Quick garden update

Ryan Mooney

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How deep did your tillage/forage radish penetrate, and do you think you will plant them again?

Depends on the soil, in some places they went down a foot and change easily enough. In other places they started pushing themselves out of the ground so we just picked them.

I would 100% plant them again, the greens are really good and the root is decent, they're one of if not the toughest plants in the garden, they grow really fast, and they do help break up the soil some.

Leo, yep this has been all by hand. I've hit a few rocky spots but nothing to bad (one big patch of lava bombs, a couple collections of old bricks). The exception is in a couple places where I've found the "basement" which is slowly eroding clay sandstone which adds some welcome sand if you can break it up with a pick... But there's not a lot of that I can do before playing out nowadays. The digging has been at least 10x easier over the winter with the soil damp than it was last year when it was dry, that clay really sets up!!!

One thing that has been pretty cool has been seeing the texture improve significantly in the areas I dug last year due to improved aeration and increased organic matter. There are still some pretty dense spots that I'll keep adding organics to, and breaking up with the broadfork, but overall the soil health has dramatically improved. We've also been heavily mulching with leaves and I found a patch of wild straw I've been able to scythe down and use as a mulch as well. The straw really helps mycorzial activity, so you get lots of benefits in both nutrient uptake and soil texture from that (this is observed both here and in previous gardens, I have no idea on the mechanisms, just that it's moreso than most other mulches).

The landowners had done a small amount of gardening here previously and made a bit of a run at small scale market gardening. When I took it over they had planted an oat and clover cover crop. I added cow peas to that last year in the undug sections. But the soil depth before you hit the hard clay layer was so shallow none of it did very well (ok in a couple spots overall pretty sad). They've wanted to do more but have two small ones, day jobs, and 16 acres of cherries that actually make some money so this was pretty low on the list of projects other than some test runs. I figure worst case they're getting much more food off of it (for them even, not counting what we're taking, or what we're giving out to several other families) for the next year or two and then they've got some improved soil. Even if they drug it back flat at this point it's still significantly improved. They had wanted to do the huggle as well but at stalled at the pile of rodent attracting brush not quite big enough to be useful... So figured might as well finish that off while I'm here :)
 

Ryan Mooney

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We're now getting into the "woodworking" section of the project. I laid in about half of the bed with the first layer of wood today (it had a LOT of limbs so most of the afternoon was spent limbing it enough to get it to set in.. the limbs will go into a higher layer).

Then went down to the lower field where we originally got this stuff and spent another couple hours pulling out some more half rotten trash out of the under growth while trying to dodge the poison oak as much as possible. I think I have enough for about half of the remaining fist layer plus found a half dozen pieces that are maybe solid enough for posts (I'll haul them up and trim the rot once they've dried a week or two and throw the rotten bits in the hole as well).

Also peeled up some smaller green poles that were thinned out.. we'll have a bit of a discussion on pole gate construction in a month or two..


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Chuck Ellis

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We're now getting into the "woodworking" section of the project. I laid in about half of the bed with the first layer of wood today (it had a LOT of limbs so most of the afternoon was spent limbing it enough to get it to set in.. the limbs will go into a higher layer).

Then went down to the lower field where we originally got this stuff and spent another couple hours pulling out some more half rotten trash out of the under growth while trying to dodge the poison oak as much as possible. I think I have enough for about half of the remaining fist layer plus found a half dozen pieces that are maybe solid enough for posts (I'll haul them up and trim the rot once they've dried a week or two and throw the rotten bits in the hole as well).

Also peeled up some smaller green poles that were thinned out.. we'll have a bit of a discussion on pole gate construction in a month or two..


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This looks more like a mass grave... is there something we should know????????????:rofl:
 

Ryan Mooney

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This looks more like a mass grave... is there something we should know????????????

Well I will offer this suggestion.. if you DID have to do such a thing in heavy clay soil.. I'd plan way ahead and get it all prepped in the wet season not the dry once the clay has set up!!

