Ugh. Well, the favas are actually starting to sprout. And some asshole is eating them all. I'm guessing it's a combination of birds and rodents, since in some cases the seed has clearly been eaten, but in others the sprout was eaten and the seed left. Birds were hovering and getting territorial while I was out working, and based on that I threw row covers over the area with emerging seedlings. If it's rodents that are causing the majority of the problem, then row covers might be a deadly mistake, providing said rodents with protection from aerial predators. Even if the cat does come home tonight, rodents will have done their damage before she's able to go outside. We're supposed to get a couple of genuinely sunny days, and that might be a good opportunity to apply another round of nettle tea, though I anticipate that it would wash away before the favas were big enough to tolerate being nibbled on. I don't know what the actual damage is yet. There are lots of spots where I can't tell if something's been digging around or if I just didn't fill in the holes where I planted the seeds very well. I might plant a little more after I see what the damage is, but I don't want to dip into my reserves if I don't have to. I mean, I'd love to believe that I'm selecting for bird/rodent resistance, but realistically I think it's just luck of the draw (though, they don't seem to like the skins of the beans, so there might be something to select for in that regard.)
It really is just fractals of history repeating itself. Like my ancestors, I'm happy to share, but it'd be great if that wasn't taken as an invitation to commit genocide. 🙄
In better news, growth on the pre-existing veggies really feels like it exploded overnight. It helps that more and more brassicas are getting their true leaves and are finally recognizable. Some of the kale is getting massive and it was genuinely indistinguishable only a few days ago. I'm seeing more and more dill popping up. Not sure it'll do much as we move into cooler weather, but it'll certainly make for a nice snack while it lasts. I'm seeing a lot more cress as well. There's new stuff continuing to sprout as well, and still plenty that isn't big enough to be distinguishable yet, but the stuff that is is really starting to look gorgeous.
I'm accidentally running a bit of an experiment that I hadn't consciously intended to. I started pulling thistles at one end of the garden and dropping them as mulch, figuring anything that didn't survive the root disturbance qualified as part of my thinning for that area. The next area I pulled the thistles but did not drop them as mulch there, but rather in the front of the "terrace" instead. My concern was that they were a little too effective as mulch and were smothering an excessive number of the smaller seedlings. Then the final area is everything that hasn't been weeded yet. Some patches of thistle have really started to senesce, while others look relatively healthy.
Without any kind of measurement, my gut feeling is that the first area (weeded and mulched) has the best final plant spacing but also has the lowest plant diversity... Only the toughest species would have been able to survive that treatment, and so they represent the bulk of what's left. A new round of germination is taking place now, so it'll be interesting to see how things even out.
The second area (weeded but not mulched) definitely has more plant diversity and a plant density that leaves me plenty of options for making selections, whereas in%1 the previous area it feels like I'm doing less selection and more just getting stuck with whatever survived. I'd say the weeded and mulched section has the largest average size per plant, but it doesn't have the largest overall plants, and just visually, the weeded and not mulched area just looks healthier as a whole and on a plant by plant basis
Which leaves the non-weeded area. This area has the best plant diversity of all (even excluding the weeds), and in the areas where the thistles are senescing, this is where I'm seeing the largest individual plants and what, by my estimation, is the fastest rate of growth. It's super crowded, but that seems to be having minimal impact. Part of that is likely just from the lack of root disturbance, but some of the best looking plants exist in some of the densest but most diverse clumps of plants, just like the research suggests would happen.
Of course, it's still too early to call one genuinely better than the others, but so far I'm leaning towards not weeding as the winner, and if not, then at least close enough that the reduction in labor makes up for whatever I'm losing in the process. I'm curious to see how things work out as the season progresses.
The final picture is the one plant that keeps cropping up and I can't place at all. I've been leaning heavily towards something in the apiaceae family, but it's not carrots, parsley, or cilantro. I've thought that maybe it was the edible chrysanthemum I included in my mix, since that's one I'm not super familiar with. As they get bigger, I'm less sure of that. There are some California poppies with a similar phenotype (though more dainty and frilly leaves seem most common.) I've nibbled a bit of leaf and haven't gotten a particularly strong flavor. Google suggested that it was a particular species of buttercup whose leaves are dissimilar to other species of buttercups, and does share a striking resemblance, but doesn't appear to be native or naturalized here. If anyone thinks they know what it is, I'm all ears. Otherwise I'm just going to have to keep watching it and see how it develops over time.
There were definitely lots of things in my mix that I haven't seen clear signs of yet. Lots of maybes, but nothing big enough to be certain about yet. At this point I'm still mostly just observing and not intervening, hoping that some of the things I haven't ID'd are there and will present themselves in time.