Community Garden Update: 28 March 2023
These posts are going to be equal parts transparency and convenience for me. Transparency because I give an air of gardening skill and knowledge without providing any evidence that anything I do works, convenience because plaintext is just the fastest way for me to document things.
Last year we did okay on our communtiy garden parcel. If I recall correctly we took in one harvest of radishes and carrots. Our co-planting of corn, beans, and squash didn’t work out except that our squash did beautifully. Two transplants that took off were a basil and a chili pepper plant. By now I may have illustrated the problem, which is that I don’t remember everything we did and what kind of season we had.
The soil we work feels weird. I keep saying it’s trash but comparing it to the soil my family worked for decades back home certainly isn’t fair. That’s also not a very scientific soil assessment. It’s different but not necessarily trash, right? Water moves differently on and through this soil but overall it does its job. Again there’s a lack of specific information and accurate record keeping that needs to be addressed.
Last season we perceived a few soil problems. It gives the feel of clay but water has a hard time infiltrating its surface. It’s certainly not severe enough to call the soil crusted but water from the can tends to wash across the surface, which doesn’t inspire confidence that it infiltrates down far enough to move nutrients around and provide habitat to beneficial microbes. The little work we did with a rake and fork gave the impression that the soil on the parcel was highly compacted. Overall last season we focused on adding mulch to help water disperse and stick close enough to the surface long enough to be pulled down, and adding other organic matter which largley took the form of cuttings from our vegetables and the spent plants at the end of the season.
The steps we’ve taken so far to build soil this season include double digging the entire plot. That process validated the hypothesis of soil compaction. While double digging we added a few amendments; egg shell powder, compost, and a few handfuls of granular fertilizer high in nitrogen. I’ve also added a layer of organic material (trimmings and dead houseplants from over the winter) and of cardboard sheet mulch to control weeds. So far the water infiltration is improved but still not what I expect from a high quality garden soil.
Instead of guessing at the soil structure and quality I’ll be doing a few basic tests this season.
I’ve been watching the weather daily for the last month looking to get a handle on our last frost date. I thought it would be today but it looks like I can expect at least another dip near/below freezing this time next week.
I still decided to plant a handful of vegetables and herbs this week. Last season I made two big raised beds and two long rows on the parcel and planted into those. This season I’m trying to be more intensive and adapting techniques outlined in Square Foot Gardening. I want to note that I think most of Square Foot Gardening is stupid, particularly the soil mix which is not a sustainable practice. For beginner gardeners, though, I think there’s a good framework there for thinking about biodiversity in the garden, as well as how to minimize waste and maximize yield per square foot; which on a ~5x6 foot parcel is relevant to my interests.
So in five roughly square foot areas I’ve planted around 16 seeds of each of the following:
- Nanti Forto carrots
- 2x Detroit 2 beets (one square to harvest for its greens)
- Butterhead lettuce
In three long containers to the side of these plantings, a mix of herbs:
Lastly in one long row about a foot wide, right at the “front” of our parcel by the main path through the community garden, we planted a mix of flower seeds (marketed as being good for bees).
This season I’ll work harder to document yields and the rest of the plantings. Again, I estimate space for 30 square foot plantings, though we intend to use some spare bathroom tiles to create space to walk in the middle of the parcel for ease of harvest and watering, bringing the number of spaces down to probably 26.
I don’t have definitive plans for the remaining 20-or-so spaces, except that I have around a dozen chili pepper plants and another dozen cucumber plants to transplant. I want to try to grow corn again and use them as a support for beans and cucumbers. We’ll definitely be planting squash again. We bought some more flower seeds (cup-and-saucer vine, perennial delphinium, sunflower). Ultimately when it gets warm enough I think the rest of the space will become a “salsa garden” layout with more peppers, onions, and some tomato.