March is a strange month, “In like a lion and out like a lamb” may be the defining statement for the past few years, 2019 is no different. We have wind on the island it was 11 mph (17 kph) this morning when I went outside and actually not out of the ordinary. The temperature was low enough to require more than a sweatshirt, cold is relative. The sun is out with more rain expected tomorrow continuing for the next two days, then one day it will rest for its re-appearance on Tuesday. All of it is fine with me the only bother is it takes away time from gardening. I have nine raised beds, just like a garden plot, there is a bit of work to prepare for planting in the middle of April.
I’m on a sort of countdown to prepare them as the county will begin spraying the slough for weeds, the chemical compound reads much like the label on that well-known herbicide. I watered my garden from the river prior to the start of the spraying about 5 years ago. After some of my plants withered and died I stopped using it. Well water is my water source now and I have to conform to water hours as I am on a shared well system. 17 homes share 4 wells governed by our small water board that does a bang-up job as far as I’m concerned.
The beds are wet from the rain, most of them are almost completely ready, more organic material needs to be added. I compost in them, beginning by cutting last years plants off at the surface I lay them on top of the bed. Covering them with cardboard or newspaper is next followed with watering to moisten the paper. I then place 6 inches of water weeds on them, they are generally wet, slimy, and stink to high heaven. Over the top to complete it, I lay 6 inches of leaves, if they are dry I soak them, however, this year everything is wet so the water will not be needed.
The decomposing progresses rapidly for the leaves the water weeds are much slower. As the leaves rot they settle making room for more and that is where I am at now, the beds are ready for more leaves. I won’t add more lily pads or tule rushes until the middle of the summer they are wonders at holding water. The reeds are like big straw filled with a sponge-like material that soaks up water and retains it. The top will form a crust in the hot weather protecting the material under it from evaporation it is most likely co-incidence it happens like that. Under the tules are the last layer of leaves rapidly breaking down I will penetrate the top layer and plant in the broken down material.
That is when I add the worm castings from the worm farm, it is a little confusing how I am set up for raising the Red Wigglers. When I constructed the raised beds 5 years ago I added 250 earthworms and 250 nightcrawlers to each. There are now thousands of them in each bed, they are thriving keeping the soil healthy. I combined the two species because each performs a specific job. The smaller Red Worms live in the layer above the completely decomposed material and the freshly laid organic material literally eating their way through the environment. I attempt to copy the natural habitat as if they are in the wild. Nightcrawlers are not limited to living on the surface. Unlike their smaller cousins, they surface at night, if you have collected fishing worms maybe you found after dark was the opportune time. Eating on the surface until shortly before daybreak they clasp a bit of material in their Prostomium, a lip above the mouth used much like a hand. They are able to carry organic material with it, shovel food into their mouths, and push unwanted material aside. The Nightcrawlers are burrowers using the same tunnels they carry food into their dens which are as deep as 6 feet (1.8 meters) beneath the surface. They aerate the soil, add castings (manure) and assist in breaking down the organics. Together the job they perform helps the plants thrive.
When the ground warms in the middle of April planting will begin, I tried a different approach last year and have plans to expand it. Experimenting with Acorn Squash I spread about 100 seeds in an 8 foot (2.4 meters) bed the plants did well producing 50 of the gourds. I read about “crowd” planting in some articles a friend sent to me backed up with online videos I decided to give it a go. I am happy with the results, this spring I plan on doing the same with Zucchini, Jalapenos, and Tomatoes. The nightshades are grown locally Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Peppers crowd planting is common practice on most farms for these plants. Cucumbers are natural to plant in this manner as are green beans, I have good luck with the former not so much with the latter.
I brew worm tea before I plant and use it for my initial watering, it is organic nitrogen which offers as much like commercially available products with one exception. There is no limit to the amount that can be used it will not burn the plants, the organic fertilizer is ready for the plants to use immediately. I sprinkle the liquid liberally at the base of the plant or directly on the seeds, once a month I make another batch and water the plants where the stalk emerge from the soil. I make a mixture of compost and worm castings for use as planting soil, again the plants cannot be burned by the natural worm manure. Digging a hole 3x larger than the root of the plant I will line it with cardboard to control the planting mix. I place a bit of the mix in the bottom of the hole, place the plant and fill in the sides, water it with worm tea, two days later I soak them making certain to wet the cardboard completely. The entire bed is in a constant state of composting making the addition of more organic material necessary throughout the year.
My wife and I are close to achieving zero waste, all of our kitchen scraps (other than meat, bones, and grease) are eaten by the worms. Besides the worm farms in the raised beds, I have four bins in the garage with as many as 10,000 worms in each one creating worm castings and taking care of our garbage. Organic material in the bins is used for bedding, newspaper, cardboard, leaves, and yard waste (no grass clippings they heat up). All of the boxes we receive are cut up and used as well as the newspaper, what I don’t use in the bins I will shred and add to the raised beds.
The downside is plastic, it’s a plague on our world and it is hard to determine how the flow of re-cycling works. That is another blog but I need to bring it up because I am looking for a way to be responsible with it. A major problem in re-cycling is most of it can not be re-used dooming it to exist in a dump for 500 years. Some of it is re-used but it cannot be recycled forever, 2-3 times breaks down the fibers ending its useful life. Other plastics are made into new products which only prolongs the useful life until it finds it’s way to a dump and sits there for you guessed it 500 years. No matter what we do with the stuff it will pollute our world with micro-beads long after all of us am gone. A light at the end of the tunnel does exist with science, researchers have developed a plastic from algae that is completely bio-degradable, there is hope. That completes my rant on plastics, for now.
My March get ready to garden blog is complete, thanks for reading and sharing it. Did you forget to set the clocks back Sunday morning? For the past few years, I re-posted my blog on Day Light Savings Time but I decided to give it a rest this year. I blame it on the Canadians as they were the first in the world to adopt it nationwide, the U.S. was a close second, it’s fun to read about. Thanks again and get ready for spring, it will eventually arrive, maybe not in the North from the looks of it but everywhere else I’m sure it will.
Jacques Lebec Natural Self-Reliance