Last spring I was just finishing up the first round and the owners brothers dog died so they were going to dig him a grave over on the other side a bit.. By then I had a really good idea what they were looking at for the project and the brother had dug this little hole about 18" deep half the size around that it needed to be. I saw it and snapped a photo to send to the owner before they released the body from the vet since I felt kind of obligated being on the spot and commented that they had probably 2 days of digging to get it done proper given the current soil conditions ..well.. there was a bit of a kerfluffle between the owner and the brother... Ended up moving the dog way down over the hill to some softer ground in the end (better soil but no water and not as much sun)
 

Bill Satko

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No need for a gym membership for you with all that digging. I once had a project some time back that entailed a lot of digging. I dug up the entire back yard, sifted it through a screen and hauled away all the rocks. Seemed like a great idea at the time but considering the amount of time it took (mainly screening the dirt heavy with clay) and the physical effort, it would have been much faster to just dig it out and replace it with good fill. The only advantage of this insane plan was that I was stronger than I had been in a very long time. Still, I hope I am smarter now...but I have my doubts.
 

Chuck Ellis

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Well I will offer this suggestion.. if you DID have to do such a thing in heavy clay soil.. I'd plan way ahead and get it all prepped in the wet season not the dry once the clay has set up!!
I live in Tennessee, I think the whole state is clay.... I had to put in a new mailbox post last month .... I dug about 6 holes before I found a place where I could get the post hole diggers to work, ruined the edge of the diggers after hitting rocks about 3 times, and it took me an hour to dig down about 18 inches...

Right behind the house there is a hill about 20 feet or so wide that slopes at about a 30-40 degree angle... hard to walk on and even harder to mow. we tried to plant junipers there to cover the hill... we dug 40 holes and filled each with good soil and planted junipers... not one lived.... I'm still mowing... the hill appears to be solid clay.
 

Ryan Mooney

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The local brewery tank production facility had put out some free long pallets, there were five solid 4x4x10s in here and a few shorter 4x4's (3-8').

I've been thinking a little shed (around 4-5' deep and 7-8' wide) for storing some tools on site would be really handy so this is sort of a "project pending". I'm planning on swinging by a couple more times over the next few weeks and see if I can get enough 4x4's for all of the framing work at least. Not sure how the rest of it will go together yet, depends on what I can scrounge up. I'm thinking maybe pseduo timber frame (bit small of timber for actual timber frame but it's a small shed) with wattle and daub infill to make it interesting...

And yes that's an old face mask used as a warning flag, loml claimed I've already hit peak 2021 with this..

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Ryan Mooney

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The neighbor had a new garden shed built and was getting rid of the old one, she was about to pay her yard guy to tear it down for scrap but asked me if we'd like it for the garden space.. I couldn't get out the screwdriver and hammer fast enough! It's a bit smaller than I was planning to make originally at 49.5"x68" (yeah who makes things that size .. aargggh 49.5"!!?!?!) but for the price I can't complain. I'm still planning a low lean to on the near side for storing straw and wheelbarrows and such.

This will be sort of a game changer as far as being able to store soil amendments on site and being able to keep tools out of the weather better. Hauling the soil amendments up and down the hill and loading/unloading from the truck once a week was getting old. Plus I'll be able to put all of the irrigation parts there as well so that'll be pretty sweet. LOML is excited to get her gazebo back once we pull most of the fertilizer and what not out of there and put it up at the garden shed now (I have a small garden shed down here but it has no floor so fertilizers were being stored in her gazebo to keep them dry).

Here it is in it's new home on a new "foundation" (some concrete blocks with 4x4's on top and then a "top quality" termite puke floor with some pallet wood drip trim). The 4x4's are some from the pallet from my last post, once I pulled them apart two were pretty badly busted at some knots so I cut around that to get some decently clear pieces. Total cost not counting labout was maybe $20 worth of screws (I replaced all of the screws I pulled with slightly longer and one size up as they were in moderately rough shape plus added some more to screw on some scrap 1x2 "bracing" to the inside where a couple of the original distressingly floppy U channel stuff was either badly rusted or bent up more than I liked).

The kale and cabbage there all over wintered.. the spring peas are juuust coming up, and we have a nice collection of lettuce and some early bok-choi / other spring cabbage coming on.

I'm still kinda working on clearing up some of the other trash on the spot, slow but we're getting there.

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Bonus shot of some early spring garlic growing like gangbusters a week or so after it's first spring feeding of Calcium Nitrate.

