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Sunday, February 08, 2009

And one Italian prune plum tree

Pear trees going into the pasture beyond the plums. Each tree
will get its own wire cage, from a recycled fence, and a mixed
mulch of hay, sawdust, and twigs.

[risa] Beloved, home more than usual for the weekend, tackled her monthly chore of mucking out the barn. Old poultry-enriched straw was forked out and barrowed down to places among the garden beds that won't be planted within ninety days (for health reasons). Then, with the pickup, she went up to the feed store (about two miles) and bought four 100-pound bales of straw. Each one was muscled up to the barn on a wheel barrow and stacked into the barn, and a bale that was already there was cut up and distributed liberally round both barn and chicken pen. This bale had had time to get ever so slightly buggy, so that it was a real treat for the hens, who went about underfoot scratching with hale and hearty abandon.

While all this was going on, I divided my time between planting and spring-cleaning the garage: plant one pear tree, clear a section of garage wall; plant another pear tree, paint the section of wall and then drop the paintbrush in a pail of water and move the ladder; plant peas and potatoes, put away things on a section of wall where the paint has dried ...

Wait a minute, you ask. Peas and potatoes in February? Granted the ground isn't frozen, as Risa lives in the Willamette Valley, but ... ?

Well, I tried the soil thermometer; it's 40 F in the garden soil. Which is okay; but I actually don't plant right into the ground at this time of year, even with peas -- mostly because the poor things may drown in a cold downpour.

Last summer we spread cardboard over fifty-by-three foot beds and covered it with leaves and hay. The cardboard hasn't faded into the soil yet, but it's wet and very fragile. The hay has made some compost, but as you might expect, not much. But there's a way to do early planting in such beds.

I carry a bucket with potting soil in it, a packet of seeds, a small bag of potato slips, a trowel stuck in the potting soil, and a square plastic half-pint freezer container for scooping.

Along one side of the bed (and later the other) I kneel on my little kneeling bench, put the point of the trowel into the hay, and kind of swirl the trowel around, creating a kind of a bird's nest cup in the hay, or shredded leaves, with the cardboard as its floor. When planting seeds, I want the seeds to have little trouble finding soil, so I rough up the cardboard a little bit with the trowel point, so that I do see dirt in the bottom of the hole. With the freezer container (sans lid, of course) I scoop about a cup-and-a-half of potting soil from the bucket, pour it into the hole, and tamp it down a bit (not too much) with the side of the container. This makes a seed bed about five to six inches across. Now I take three peas from the packet, arrange them in a triangular pattern on the potting soil, five inches apart, pressing them down a little, and then scoop another cup-and-a half of potting soil from the bucket over them, tamping down with the empty container again. And move on to the next spot.

Takes much less time to do than to describe.

In effect, this is "hill" planting. In season, you may do it with beets, radishes, beans of all kinds, squash, corn, brassicas, etc. We've done this for years, with our heavy clay soil so cold and wet there was no hope of ever getting it cultivated in time for a proper garden any other way we've heard of. And we're too poorly in the lower back to make real raised beds. We might even try this with tomatoes and peppers, under cloches, and skip the greenhouse step ( there have been problems with mice there). Haven't yet. Will experiment a little this year.

The peas are well above the clammy clay in a dark, friable medium that will hold them as seedlings, out of the wind but well watered, until they can put down roots.

Oh, potatoes! Well, we have been cutting sections (we call them "slips") with sprouts off home-grown (and thus easily sprouted) soup potatoes all winter, and saving them in the cold room for early planting. I had enough for about half a bed, alternating spots with the pea hills, or every 12 inches a hill, another twelve inches, a potato slip. Put it right on the damp cardboard, under six inches (for now) of hay and shredded leaves. So, while it might be too early for the spuds, if the gardening angel smiles, we're good, and she doesn't, we can easily enough replant, as this is only the beginning of our biggest effort toward succession planting to date.

Oh, and! How many pear trees? Two Anjou, two Bartlett, two Bosc. And one Italian prune plum tree, to go with the plums already on hand.
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