Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hand-Digging New Garden Beds

I started a garden realignment last year, switching two "S" shaped garden beds over to three long straight ones. Aries ran the rototiller down the new beds last year in time to get them planted. But I don't like the job the rototiller does. It's good for breaking up new ground, but doesn't really go as deep as I like or sort out the rocks. So the past week, I've been out there diligently hand-digging.

Each bed is 50' long, so I can use standard soaker hoses, and 3' wide. I did one-third of one bed last fall, for the garlic and shallots. Each bed gets four wheelbarrow-fuls of compost, spread out to cover the entire surface with about an inch. I use an equal-parts mix of bonemeal, bloodmeal, and greensand as an organic booster fertilizer, so sprinkle a light dusting of that over the compost, and then start digging. It takes four passes down the length of the bed with a shovel to turn and mix everything in, making sure the edges of the beds go down as deep as the centers. Some of the beds were where the old garden beds had been, so it was easy to sink the shovel in past the depth of the blade. But other parts used to be the paths, untouched since the whole area was a horse corral. When I hit one of those parts, I have to stand on the shovel and rock it back and forth and side to side, until I slowly work it down into the hard-packed dirt. Every once in a while, I can tell I've hit a rock, so work and worry it about until I can get it to the surface to toss it to the side.

Once everything is mixed and fluffed up, I then go to work with the rake. When I'm finished, I have a level, wide, raised garden bed making a terrace across the slight slope of our property. The three beds that will have smaller, closely-spaced plants get two soaker hoses; the other three for the bigger plants will get only one down the center. I'm about ready to get Aries out there with the rototiller to re-shape the remaining two "s" beds (on the right) into three more long ones, so will have plenty of digging yet to do. Once the beds are formed, they never again get walked on, so garden preparation in subsequent years will be a lot easier.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Uh Oh, Who's Missing?

There were feathers wafting about in front of the house today - not a good sign. I did a chicken roll call and Flopsy, one of our Buff Orpingtons, was missing. Further investigation turned up a half-eaten chicken carcass over in the neighbor's yard. From the evidence, the most likely suspect is the bobcat that's been seen here and there around the neighborhood lately. Darn! From the looks of our egg take today, it appears she was the one laying the really big round egg (bottom left, below) each day, too.

We usually let the chickens have the run of the whole yard during the winter. They're my organic, integrated pest control patrol. They're pretty good about staying within the fence, for the most part, but I had noticed a couple them were venturing outside the fence more and more often lately. It looks like it's time to confine them to their pen. It was about time to do so anyway - once the growing season sets in, their incessant scratching and dust bathing gets too destructive. They never like it, but now, it's for their own protection too.

I think I might have to start keeping my camera close by, especially the couple of hours just after sunrise and just before sunset. I'd love to get a photo of that cat. I just hope he stays outside the fence.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Zen of Snow Shoveling

The couple inches of snow we woke up to yesterday had pretty much melted by noon. A quick afternoon flurry while I was at work dropped a couple more inches of wet, sloppy snow, but it was gone by evening. And then, at nightfall, the real storm moved in. We woke up this morning to another six inches of snow, sunshine, and freezing temperatures.

Aries had time to clear a path across the deck before his work carpool showed up. I figured quite a bit of it would melt again, but I really don't mind shoveling snow. Plus, snow reflects the sunlight back, but anything cleared down to dark dirt absorbs the heat. This snow might be here a couple of days, but cleared paths dry out quickly, making going about on chores later a lot easier, with less chance of slipping, and helps keep the house cleaner too.

So, with my Ipod in my back pocket (gotta have music), I headed out later in the morning to clear a few paths. By then, the snow had packed itself down by half, but was also twice as heavy. It's a good arm and core workout - keeps me in shape for the garden digging I hope to be doing soon. First path, down to the chicken coop, with a short side path to the front of the feed shed. Aries opens up the coop in the mornings. A couple of the hens had crossed the snow, and were hanging out inside the shed. One had even laid an egg on the floor. But most of the girls, and the guineas, don't really like getting their feet wet. They were all still holed up in the coop. As soon as I had the area around the feeder and their door cleared though, they were all ready to come out into the sunshine.

Aries had given them fresh water earlier, but it had frozen into slush since then. I tossed that, and fetched a fresh bucket of water from the house. I then continued my shoveling. I like to make a path back up to the back door of the house, with a side spur into the dog run. It gives the chickens more room to walk about, and they like hanging out inside the south-facing doghouse there.

From the back door, I shoveled past the garage to the woodpile. The woodbox inside had plenty for today, but having a clean, dry path will make it easier for Aries to refill it for me when he gets home from work. One more path, connecting back door to kitchen door, and I'm finished out back (in mid-winter, when the snow is deeper and won't be melting anytime soon, I also do one more over to the cellar and shovel the door).

Out front, I do one from front door out to the mailbox - even though I wasn't expecting any visitors today, I think it's just good manners to provide non-slippery access from the street to the house. I had afternoon errands planned, and would need my car, so did a quick swoop 'round it, and then got the broom to clean it off. Another swoop 'round, to clean all the snow I'd just slid from car to ground, so I can get into it later without soaking my shoes. And then one last little bit more: though there wasn't enough snow to need to shovel the driveway, I do have to clear the berm the snowplow left, at least wide enough to back my car through. That's the hardest part, too. Plow berms are always heavy, frozen chunks. Ahh - an hour's work, a couple hundred feet of paths - I'd say it's time for a cup of cocoa.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's Spring?

The only spot of color outside my windows are the finches sheltering underneath the snow on the bare branches of the lilac. But I have faith that Spring weather will come eventually. So it's time to start thinking about the garden.

My onion order arrived last week, but I haven't even been able to get out to the garden yet. Depending on which day it is in our current weather cycle of the past three weeks, it's either too wet or the ground is frozen or it's buried beneath a couple inches of snow once again. But the info sheet said the onion plants will stay dormant for at least 3 more weeks if kept cool and dry, so I've put them down in the cellar for now.

There are lots of gardening things to get started on now, even when I can't get outside. For my fellow northern Nevada gardeners, I'll try to get back on a regular posting schedule so you can all follow along. Plus, I've been taking photos all along, so might do some back posts so I can look back to see what was happening when. Look on the bright side - the longer it keeps snowing, the better the chance the fruit trees will hold off blooming long enough to get some fruit later this summer.