The coil of wire to the left is the original phone line to the property (unused since the 80's.. not on any map..) that I "found" while moving some dirt up the hill a bit. I've been pulling it back towards the edge of the plot where I'll coil and re-bury it.. but digging this section kind of got blocked by the garlic hill until at least mid summer (at which point I'll be able to pull it back one more hill and then probably fall for the rest). And before anyone suggests digging on the other side and pulling it through.. yeah tried that, it ain't happening (not without a LOT more tension than I'm able to apply anyway! Might be able to tunnel it out with water from a hose but not worth the risk as it's low hassle where it is.

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Ryan Mooney

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I tried googling it but came up with "how to clean cat vomit off the floor?"; "do termites give off an odor?"; etc. So I have to ask...
Hah, it's my generic term for chip board which often kind of looks like... Termites did a thing to it. This was some siding scraps that I snagged a while back. I put the pallet wood trim around it to keep the chip board out of the weather, and it's all interior floor so it would also be pretty easy to pull by just removing the screws so I didn't feel to bad about using it instead of plywood (and I had it so...).
 

Ryan Mooney

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Finally got the Huggle buttoned up a couple weeks ago, we've been spraying it down with sprinklers when we get a chance to try to saturate some of the wood down through it. So far this spring has been brutally dry so didn't get any of the rain I was hoping for to help out with that.

Since this was taken I've added a half dozen melon hills between the trees on the right. Pretty much fence-fence garden at this point :D. I don't think that's what my buddy was expecting when I took it over.

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Pretty good crop of early lettuce came in nicely. The peas are quite a bit further up the trellis since this picture was taken ~3 weeks ago.

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View from the bottom end after I put in the tomato supports (all the posts) and the pole bean supports (the western signpost looking things on the far left). 50 some tomatoes and a bit over 60 peppers later....

My theory on the big old oak working for the cabbage patch has been working out pretty well, although I might have to thin a bit of the foliage at one end as it fills in some. But they're definitely liking the indirect sun better than the brassica we have out in the main section.

The frilly stuff right above the row of cabbage is some fennel that over wintered and is producing a ton of not-to-large but still super tasty early fennel bulbs. Quite happy about that, we had no idea it would even grow over a year like that, so that's cool!

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Starting to get a pretty good crop of fava beans (a nice chianti anyone? :D) There's another row of them on the top end... Fresh fava's are pretty darn tasty and they come in a solid month or two before any other beans. We had the first immature pods grilled as a late afternoon snack today.

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Next up is to get the corn going, some of the dropped seed is volunteering so I guess it's time! That means more fencing.. and water...

The fun never ends!
 

Brent Dowell

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LOL, We've got a freeze coming in tomorrow, so I'm glad my laziness and procrastination has paid off. My plants in the greenhouse look great, but if I'd put them out last weekend, they'd be dead this coming up.
 

Ryan Mooney

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We're also getting a cold snap but it won't freeze. Mid 40's hopefully no lower. I did have to move the tender plants (basil mostly.. plus some flowers and other herbs like ginger & tumeric which by rights I shouldn't be able to grow here anyway.. but we do :cool:) back inside for a couple days. Kind of nice after the blasting oven we had last weekend.
 

Ted Calver

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Thanks for the update. Things are looking really good! You'll be able to set up a roadside stand when all that good stuff gets going. Looks like your irrigation system is going to have to work overtime though, the ground looks really dry. Hope you get some nice rains soon.
 

Ryan Mooney

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Looks like your irrigation system is going to have to work overtime though,
Yeah it's been ridiculously dry, the unirrigated parts are just dust (and baked clay). Fortunately we do have a pretty good irrigation setup going there. I've gone to all low pressure (10-12 psi) high volume drip. This let's me run a lot of coverage on moderate amounts of flow (just takes a bit of time) Basically water comes in on 5 high pressure risers, then I run it into regulators, and into 3/4" black flex distribution lines. From there I'm branching into 1/2 black plastic with flag emitters for widely spaced things (artichoke, melons, etc) and 5/8" flat drip tape for the row crops. I have a bit over 2000' of the drip tape run out so far (some of the more densely planted hills get two lines, the really wide corn blocks get three). The water runs in from the big tank, there's a booster pump but with the low pressure I can actually run the whole thing on just gravity feed (takes a bit longer but soaks in even better it seems).

