We had a rough go of it this Spring and Summer with a wide range of garden pests, fungal outbreaks and diseases.
- Squash vine borers
- Tomato horn worms
- Blossom end rot
- Squash bugs
- Japanese beetles
- Mosaic virus
- Downey mildew
- Powdery mildew
- and the list goes on…
My understanding is that this largely due to the fact that our soil is completely lacking in organic matter and is relatively lifeless. We harvested a small amount of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers a lone pumpkin and a single butternut squash. Everything else suffered destruction at the hands of one problem or another. Healthy soils yield healthy plants, and healthy plants don’t suffer these problems on nearly the scale that we’ve experienced this year.
To that end, we’ve begun a constant process of living compost production (Berkley method of composting) and have built a compost tea brewer, thanks to Nick Ferguson at Permaculture Classroom. We’re applying the compost in various forms to build bacterial life in the soil. The bacteria will then nourish the plants in the proper proportions, so we don’t have to expend a lot of energy thinking about it.
After all, there’s only four of us, and we can only work for an hour or two a day. I’d much rather put billions of specialized bacteria to work on a 24-hour cycle.
We started the preparation process by tractoring the chickens on the hugels and swales. The tractor is like a large cage with no bottom, and it enables the chickens to scratch an peck through the beds without the danger of falling victim to hawks or dogs. The chickens literally destroy everything in the bed in the quest for food. Weeds and insects cannot escape their keen eyes, and they deposit manure as they do their work. Everyday we move the chicken tractor to a fresh patch of green in the beds, and the process begins again.
Next we solarize the beds using a huge sheet of black plastic. The plastic blocks the sun and bakes the ground below killing off the remaining weeds and obliterating the seeds and pests still hiding in the top layer of the soil.
The final step is to sheet-mulch by adding 3-4inches of horse manure and woodchips sourced from a nearby horse farm. We then spray compost tea, diluted to about 5:1, over the manure and cover the whole area with a layer of cardboard. Finally, a four to six inch topdressing of wheat straw mulches off the whole affair.
In the Spring we will begin planting perennial support species for the fruit trees and some select vegetable crops as space & time allows.
Greening the Lunar Landscape
Due to the many earth-moving projects at the Ant Farm, we have a shameful amount of exposed cherty soil. I describe it as our “lunar landscape”, and it drives me crazy. This Fall we’re going to break the cycle, and our property will finally be green.
We started with the front and side yards of the house with the establishment of grass. Summer wasn’t the best time to undertake this task, but we worked hard, watered every day, and got it done. This Fall we set our focus on the area between the house and the pond, the dam and the inter-swale area. Today these areas got seeded with dutch white clover. We chose it as a groundcover that won’t get too tall, will add nitrogen and biomass to the soil, and will serve as good forage for chickens, rabbits, or any other animals we bring into the equation. The inter-swale area got an additional dose of Dixie re-seeding crimson clover, which has become my go-to ground-cover.
To ensure the best establishment we’re starting out on a 30-minute sprinkler regimine once every three days. In a few weeks we’ll move the sprinkler and begin another white clover patch on the dam, and then progressively move across the property until all of the exposed areas are green.
We’ll keep working through the Fall to improve the soil and prepare the way for Spring, and pests be warned… this time we’re bringing an army of microorganisms!