After almost twenty years of off and on struggling with the sand here in the Pine Barrens, last year I started trying to apply some of the techniques of permaculture.
And I had better success than ever before. So this year the effort continues and expands. Last year I started a hugelbeet and right now the is garlic growing in it, with more various growlers to be added. A second, very small, hugel has gone in near the sidewalk in the front yard. It has sunflowers in it now, and will get lupins, echinacea, poppies, calendula and amaranth as the season moves forward.
I have my chickens shredding the leaf mulch on one of my beds, doing a little chicken tractoring work. Gave them a termite infested log today! Talk about candy.
Started building the trellis for the bed with peas, beans, indeterminate tomatoes, stuff that will need some support. Planted a bunch of Lincoln peas under there.
Scored 5 or 6 double pane windows that a neighbor was throwing out. Some are being made into an impromptu cold frame, and later at least one will be used for a solar dehydrator.
And then there is the nursery. In excess of seven hundred cells, pots or other containers, each with its seed. And all with soil taken from the chicken's run. Still feels like sand, but it is dark, unlike the rest of my yard, and actually had worms in it!
My wife and I plan on moving to SE Michigan, so what I am doing here is more learning and practicing technique than trying to apply the design system on a place we are going to leave.
Planted tomatoes for the transplant/no transplant comparison today. Mortgage Lifter, Amish Paste, San Marzano and Polish Linguisa. Three of each outside in a "cloche" ( drawer from a cheap plastic chest for drawers that decided to collapse). A bunch more in the nursery in pots. When I transplant the nursery seedlings, I will plant more seeds directly at that time.
Another section of trellis set up today, spinach, peas, potatoes and lupins planted. With water still out in the house and no hose spigot on the trailer, I am hauling water by hand, in kitty litter buckets, to do the watering in on all the seeds. Because I am curious, I weighed a full bucket. 28.6 pounds. Hauling water by hand is enough work to make you understand why people invented plumbing
And checking the piney cold frame at one point while in full sun, thermometer was at 90 degrees. Not that warm in the open air.
So far today: more tomatoes started in the greenhouse, another wave of peas in the ground ( Thomas Laxton variety), Bloomsdale long lasting spinach interspersed with the peas. Beets are looking promising, but the Swiss chard seems to have been knocked out by a cold snap. Some of the early peas started along the edge of the greenhouse are looking good. As the season warms and the plastic comes off the frame, the peas will use it as their trellis.
Looks like something has been eating squash seeds in the greenhouse, digging them out of the flats. I suspect chipmunks.
With the sun on it, the greenhouse was probably in the nineties this morning. Toasty.
And we had ducks visiting the pool this morning, a pair of Mallards. Would be ok with us if they stuck around.
Turned my compost bin yesterday. More than a bit disappointed with how little things have broken down despite being there all winter long. I suspect not enough water, for one thing. Did find an onion that was starting to sprout, so it got replanted in one of the beds, instead of leaving it in the compost. I see daily trips hauling water for the compost pile, until we get the water in the house back on. Frozen pipes, not a good plan.
Trying to decide what to do today. This process involves so much waiting for things to happen - I want to harvest food already! Lol.
More hugelkultur work today. Now I have probably close to a thirty foot bed, half buried last year, half just buried today. May or may not notice any differences between the two sections, we shall see.
Next to that i have a double dug bed about the same length that has been mulched all winter. Next to that is a bed that has been untreated, no mulch, no de compaction, just planting straight into the "lawn", and then the double dug bed from last year that has been mulched over the winter and where we have the chickens tearing up the mulch for us now.
Should be interesting to see how the different approaches work.
The tiny hugel in the front yard has sunflowers coming up. Good to see things growing.
Some successes, some frustrations. I am having very poor germination rates with my seedling flats. I suspect that my strange soil is part of the problem in that it is very inconsistent about water retention and some of the cells are drying out too much for germination. I also am pretty darn sure that chipmunks got at some of my squash seeds. No question but that some of them were dug up and eaten, just a small question of who did it.
OTOH, the radish seeds I gathered from my radishes last year are coming up and looking pretty good. Peas are popping up everyplace I have planted them. Some zucchini are about ready to transplant into their beds from the starter flats.
We tried starting a couple of mango seeds from store bought fruit, and both of those have germinated - cool looking plants. Obviously hothouse babies for us in central NJ, but fun experiment at the very least.
I have mentioned before that my soil is one hundred percent sand. Today we pulled back the leaf mulch on one of the raised beds to plant sunflowers, and my wife, who has some unpleasant history with earthworms, did not quite scream, but did make some very rump risked and disgusted sounds.
In that bed, which had sunflowers last year and a leaf mulch over the winter, we have loads of earthworms!! In any area of my yard that we have not been applying permaculture techniques to, you would be hard pressed to find a single earthworm. We pulled back the mulch and there were worms ducking for cover back into the dirt all over the bed.