Nothing's for sale but we do have a small distribution of dropping things on some people's doorsteps going already :). The spring bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale rabb, lettuce, and a few similar things has been producing enough to hand off to about four families so far.
 

Ryan Mooney

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Not to many squirrels so far this year, about half a dozen all told so far between the upper and lower plots. Much less of a pain than the 200+ last year. We did have one batch of "super big rats" aka deer get in where I was being lazy and hadn't fixed the fence (it was conveniently located next to the water turn on/off which was saving me ~600' of walking... I was going to put in another gate but then the ground baked hard and I decided it wasn't worth it..).

The squash sure do love the Hugglekulture bed.. You can see some others alongside and past it which are doing "ok" but nothing like the ones on the mound of rotten wood & dirt mixed together. The basil, parsley, and some other herbs are also loving it. We planted some cow peas and garbonzo's along the edges and they seem to be doing pretty good as well. I think this is pretty good evidence that a lot of the challenges I'm having are due to low soil organic levels which hurts moisture retention and nutrient transfer a lot (if it's there and the plants can't get to it.. doesn't help so much).

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This might look like the worlds biggest pigweed, but it's actually quinoa, we're trying a small patch just to see how it does.

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And here's one of my chunky little garden helpers. They're quite fun to watch.

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Mike Stafford

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Something is wrong with your garden; there are no weeds in it! :p :ROFLMAO:

Great looking garden!

I have a small garden which is 20 feet by 60 feet and has raised beds. The area between the beds hasn't been tilled in 30 years and is hard packed and mulched to help retain whatever moisture there is in the soil. Back in the day when I was really into gardening I used to double dig my beds. I used my Troybilt Horse to do most of the digging but it was easy digging in the sandy soil of Eastern North Carolina. I even had an article about my double digging method published in the Troybilt magazine. I would double dig half the beds each year and mix in as much organic matter as I could get hold of. I still have three compost bins which are emptied on a rotating basis. The good rich compost was distributed to all the beds. The beds that were double dug were further amended with composted and sterilized manure.

I haven't used fertilizer in my garden since the first year it was established. I have amended the soil to the point where it is very rich, dark and loamy. It still requires additional organic matter in addition to my compost which I try to add every year.

My garden size was determined by how much area my oscillating sprinkler could water mounted on a three foot high stand straddling the bed in the center of the garden. That was a tremendous waste of water in my climate as a lot of the water would evaporate in the heat. I went to flood irrigation. I would just take my hose and place it at the end of a path between two rows and turn on the water. The water would lift the mulch between the beds and flow into the sides of the beds. This worked really well and I continue to do it today.
 

Ryan Mooney

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Something is wrong with your garden; there are no weeds in it!
As you've probably found.. skipping the sprinkler was key to that :). There's no point in watering weeds. We do still have a lot of weeds but water and bed management has helped keep them to a dull roar. It's been pretty interesting going into entirely new soil, the spaces I had turned last year and we were diligent on weeding were MUCH less of a problem than the freshly turned spaces. As they say "One year of seeds is ten years of weeds" but there's a bit of a drop off curve on the density. One spot we didn't get to very well in the lower field had a big patch of grass go to seed last year and boy howdy it's back this year in that same spot so.. you can really tell the difference. The owner also tilled the lower patch which took the bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) that had made it and spread the roots more evenly around... so THAT didn't help either haha.. I've gotten it chopped back some but that stuff re-generates from even a tiny bit of root so it's been a real pain.

I have about 2500' of 5/8" drip deployed across the two garden plots. I grew up using row-adjacent flood irrigating which works in a similar fashion but given the irregular slopes, and water timing availability drip line seemed like a better choice. It's not ideal especially with the soil problems, we have had quite a bit of seed germination issues due to poor moisture retention/distribution (a combination of a mister system to get germination going then switch to drip might work..) but once crops are established it's a good way to go. We've ended up starting a lot of stuff we'd otherwise direct plant (lettuce, small cabbage family, green onions, etc... not root crops like beets/carrots though) because of this.

