Quick garden update

Mike Stafford

Coastal plain of North Carolina
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.

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.
I was able to amend the soil with compost and lots of organic material and that is why I was able to dispense with the fertilizer. I made it a habit to not turn the soil without adding something to it; compost, leaves, leaf mold, manure, grass clippings etc. etc. etc. Of course manure is fertilizer in its most basic form.

Your soil sounds even worse than what I was dealing with. I live on the coastal plain so all of the nutrients were long ago washed away or consumed by time. I had to amend the soil or I would have been watering daily. There was nothing to hold moisture in the sand. I also found it necessary to add calcium and lime to the garden soil regularly.

I used to plant red clover to hold the soil over the winter and then till it in. I tried rye but it grew in my beds to monstrous heights and was difficult to till in.

I did try the soaker hoses and they worked okay but being lazy I found that flood irrigation was much easier as the water soaked into the sides of my raised beds.

At this point I am not able to do all I used to do in my garden and have downsized to a smaller tiller and a cultivator. I still compost and add it in every year. I love my garden and I loved working in it but my health has put limitations on lots of things that I used to do.

You have a great garden and I am sure you enjoy it.

Ryan Mooney

Staff member
The Gorge Area, Oregon
the soaker hoses
Soaker hoses proved to be a quick path to failure in this area if you're on a well because the small pore opening get clogged with calcium deposits (which is odd because the soil is deficient.. but the water isn't .. different layers of the strata). I tried them at our last house and they were white with solid encrustations by the end of the year. IF you're going to use them it turns out mulching over them helps that a lot as they don't dry out so much and it lets the salts wash off.

I'd prefer just flood irrigation like you're doing in a perfect world but it doesn't fit some of the other restrictions I have on terrain and water timing/availability.. so we make do with what we have...

This is the stuff I'm using:

I've been pretty happy with it other than the cost of it + fittings. I've found that runs over about 50' tend to buckle to much with hot/cold cycles we have (they pull back flat fine.. but it's annoying) but that's about as long of a row as I'd want to walk around anyway.

There are other products with wider emitter spacing that would imho be better for tomatoes and similar but we got this on sale cheap and weren't willing to invest in multiple kinds :D

One plus on this stuff is that it's low pressure. Nominally 10psi but we've had decent luck down to just 2 or 3 and letting it soak longer so it'll work "ok" on some gravity feed setups.

I did use 1/2" solid pipe and some pop-in emitters for melons, squash, and artichoke plantings and the huggle.

I don't think it would be a useful product for a smaller garden space though. I've used the blue stripe 1/4" embedded emitter lines for those and have been quite happy with them as well.

Ryan Mooney

Staff member
The Gorge Area, Oregon
Bit of an update. Long cool spring was good for cool weather crops, so we've been getting about all of the lettuce and greens we could want and maybe then a bit. We have a rounds of 5 or 6 houses plus us and the landowners we're dropping stuff off at now. How much we can give away sort of depends on how much we have but generally can leave a nice batch of something for most folks most weeks.

We've been aggressively amending with what we know is low nutrient wise (and boy is it low) which seems to be helping in at least some cases. Mostly a lot of phosphorous, sulfur (visible sulfur deficiencies which shows up as striped yellow leaves as opposed to nitrogen which is overall yellow), some diatomaceous earth for silica (who knew silica was a critical plant nutrient.. clay soil is low in it..), boron, and some nitrogen although I also planted quite a lot of field pea and bell/fava bean cover crop to chop back in for nitrogen and organic bulk.

Getting the organics back in the soil is really helping the soil depth to. in the planted blocks I can mostly dig down 2-3' whereas in the aisle right next to them it's still hard clay. Some of the newer blocks that are only on year 2 aren't in quite as good of shape. Had I planned better I'd have started digging at the top of the garden and all the warmer upper spots would be "better" now but... I wasn't necessarily planning on farming this spot for 3 years either so.. yah. is what it is.

Cutworms, wire worms, sap suckers, leaf miners, and the occasional slug continue to be a problem (or work in progress as you will). There's an occasional pocket gopher that needs "dealing with". I think I have the squirrels about half licked, we've only caught one grey digger this year so far; I expect that we'll see a few as they leave the nest mid summer in the next month or so. Nothing has been apocalyptic and destroyed everything like the squirrels did the first year though so between managing that and working on the soil overall production is quite a bit up.

This is heading on the tail end of the spring lettuce, we have some summer lettuce getting ready to go out but we're heading into a heat wave so will probably give it a week to cool off before we try to do that.


In the meantime the peas are 7' tall and producing pretty well (about 1/2 gallon every day or two), The yellow flowers to the left of them is some ground cover mustard I left in patches around the tomatoes to help bring in bees.. it'll get pulled pretty soon just before it goes to seed.

What look like weeds on the sides of the hills are mostly (cough.. but not entirely...) flowers that just haven't bloomed yet. We try to scatter those around partially for ambiance but more because they bring in predatory wasps and lady bugs and lacewings and various other garden helpers who work for free if you manage the habitat a bit.


Hopefully pretty soon the pole beans will be producing as well. Some are about as tall as I am (6') already although they're still pretty sparse and haven't flowered yet. Plus a few calendula flowers for show (+ LOML uses them as a wool dye plant) in the front :)


In the meantime the fava beans are getting close and should hold us over and provide a bit of freezer food for later.


Quite close but not quite ready for shelling yet. Maybe another week for the first handful. You can tell they're ready when the pods start getting just a bit leathery.


Overview from above the pepper and melon patch with the pea, bean, and tomato section off to the left and the rest on down the hill. Some tomatillo's and a trellis for a large climbing squash in the middle. When you have such a small garden you have to go vertical :cool: :LOL::poke:


A bit closer to the home front my neighbors place has a wee new visitor.


A couple nights ago it was snoozing so soundly you could almost hear the snores while moma was off feeding so I snuck up to the fence and snapped a shot to show how truly small it is. Just tiny. A bit more steady on the legs today than it was this weekend.


Brent Dowell

Staff member
Reno NV
Wow, Impressive pictures. Cute little fawn too.

I wasn't feeling very energetic towards gardening this year, so didn't do any starts myself.

Sharon had picked up a few things and planted a couple of beds, but the mormon cricket invasion over the last 2 weeks pretty much ate everything up in the garden despite our efforts to control them.

Guess there was a reason I wasn't feeling like gardening, lol.