Homesteaders Getting Dirty
There is only one way to garden without getting dirty: hire someone else to do all the actual work. This may be tempting but isn’t financially feasible. Gardeners get dirty. All that dirt does wash off the hands, knees, hair etc.
Clothes are a different matter. Ground in dirt doesn’t come out of clothes easily. The solution is to have clothes strictly for gardening. These can be washed clean and the leftover stains don’t matter. This is liberating too as you don’t have to be careful not to play in the mud or crawl across the grass.
These cabbages will be gone before the okra goes in. The mulch holds in moisture, prevents dirty cabbage by blocking mud splashing up and keeps the ground cool the way cole crops prefer it.
Challenge 1: Creating the Garden
Bare dirt is a challenge to plants. They colonize the area as fast as they can. That new garden spot is occupied by residents that do not want to move Eviction methods depend on the size of the marked out area.
An easier way is to start in the fall. Cover the proposed garden area with feed sacks or cardboard and mulch. These will rot over the winter while killing out many of the plants underneath. The plot is then turned by hand or rototilled in the spring.
Starting in the spring, a ten foot square area can be done by hand. Use a shovel or spade to cut through the plants at the edge and lift them, roots, dirt and all to loosen the soil. Reach down, pull the plants, shake the dirt off the roots and toss the plants into a wheelbarrow or pile to be taken away. The entire patch may take several days to clear entirely.
A larger area can be harrowed with a tractor. Some rototillers will cut through sod. The plants must still be pulled up by hand, dirt shaken off the roots and tossed out. Any left in the new garden will start growing again.
The dirt will have lots of plant seeds in it. These will seize the opportunity to grow and cover the newly bare area in a green carpet. These seedlings can be hoed, rototilled or mulched to prevent them from creating a new plant jungle.
This seed invasion will never end. The seeds will blow in, get dropped off by birds or get carried in on shoes or clothes. The gardener will get dirty fighting this never ending war continuously as long as the garden exists.
No doubt about it, chickweed gets really big in the garden with good soil and plenty of rain. Dead nettle gets lush too but dies back after a time. Pulling these is dirty work but helping the bees in early spring makes it worth the trouble.
Controversy 2: Rototill or not?
Traditionally a garden was rototilled or plowed every spring. Many gardeners still start their spring gardens this way.
The advantages of rototilling were getting the newest seedling invasion or winter cover crop turned under, loosening the soil and redefining the garden perimeter. The disadvantages were needing the ground dry enough to support the rototiller, keeping the garden open enough for the rototiller to maneuver around and mixing the top soil into the subsoil layer. It chopped up worms but exposed pest moth pupae.
I rarely rototill my garden any more. My garden is set up in small sections. A small tiller would work but fall mulching works too. I put down feed sacks with a mulch layer in late fall.
Some seedlings will come up through or in the mulch. These are not normally a problem. This year narrow leaf plantains are the common plant coming up and are being pulled as a kitchen crop. Morning glories, black walnuts and locusts are pulled. Chickweed is used as a garden crop then pulled.
My garden pathways do grow up in dead nettle, chickweed and henbit. These bloom early and are relished by bees. When I start planting, I start clearing and mulching the pathways for the summer. My method is to use a potato fork to loosen the soil, pull enough plants for one wheelbarrow piled high each day. It takes about ten days to get all the way around at this rate.
The mulch is pulled back from the row I want to plant. The seeds are put into the row. Some areas must have all the mulch pulled back as for the turnips and beets. Any exposed areas will need weeding so I try to limit them as much as possible. I don’t mind getting dirty or the time but my back complains after so much pulling.
After five or six years using the mulch method without tilling, I much prefer it. I can get into the garden earlier planting peas, spinach and other crops that don’t do well in warm weather. Rototilling is hard work. I like working in the smaller areas, each one sized for the amount of space I would work up in a day or use for a particular crop.
My garden is fair sized but works well with this method because it is broken up into small pieces. A large garden would probably not work out well with this method. There is no reason a large garden can not be worked up using both methods, a smaller area not rototilled and used for early crops while the ground is still too wet to rototill and the main area done in the more traditional method.
Growing potatoes under mulch is great. Deeper mulch increases the yield. Labor is reduced. weeds are reduced. Harvesting is simply moving the mulch aside to pick up the potatoes. the mulch can attract mice and sow or pill bugs that eat potatoes.
Heads Up 3: Garden Residents
I suppose there are some gardeners who think their garden is occupied solely by the plants they themselves plant – they pull up all others – and the insects they invited in to pollinate those plants. My garden would be frightening to these people.
There are many plants trying to invade my garden. Many are unwelcome and are removed as soon as possible. Pokeweed, locust trees, walnut trees, bedstraw and dock are some of them. Other plants are welcome in small numbers. Evening primrose, hispid buttercup, moth mullein, morning glories and chickweed are among these. Lamb’s quarters and plantain are good eating so they are allowed in larger numbers, even one or two plants being allowed to set and scatter seeds.
Creatures come into the garden too. Toads, green frogs, black, speckled king and brown snakes, praying mantises, wasps, bees, lacewings and lady bugs are welcome. Box turtles are usually removed to outside the garden fence. Moles are tolerated only because I can’t get rid of them. Numerous insects come into the garden. Some are problems. Some aren’t.
The pictures of formal gardens, beautifully laid out, carefully tended and trimmed look nice. I prefer my casual garden. It is a comfortable place to be.
Before you panic at seeing some bug or creature in your garden, find out what it is. Most snakes are far more upset at seeing you than you are at seeing them. Take a moment to admire the colors and movements. Box turtles are vegetarians and love fruit within easy reach. Many insects will not bother you or do much damage to your crops.
Your garden produce will not look like the produce in the supermarket unless you use the commercial methods of sprays which defeats my intentions of no sprays. Bug bites are easily pared away. There are safer ways to repel bugs from picking them off (chickens love some of them) to soap sprays to wood ashes.
Yes, my garden is fenced. Chickens are a disaster in the garden as they dig up everything. Fences are great trellises and boundary markers. Normal fences will not stop woodchucks, raccoons or deer. The many wild residents seem to easily find a way in so they are lived with, enjoyed or avoided as necessary.
Snow peas are an early spring crop and will be gone before the okra goes in. the okra can be started in cups then transplanted. clearing the pea row from mulch lets some weeds sprout. these are showing at the front of the row for the picture. Then they left.
Vegetables are not the only Crops
Raising your own garden produce is not necessarily cheaper than buying it. Labor is expensive. The real benefits of gardening come in fresh produce in new, good tasting varieties and time out in the fresh air. The satisfaction of putting the fruits of your labors on the dinner plate should count in the plus column too.
Homesteading is a dirty business. The homesteader collects plenty of dirt from livestock and working in the garden. Fruits such as berries and apples live above the dirt but have their own considerations.