I haven't used fertilizer in my garden since the first year it was established.
While I'm with you on this in principal, in practice without fertilizer this plot would yield pretty much nothing hah. I don't think I've ever tried to work with such depleted soil before. There was very very little organic material. It was wildly deficient not just in the NPK macro nutrients.. but also basically all of the micro nutrients especially sulfur (which is borderline a macro) and boron (which is apparently a problem all over E Oregon.. who knew). Plus the soil texture is really really terrible. The majority of the "dirt" is twice eroded clay where it's rock that turned to clay, that was reformed into clay/sand rock and is now eroding back into clay again. There are basically no organics and and rock nutrients that might once have been in it have long washed out.. excepting Potassium which was moderate-high because of poor watering practices salting the soil.

We did bring in 9 yards of outside compost last year of which about half went on this plot and half went on some berries and into a house garden plot. That wasn't scaling well though... I've also used up most of the freely available downed rotten wood in the one Huggle so long term I'm working with the owners on better plans for in-situ biomass production.

So we've had to use more commercial fertilizer than I might normally indulge in. Primarily we're using an organic 4:3:2 (pelletized chicken byproducts) but have also had to use a lot of other stuff to keep it going.
  • bone meal (cal/phos) which is an excellent intermediate time delivery phosphorous + calcium so great for tomatoes
  • actual rock cal/phos (which is slower release), and also some chelated calcium to knock back blossom end as a spot application
  • Some super phosphate to kick the tomatoes (and it turns out luffa gourds... which is another story...) into production.
  • Gypsum (several 100lbs of gypsum) for sulfur and calcium and we hoped for some of its clay breaking properties (might have worked.. didn't make it worse anyway)
  • Solubor for boron (a little goes a loooong ways)
  • Azomite and green sand for other micronutrients
  • 15-0-0 Calcium Nitrate which provides a form of cold weather available nitrogen that literally made our early cabbage family (bok chow/chinese cabbage/etc..) possible.
  • 20-0-0 Ammonium Sulfate which provides both nitrogen and sulfur for the corn patch. Corn very visibly complains about sulfur deficiency by showing yellow stripes on the leaves, once you see the stripes it's generally to late for that years crops. It's been kind of interesting to see where I put down enough.. versus where I didn't the difference is pretty marked where you'll see some with nice green leaves and the plants right next to them are visibly striped.
The difference between second year (and the very heavily modified) plots that have some organics in them and the first year plots was also pretty interesting to see. Where we had planted and cover cropped and .... ... the moisture retention was significantly better, the soil texture went from "mostly brick like lumps" to "crumbly and friable with only intermittent brick like lumps..".

I also aggressively cover cropped some sections in fall/winter/spring with some different mixes. The definite winner in our location for late winter/early spring cover cropping was fava beans, possibly mixed with some forage radish for deep soil penetration (the forage radishes are worth growing for winter radish and also some super tasty greens anyway). We planted a lot of "bell beans" which are a smaller variety plus some full sized in more carefully tended plots.. both are great as both a very early green bean and a bit later as a shell bean, so for starters you get beans 1-2 months earlier than any other bean. They also put down a lot more roots and organic matter than most of the other cover crops in this poor soil plus they at least tried to fix some nitrogen (the field peas seem to have fixed a bit more .. but it's hard to be entirely sure - the favas improved the soil texture a lot more anyways which at this point is kind of the limiting factor).

The property owners have a 2 acre plot they need to pull cherries off of because of a cherry disease, I've been trying to convince them to do a soil remediation program there before doing anything else. Based on my experiments in the small plot.. First would be fall/winter nitrogen fixing crops after amending with a Phosphate and micronutrient source and maybe a wee bit of an initial nitrogen supplement to get the baby plants started. This would be primarily fava's and some soil penetrating helpers like forage radish and mustards and maybe an overwinter boimass grain like rye or triticale. Second would be a spring nitrogen crop addition (field peas) mixed with nitrogen holding (buckwheat) and biomass (oats probably). Then over summer put in a heavy biomass producer like a sterile sourghumXSudangrass hybrid (which is a massive clay buster as well) which would probably need a supplemental nitrogen feed. Once that was dug in another round of winter nitrogen & biomass planting.. That takes it mostly out of rotation for a year.. but I think you could probably sell at least some of the fava's as a specialty item in the spring to recover a bit of it.
 
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