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Monday, April 12, 2010

It won't be the first time

Chits awaiting transport to the potato patch

As there were more spuds left over from a winter of good potato-eating than anticipated, or the garden had room for, Risa looks for an alternative. Across the creek, there's an area where she has been spreading cardboard and covering it with chopped leaves and grass clippings, as these become available.

Goals for this area, in the short term, have been vague. It's sloped, stony, with a thin veneer of sod over the basaltic gravel/clay mix, and everything planted there has succumbed to the summer droughts when the creek dries up and the garden and stock take precedence at the well.

These stones, from one to six inches in diameter, smooth and rounded from their clattering river journey down from the high Cascades, are ubiquitous. You can find them at or beneath the surface of the soil in every square foot for miles in all directions, but especially here, in an acre of creek bottom.

It's a mile and a half to the river, yet surely the river ran here at one time, or more times, during the last thousand or so generations of the Douglas firs that have lived here. Though there are hydroelectric dams upstream now, they are expected to last a mere five hundred years.

The river will run here again.

Risa and her son have been calling this site the "hopyard" because the young man thought, aloud, that he might like to grow hops there. Hops is a big feeder, though, like corn, and the site prep, on a budget, might have to begin a couple of years early.

Hence the cardboard, a proven sodbuster and soil amendment. But, unlike in the garden, where worms immediately find and eat the stuff down in about six months, the cardboard in the hopyard hasn't deteriorated much over the winter, meaning such worms as have been up for pionering the stony soil have been few.

Also, the mother-and-son team, who get together here seldom enough, haven't yet enclosed the area and there is a serious-looking deer path along the property line. Beans, which Risa has thought of as Phase II of the site rehab, would be apt to disappear.

So, part of the "hopyard" will become, temporarily, the "potato patch." Spuds are not as picky about conditions in such places as most crops would be, and the deer tend to avoid the alkaloid-laced vines.

Here the seed potatoes are laid, hopefully eighteen inches apart each way, right on the leaf mulch, which is about six months old ...

... and covered with straw. With luck -- in autumn, when the vines die back -- there should be fresh potatoes lying on top of the leaves, under the straw, every which way.

Yes, this is about one-fourth the recommended amount of straw. As more becomes available, Risa hopes to return with more. If it doesn't happen, it won't be the first time!

What bond have I made with the earth,
having worn myself against it? It is a fatal singing
I have carried with me out of that day.
The stones have given me music
that figures for me their holes in the earth
and their long lying in them dark.
They have taught me the weariness that loves the ground,
and I must prepare a fitting silence.
-- Wendell Berry, Farming: A Handbook

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