Onward!

DH is home, smiling and bristly with beard, and immediately I am more cheerful. His last few months at work had been so tense, I’d sent him off to the mountains to empty his mind and renew his spirit, counseling him not to look at emails for the entire week. (That’s the problem of the new millenium — work can reach you even if you’re dangling in a crevasse on a glacier!) His vacation program of mountain trail running, climbing, reading, and evenings with old friends was exactly the rest he needed.

In the same spirit, DH urged me to take a day off to be frivolous. Yesterday we were having our first true rain of the summer and I suddenly thought, “Why not? At least for a few hours.” After barn chores and moving the sheep, I stretched out and read. (“Good book?” asked DH. “Yes,” I said, “it’s a 1968 doctoral dissertation I found on interlibrary loan.” “Gripping, I’m sure!”) Then he and I watched a movie for a lunchtime matinee. Laughing and joking with my best friend was a great restorative.

The rain broke by early afternoon, and I decided to start a new phase of the garden project. I still have about 75 feet of wall to clean of sods, but slogging through that task required more mental discipline than I had available. The land was steaming after the rain, the temperature 90°, the humidity 99%. I needed a new challenge to distract myself from the sweat dripping off my nose.

I would start to till and cover the bed!

My plan has been to till the entire future garden, rake it smooth, cover it with newspaper, and then cover the newspaper with straw. This should prepare the bed, prevent weeds from taking over, and slowly enrich the soil over the winter, making it ready for planting to perennials next spring.

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For the last couple of weeks I have tried to collect newspapers: tougher than you’d think in this age of internet subscriptions. Everywhere I stopped in town, they had long lists of folks waiting for paper. Finally, at the dump, I stood on a crate and rummaged through a giant bin of mixed newspapers and magazines. Moving the heavy magazines aside to dig out the paper took some muscle. I’ll have to do it regularly to find enough newsprint for the 200′ bed.

To keep down weeds definitively, I should make the newspaper layer 10-12 sheets thick. That can’t happen. I am sadly going with two sheets.

Earlier this week I had also driven an hour to pick up a load of straw. Straw is hard to find in these mountains — it’s the stalks of cereal grains, and we are too cold for most cereal grains to grow — and thus expensive. The point of using straw in a garden is that with the grain harvested and removed, there is no danger of seeding your plot with an invasive weed.

It had taken me so long to track down, arrange to buy, and drive to pick up this straw, I did not know what to do when I saw it was rye straw — baled with the seed heads. The possibility had not even occurred to me.

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I was so sweaty and tired, the farmer so expectant, I had just loaded and paid for the seedy straw anyway. What choices did I have? I knew of no other straw source. On my farm I always have to remind myself, Perfect is the enemy of good.

So I had my materials, imperfect as they were, and I was ready to start.

I have two tiny tillers, one given me by my friend Allen, one by my friend Mike. Using either one is a healthy upper-body workout. Yesterday morning’s rain had only penetrated the top half inch of soil, and the tiller churned happily through dirt six to eight inches down, turning up rocks — which I paused to throw out of the bed — and turning over the soil.

Once I had a ten foot section tilled, I raked it smooth. Then I covered it with my newspaper, and spread my straw.

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I finished 20 feet yesterday. Only 180 to go.

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6 Responses to Onward!

  1. Erika says:

    Sounds like the straw we get around here! Yuck. Have you ever tried cardboard instead of newspaper. Stays put better and breaks down too. And there are always boxes around.

  2. Shawn says:

    In addition to the cardboard thought, I’d add one more. Following Mel Bartholemew’s Weedless Garden ideas, I never till anymore. My tiller died years ago. Unless there’s something I’m missing, just lay down the cardboard and cover. The only thing I could think of for you that tilling would benefit would be the opportunity to pick the rocks out?? Yes, tilling stirs up the weeds, and maybe you want them to sprout and die under the mulch, but it doesn’t seem worth the trouble in this instance. A heavy mulch is your best friend!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Cardboard! Thank you, Erika and Shawn. That never crossed my mind. Of course, my soil is so awful that cardboard may never break down. 🙂 Shawn, I am tilling simply because 1) a lot of my soil is lunar subsoil, and I’m trying to mix in the topsoil and compost spread on top, and 2) because it throws up a lot of the rocks. Once I get it done once, I am sure I will never till again! 🙂

  3. Ned says:

    Rye might not be so bad. It could be a cover crop for the winter and then mowed in the spring. If I’m not mistaken it can’t tolerate the summer heat so it shouldn’t interfere with your garden next year.

  4. adkmilkmaid says:

    Sadly, in my experience winter rye is very hardy. So we shall see. Next time I buy straw (if ever) I will be sure to ask if it is clean and seed-free. I do wonder to whom he is selling this seedy straw, i.e. for what purpose. It’s an expensive item and I wonder what the point is, if it’s not seed-free.

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