This soil building stuff works! Last year I double dug the beds to decompact the sand, grew sunflowers, radishes, carrots and lettuce in this one, and then piled the fall leaves on at season end. Already this soil is being transformed. Pretty amazing.
Nice stuff Peter, I just found this thread. Glad to see all your doing in the Garden State!! It's crazy what a nice leaf litter can do for your soil. Last fall was the first year I basically left all the fallen leaves in my backyard to their own devices. I got a few comments from one neighbor in particular but he'll get over it! I think this fall I will take it a step further and gather up some of those bagged leaves on the side of the street, spread them out in the garden and let nature and the chickens do their finest. The increased earthworms are great for soil building and the chickens love to eat them as well. Function stacking at it's finest!!
I would be interested to see how those mango seeds turn out.
This morning I was putting some of my nursery started tomatoes into the garden and I noticed some oddities in the nursery. I seem to have tomatoes volunteering in very unexpected places, in the flats and pots. For example, in a flat where I planted watermelon, I have a tomato. In a cup where I planted jalapeño, I have a tomato. And, in a couple of flats where I had given up on the almost twenty year old seed and started some peppers - yep, I have tomatoes coming up.
These last I am really quite excited about, as those ancient seeds included some unusual varieties that I really hope have survived and can be bootstrapped again from these plants.
Tomorrow, more tomatoes go in the garden, and the seeds I set aside for the experiment in nursery start versus direct seed should go in as well.
And peanuts, and kale started in the nursery, none of the peppers are ready to transplant, but I have some seeds still and may direct sow a bunch.
And the winter squash, need to get them going.
Move the chickens and plant melons where they have been this past couple of weeks.
With all the rain we have been getting and the weather warming up, things are beginning to take off! Fun time in the garden.
And today, more herbs, spinach, New Zealand spinach, lettuce (I know, late, packet was hiding), got the kennebec potatoes mulched. The bed where I have planted gobs of garlic, which was laid out but not turned, de compacted, or even mulched, has been getting quite weedy (plus a quantity of grain, some of which has hit six feet in height, not sure what it is, as I tossed three different blends of cover/forage/nitrogen fixer around. ) So part of today's activities was chop and drop on the weeds in that bed.
My soil is so low in organic matter, I figure that (a) anything that will grow in this stuff should be given a chance and (b) if it is successful enough and in a location that it competes with my chosen plants, then the problem is the solution, chop and drop the volunteers to give my chosen ones the more organic matter that this soil so desparately needs.
So much going on this year in our garden, if it grows well we shall have a glorious excess.
So, the department of making you sad is giving me motivation. In response to a demand to clean up the brush and wood in my yard, today was round one of some rather backbreaking hand built hugelkulturing. Hopefully tomorrow a couple of friends will be able to come over and help.
Today my wife and I built a roughly four by eight hugelbeet. I dug about thirty inches deep, we filled it with branches and logs and piled some more a bit higher in the middle. I put the dirt back on and loaded it up with cowpea and bush bean seeds, and a few jalapeño seedlings and a couple of mystery tomatoes (apparently the food plot seed I bought at Tractor Supply had a few tomato seeds hiding in it. No clue what kind).
Tomorrow at least one more, possibly bigger. So much to do, without the town stepping in and rearranging my priorities for me.
Doing the one bed today probably took eight hours with me doing all the digging and my wife helping load the wood in.
And before that, there was lawn mowing with my scythe, and after there was much rearranging of the numerous rather decent sized logs I need to deal with. Ah yes, not entirely the definition of fun, with The Man standing in the wings, but felt good to get quite a bit done.
Back in June I reported that we had some interaction with the township. Been a while since I have been back to this thread. We built several hugels with much of the debris the town wanted gone, planted them with tomatoes and peppers and cowpeas and beans, one with squash and zucchini. For those of you already thinking don't put squash on new hugelbeets - yeah, they were pretty pitiful. One small zucchini, none of he plants got to any size at all.
But the tomatoes and pepper did ok, the beans and cowpeas also.
Loads of heavy labor digging holes, filling with wood, then putting the dirt back.
We did not have the luxury of decent soil, or compost, so it was just put the sand back on top. Hopefully by next spring the decaying wood will be providing some more character to the soil.
In late July predators unknown found our chicken, and one by one over about four weeks we lost our three hens. Not rushing to replace them as we are hoping to sell this house and be elsewhere in the next year.
Harvested a sun choke today, first ever for us. Now to look up recipes and cook them up for dinner!
Spent much of today raking leaves, loading them into compost bins and piling them up in/on planting beds as winter mulch. In the process noticed that the mullein that have been popping up around the yard in various places (we had one go to seed last year and we made an effort to spread around and encourage more) has decided to make a last burst of growth before winter hits. Likewise the vetch I planted liberally as part of a few cover mixes has chosen now to go nuts with growth. We even have several peas that have taken off and are blooming. Much of this appears to have happened after we got a hard frost that finished off the tomatoes and peppers. Both of which were still blooming in New Jersey in November.
