sports.

A big adjustment from city life is the need to stay on top of a large property. To fail at that means a cascading set of failures when it comes time to harvest one's food. With little "critters" eager to get into our new garden if they could be sneak close enough, I wanted a big "kill zone" for hawks and other predators, including snakes, to cut down on our squirrels and mice and voles. I also wanted said snakes at the wood's edge, not near my back door in tall grass. We mostly have non-venomous black snakes, but last year, on open ground and in plain sight, I nearly put my foot down on a Copperhead. Grass too tall only would increase that possibility.

I hold true to my earlier post about tractors: all but the most experienced farmers need a modern machine with safety features to work rough terrain. Luckily for us, only billiard-table flat spots and one gentle slope needed mowing.  The old tractor, despite a seeping oil pan, crazy wiring setup, and leaky carb, did admirably. It's earned a long-overdue servicing and a new set of front tires.

Thus a new homesteader might consider a back-up plan and equipment if one's primary tractor is out of service. An M like the one I'm riding would only set an owner back a few thousand dollars and give many years of service. Now that my new tractor is back, I'll still run the M weekly a bit for light duty. Old farm machines, like older skilled people, seem grateful to be of service.