Our goal when beginning our garden on Poplar Ridge was to gradually transfer into the No-Till method, as it is more sustainable for the soil...and probably easier too! That roto-tiller is pretty tough to manhandle. Last year, that didn't work out very well. We used old hay to mulch with, which worked really well as mulch, but seeded in a lot of grass in the beds.
When I put the garden "to bed" for the winter after that first year, I basically just said "Sayanara, see you in the Spring," and didn't look back. I was homeschooling 2 kids for the first time, working part time, and with soccer 4 nights a week plus violin lessons and practice for both girls, I was going a little nuts and was eager to be finished with it.
We had a mild winter and early Spring that year, so by the time we got out to begin planting the garden, the beds were so overgrown with weeds, that we had to mow them with the push mower AND use the broad fork just so that we could get the hand-held tiller in there to break up the soil.
The soil wasn't that great to start with either. This area is known for producing mostly clay and shale, which is good for the Natural Gas Industry, but not so great for gardeners. We have slowly been working in compost, and old hay. We had the chickens out there one winter as well, so a few of the beds got some chicken poo fertilizer too.
Last year, I took more time, and weeded the beds well in the Fall. We also got a bunch of leaves, thanks to friends with a huge deciduous tree in their back yard, and the fact that we bought a big Ford truck last summer. Most of the leaves just blow off the ridge up here, but they do pile up against things like fences, so we gathered and shredded the ones we found and covered each bed with a thick layer of leaves last Fall. I added wood ash to most beds as I cleaned out the wood stoves over the winter.
This spring, the soil beneath the leaves is rich, soft and dark. The beds are relatively weed free. The broad forking, to loosen the soil is SO much easier! I have spent about an hour and a half over several days, and have 12 out of 16 beds done. I am turning up fat, pink earthworms with each fork full of soil. There are fewer and fewer clods of clay to break up, or rocks to pick out.
This afternoon, my Mom and I planted 3 beds full of potatoes (these are the tiny ones left from last year's crop, which sprouted foot long tentacles in the basement over the winter.) We also planted root crops (carrots, beets and parsnips) and spinach. Half of the beds are planted! We are pulling aside the un-decayed leaves, and planting rows of seeds. We hope to pull the leaves back around the plants, once they are up, to serve as mulch.
Long story short, we are learning, through trial and error, how to make our garden grow. We are also successfully transforming the clay into lovely loam.
I sat in the porch swing to rest for awhile after all of that digging. I felt like a Queen...all around me were beautiful flowers, greening juvenile trees, and a garden full of happy, healthy raised beds.
Job well done, Poplar Ridge Gardeners, job well done!
1 year ago