Been just about a year since I have updated. Not a whole lot to show for the time, but lots really has been done. Garden this past warm season was a mixed bag. Volunteer tomatoes in the compost bin did ok, intentional plantings were a bust. Had an acceptable garlic harvest. Tried glass gem corn and did get enough to have more to plant next year than we bought to plant this year. Tried several varieties of pea and are huge fans of Kelveden Wonder now. Planted several runner bean varieties this year, with mixed performance but overall tolerable.
Still desparately trying to get some life and nutritional quality into this sand. It is quite a struggle.
Noticed that the tomatoes growing in the compost heap were doing very well in really rough, marginally broken down compost.
In preparation for a small winter garden and next year's round, I went through and built raised beds by digging out the walkways and putting that on top of the beds. With the leaves falling, I am starting to gather them into the raised beds area where they will get piled to mulch the beds and pathways both. Trying to concentrate organic matter into the space. A small hoop house going over a section of two beds for our winter garden.
Noticed that over the last week or so most of our backyard tree stumps have had massive flushes of mushrooms. Impressive flushes of mushrooms, even. I believe at least three different varieties have had substantial flushes and a couple of more are also flushing but to a lesse degree. And no, I have no clue about identifying any of them
That very rough, basically leaf mold, compost, supported a massive growth of volunteer tomatoes this year. They were growing on the top of the pile, three feet or more above ground level.
The beds run pretty much north to south and get several hours of full sun, from morning until late afternoon when the house and some trees interfere a bit.
The rightmost bed in the pictures is actually a low hugelbeet.
Small electrical conduit hoop house at one end of the two top beds for the winter garden experiment. Plastic obviously not yet in place.
In addition to these raised bed rows, there are four oval hugelmounds a bit further down slope and one long, unraised bed that runs down the slope alongside the chainlink fence. This year's most successful runner beans were on the fence.
This fall we got the rest of the downed trees broken into manageable pieces and stacked out of the way along the back fence.
I've built a new shaving horse using a slab from one of those trees and some pallet boards and am working on some small furniture items now. A West Nile pattern stool and a chair in the Irish Tuam style.
The real challenge with the dirt here is getting some life into it. Legumes we have grown have not developed root nodules. Need to inoculate them before planting. Want to get compost tea going next spring and drench everything in hopes of kickstarting a soil food web.
If we can make some healthy soil in this stuff, we should be able to manage almost anywhere
Found a stash of half inch pvc pipe I had forgotten abourt. Enouh to let me extend the hoop house the full length of those top two rows. Got that done today and now we have about 210 sq. ft. of growing space under cover. Got the first of the winter garden in, swiss chard, nantes carrots, bunching onions and Kelveden Wonder peas. Have chard and lots more peas for succession planting, and more other stuff coming in the mail from High Mowing Seeds. Kelveden Wonder are from Baker Creek and we highly recommend them, tastiest peas we have ever had.
Still waiting for anything to germinate. Moisture levels should be adequate - condensation on the plastic of the hoophouse dripping down pretty steadily, although the ultra sandy soil does not hold the water at all well. Temperatures on the cool side, we have had one hard frost at this point and a couple of below freezing nights, but I Think the hoophouse is staying above freezing (no thermometer in there yet). The limited hours of daylight are certainly part of the problem.
The hairy vetch is still growing, albeit slowly. I am pulling bits of grass that are trying to come back here and there. There is another volunteer popping up that I will get pictures of and see if anyone can identify It also appears that I have a couple of fodder radish from last year's planting of fodder plot seed mix popping up now. And something is chewing on them, which again suggests the hoop house is staying above freezing.
I think the primary problem is that I did not start anything until November and it all just got started too late. Hoping that they will still come along, just slowly.
Your garden is looking good. It takes time to build soil. We live on sandy soil too, think beach without the ocean. This is our first year, and the spring garden was a total bust. Right now, the garden area is fenced with 2"x4"x48" non climb horse wire and is 8" deep in pine shavings stall cleanout from a horse event center. There are 3 pigs in there, they will go to slaughter in the early spring. By golly, SOMETHING better LIVE next year!!! And I go "bagging" picking up bagged leaves which get spread in the garden as well.
I like your hugel beds. Great use of available resources and space. Keep up the good work!
January 1, 2016 and I just planted another package of Kelvedon Wonder peas and two bulbs of garlic. The first round of peas are two to three inches tall. Onion seeds have germinated and look fine as frog hair. Carrots have their real leaves. Spinach is up, and lettuce and arugula. I still have miserable luck with kale and chard, neither of those seems to be coming up. Forage radish volunteers are growing actively - in NJ in December/January. Pulling a bit of grass that is trying to pop up turned up a volunteer garlic.
But the big discovery today was that the vetch, which has been growing well, has nitrogen fixing root nodules! Considering that last summer I found no evidence of nodules on the vetch, this is a tremendous development. My dirt is becoming living soil and that is a genuinely exciting development.