We have been gardening for about 17 years now.
It has become a normal part of life and how we eat, so much so that this last year when we moved and couldn’t have a garden right away it was quite an adjustment. We have been anxiously dreaming about gardening here at the new farm, and we have been doing a lot of research to try to decide HOW we are going to successfully garden here.
As I talked about in this post, we don’t really believe in using just one specific garden method. We have found that combinations of methods that address the specific challenges and strengths of our specific microclimate are the best way to go. The new farm is in a very different microclimate than what we gardened in up in the high-altitude Rockies. So we are doing our best to learn and make plans that will hopefully be successful. We have talked to a lot of locals and heard their stories of failure, and some stories of success as well. And we have been reading a lot of books – some that we have read before, which we are reading from a new perspective, and some new ones too.
The challenges we are facing are:
Sand – not sandy soil…sand. Just sand. No nutrition. Won’t hold water.
Salty Water – our well water has high sodium levels. We have done a lot of research and talked to experts and locals and have come up with a lot of differing opinions on how big of a deal this is – or isn’t. Some people say don’t ever think about watering plants with it, you will kill them because it will clog up their roots and they won’t be able to drink. Others say it is totally fine, no big deal, water as much as you want. And then there is every opinion in between, along with a lot of ideas of how to manage it.
Dry Drought Conditions – it is very dry and has been for a very long time. There are not a lot of natural water sources anywhere nearby.
Wind – Very strong wind that will knock over a tomato cage, tomato and all, or rip a garden cover fabric off and send it to Kansas.
High Temperatures – We spent most of July and August this year above triple digit temperatures. Almost every plant withered and died in the intense heat and sun. But it isn’t like some other hot places, where we can plant during other seasons because we do have an actual winter here with a lot of freezing temps from Oct to May.
Pest Bugs – We noticed this last year after we moved here that the area is unnaturally high in pest bugs and low in beneficial insects and bug-eating birds. There are some reptiles and amphibians, which I am sure help a little, but the few plants we brought with us from our last farm were very quickly decimated by pest bugs.
So, here is the plan we have come up with to try to make a productive garden at the new farm.
First, we picked our area and have started building a snake-proof garden fence. We have a lot of rattlesnakes here and a lush, moist garden would be a place they would be very happy to hide in during the heat of the summer. I do not want to risk any of us getting harmed while gardening. The area we chose is north of a building. I know…totally wrong…don’t garden on the north side of a building…it is too cold. But we specifically chose the location because of the heat we went through in the summer. We are hopeful that being on the north side of the building will help the plants handle the heat better since they will get some afternoon shade from the building and the fence. Plus, I like the location for other reasons as well. It has a water spigot right there (not that we have fully decided how to handle water, but it is right there once we decide), plus our rain barrels, and is easily accessible and in a central location. So it will be easier to care for.
This is just the first veggie garden, we plan to do a second one in the future to add even more space – feeding 8 people from a garden, plus seed saving, means you need quite a bit of garden space…but, one thing at a time.
Next, due to the soil issues, we know that we are going to have to bring in soil and build the garden up, not down into the ground. We have quite a bit of compost from our farm, but not enough to put in an entirely new garden and fill it deep enough. And we can’t afford to bring in soil this year. So, to bridge the gap so we can garden this year and still be working towards building raised beds, we are going to start with a straw bale garden.
We have never done a straw bale garden before. But, by using this method we will be creating a base layer for the foundation of the garden beds, and it will give us another year to create more compost and save up to buy some soil. It also is supposed to be good for dry areas, and we are in a drought. So hopefully the straw bales will keep the moisture better and the plants will stay cooler and happier.
Due to the gravel and weeds in the area we wanted the garden, we decided to lay down a double layer of cardboard (we saved all our packing boxes from the move last year) to cover the entire garden area. This will keep any weed problems down, and will decompose over time.
Then we set up our straw bales. We will plant in them, using the methods described in the book “Straw Bale Gardens Complete” by Joel Karsten. Over the year they will decompose and next year we will break them up and spread them out. The cardboard and partially decomposed straw will give a nice base layer for the garden soil and compost to come in and be built up on.
Like I have said, we don’t stick with just one method. The book suggested laying them out in single lines of bales, short sides touching. But we have long been intensive, square-foot planting type of gardeners, and we just couldn’t waste all that space on walkways instead of plantable area. So we put our bales long sides together. Hopefully this is not a mistake. We are also planning a lot of our planting in a square-foot type way, while also taking into consideration what the book says a bale can handle as far as amounts of each plant type per bale. And we also do a lot of vertical gardening, so working those concepts in with the straw bales is another thing we are working on.
We are also attempting to extend the seasons, like we always have, by using methods from the book “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener” by Niki Jabbour. It could be tricky to do this, since we have to prep the bales to get them to start decomposing and we are not sure how early in the season the bales will prep well. But we are going to give it a try. We will be using hoop tents over the bales to extend the season, along with Wall-O-Water covers. Both are methods we have used a lot in our previous gardens. Not sure how it will go here with the wind and such. We are also building our first cold frame in the next month or so, and that will be filled with regular compost and soil. We will add more cold frames in the future, but getting at least one going for this year is a must.
We will see where this takes us. We are taking some risks, but there are always risks, and we would rather jump in and learn from mistakes than never try anything new. So here we go. We will be finishing up the snake-proof fence and building the trellises over the next couple months and then “let the garden season begin!” and we will see how this goes.
Meanwhile…it is covered with snow. 🙂