This week brings some very, very busy days in the garden. Our garden is almost a full acre, but parts of it are always left fallow. The size of the garden/fallow area is up to how busy or ambitious I am during planting-time. This year we have plans to cultivate most of the garden space.
There’s a gradient to the soil – the front of the garden is the best soil, the most-tended and amended (it was easier to get to), and the back of the garden is what it used to be like when we first started gardening (i.e. everything I plant there dies). I tend to plant the tough things in the back of the garden (like Seminole pumpkins, or luffa gourds…weedy things), and delicate, high-maintenance stuff in the front (sweet corn…tomatoes).
This gets tricky, because I also observe a 3-year rotation as well, breaking up the garden sections by plant family – the solanaceous plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, husk tomatoes), the curcurbits (cucumbers, melons, watermelons, squash, pumpkins), malva family (roselle and okra), sweet potatoes, and lastly the corn and beans, which share a planting area. Plants in the same family tend to share pests and diseases, which is why I rotate them this way. This year I am hoping for nice sweet corn and tomatoes because they are being rotated back to the front of the garden.
One of the biggest set-backs with garden-planting is what to do with the weeds? Or the rye grass cover crop, for that matter! Any where the rye didn’t grow has thistles, and where the rye DID grow, it is growing in thick, formidable clumps that are difficult to pull/weed out. I don’t mind hard work, but I avoid it if possible. My latest favorite way of farming and gardening is to let my animals do the work for me! They will “work” much harder, faster, and better than I possibly could on my own, if I can make the work that needs to be done fit in with their natural impact on the land.
For example, pigs do a great job clearing and plowing. In the fall and winter we put them in the garden for a short time. It completely knocks back the impenetrable, over-your-head end of season weeds, with much better results than when we’ve rented a bush hog for the job, and then worked over it with a tiller. Not only that, but the tall weeds and grasses are excellent forage for them, and cut back on their feed cost and provide roughage and good nutrition.
Their light tillage works dead organic matter into the top of the soil. This winter we had an awesome rotation going with pigs and cows – the cows would be parked eating hay on a smallish area until it was nicely layered with hay and manure. Then they would be moved to a fresh green spot, and when the grass was eaten down, they were set up with more hay. The pigs would come in, turn up all the hay and manure, eat fly larvae, and work all that composting organic matter into the soil. When the pigs were moved, we seeded rye, and kept the rotation going to prepare a large field for growing the Dudley field corn this season. When we move the pigs (possibly next week?) it will be so easy to scratch lines in the plowed up and fertilized soil, plant corn, and then pull mulch over from the cow’s last field to keep weeds down between the rows, and seed iron and clay peas wherever we are not planting.
It’s a perfect non-mechanized, chemical-free, labor-saving solution to things like tractor-driven plows and pre-emergent herbicides. In the end there is a benefit to us, the land, and the animals. We get a place to grow food, the land is worked and fertilized, with much increased organic matter and microbial biodiversity, and our animals thrive and live happily according to their nature.
The summer garden gets complicated because the sun gets more intense, and the pigs can be prone to overheating in the sunny garden area. This year I have been using wonderfully effective treatment I call “Goatacide” to prepare for planting (pictured above).
It’s completely non-toxic, but the biggest problem is making sure it doesn’t escape and wreak havoc on areas you don’t want Goatacided.
Otherwise, it’s easy to use. Start by setting up proper perameters for the treatment. I use movable electric netting, but make sure you have enough handy expletives to mutter under your breath when it gets tangled in itself and everything else as you are setting it up. A source of water, salt, minerals, and midday shade must be provided. Then you unleash the Goatacide and let it work as long as necessary. If you provide hay, the goats will spitefully ignore it and eat things you didn’t think they would like instead, increasing the weed-killing properties.
The land in the foreground shown above was grown up with tough-rooted ryegrass, thistles and weeds just a couple weeks ago. After about a week and a half of Goatacide treatment, it was ready to plant! In the background you can see the half of the garden that was NOT Goatacided. I built long rows of hay/manure compost from the cows before I thought of Goatacide. There will be more weed problems on that half. The cleared half has been planted, and what wasn’t planted was seeded in rye (I like to use ryegrass for weed control in the spring because it grows aggressively and keeps weeds back. It dies back in the hot weather, and so won’t become a problem later). Next week I will mulch the seedlings with moldy hay, to give them an advantage over competing weeds. Keeping things open also helps with rabbits, squirrels, and other small animal pest problems, because it is easier for predators like hawks and owls to see and catch them in an open field.