Friday, July 26, 2013

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

To be honest, gardening is not my favorite "chore" or hobby. I have definitely gotten better at it over time as I do more research and have found easy methods to get much larger veggies for the time I put in.

When I married my husband, someone gave us a house plant as a wedding gift and it really pissed me off. I really did NOT like plants and I gave it to my sister-in-law as I did not want the responsibility of watering an ugly thing I didn't want.

When we moved out to our neighborhood we live in now we lived in an apartment above the garage of a woman with a very green thumb. She had been my kindergarten teacher when I was little and now was enjoying their "retirement home" with a very large garden, a nice "medium" greenhouse, compost piles, meat chickens, meat rabbits, and dual garage freezers for keeping all of their game and fish. She also had a very large sewing room upstairs in her home where she would homeschool her last boy through his high school years and sew while he would do his work...I'll have to talk about that another day. Her name is, Gloria.

I did not think much of her garden hobby. To me it looked like a lot of work and a lot of dirty dirt.

The first summer we lived there she informed me one day that they had prepared me my own spot in the garden. I said something like, "Oh, no, that's ok, I don't need to plant a garden."

She said something like, "Oh, no, that's ok, Wilbur got it all ready for you."

I replied something like, "Oh, no, really. I don't really want to plant a garden."

She responded something like, "No, really, he already rototilled rabbit manure into it for you, and I have all the starts you need. It won't be hard, I'll help you."

I was trapped, I mean, the man put manure into dirt for me...and how do I refuse?!

That was the begging of the end for me. That city girl had to get her hands dirty and put some plants into the ground. I planted my favorite flower, pansies, at the end of each of my little 4' rows. It was beautiful and I loved it.

Gloria taught me a lot during the four years we lived there. She had raised five boys and no girls. I like to think she enjoyed my company and teaching me how to garden, how to can, how to quilt, how to make the fastest pies, how to make delicious sweet tea and how to sit and visit.

I had a garden every year there after that and when I moved to our new house I built a few garden boxes and put dirt into them. I was NOT going to do a giant "Gloria" garden, but would have my own little "Martha Stewart" garden instead...in pretty boxes in the lawn. I would mow between them and they would look pretty. What I did not have was large vegetables. That was ok, right? We don't like vegetables that much anyway...

A year later we brought in some horse manure, and introduced some naughty weeds that came along with it! The garden boxes did a bit better, but really, not that much. My cabbages were the size of my fist. Gloria's were the size of my head...

Some time after we lived here we got laying hens. After we moved the hens closer to the house, I decided to use their old run as my potato patch. I grew ENORMOUS potato plants and a TON of potatoes. (not literal ton, but a lot!) I was quite excited and realized what I had really known all along but didn't want to face...my dirt NEEDS manure or nutrients to produce large crops.

2008 potato harvest. Great year for potatoes.

2008 picking potatoes in the old chicken run.

I had to get my motivation in order and figure out a way to make this manure hauling thing easier...that's when I went online and found my dream set up. I was determined to build it and I did.

2013 we have the chickens on the left and garden on right.
My dream set up was to place the chicken house in the middle and to build two chicken runs. One for the chickens and one for the garden, then they trade each year. Thus eliminating the need to shovel and amend the soil year after year. The chickens could do it for me. It was much more work to build but oh, so worth it.

I was nervous at first. I had planted sunflowers into straight chicken manure once and discovered that when people say that fresh chicken manure burns plants, they really do get burned. They were GIANT however and I have never since grown such wonderful sunflowers. They did have large brown patches on their leaves. They looked like it hurt.

Here it is in 2010, the year I built it, from behind. I still had a lot of sod to pull (by hand) one side at a time. The first year was the hardest for sure.

Basically the rule of thumb on chicken manure is that it needs to sit at least one year before putting it on plants. I think this is for Alaska, because it's so "hot". The first year I switched them I was nervous for my plants safety, but they did just fine, in fact, they did great! No burn marks and the chickens had only been out of that side for 9 months. I let them into the garden side as soon as I harvest what I want and they clean up the rest. Then that becomes their run the next summer.

Now we even clean out the winter's worth of manure into the run the chickens are in. This year I cleaned it myself and used my little Radio Flyer wagon to bring the manure to different spots all over the 2014's garden (current chicken run). The chickens thought it was Christmas and I felt bad that I didn't see any maggots for them to dig out of the manure like I have found in years past. In only a couple hours they had flattened all of the piles around their run. Warning: the smell is bad, don't do what we did and try to have a bbq with company the next day.

Here are our pullets in their area. the back section between runs we have our pullet house, we raise new hens every year now.


Broccoli down the main row, cabbage on the left. June 23, 2013.
Earlier today: July 25, 2013. Before weeding.

After some weeding later in the day.

I don't remember having cabbages this large before. I bought the starts, maybe it's a giant kind.

The zucchini plants are GIANT this year. We have had a lot of sun and they love the sun and the rich soil.

My garden does not get a lot of my time these days. My sister seems to help me get it planted every year, but I really enjoy when I get to spend time in it and finally weed my carrots. The chickens and goats each got a large sled full of weeds tonight.

Something else I have noticed with doing this flip-flop method is that it has really cut down on our slugs. Last year was a heavy rain year and many people lost much of their garden to slugs. Mine fared very well, and the cold hardy crops did nicely.

Happy chickens earlier today after giving them some buckets of weeds.

At first I was resistant to putting in so much work to TWO chicken runs that they would only use half of. But I realized that a garden really needs a fence to protect it from roaming dogs trampling it, keeping kids out, keeping chickens out (they are the worst nemesis when first planted), goats out and moose out. I get moose in my yard plenty, but they have never jumped into my garden, and I know they can, it's only a 5 1/2 foot tall fence...but apparently if the fenced in space is small enough moose won't jump in for fear of getting trapped, probably need a running jump? Anyway, I figure my garden size is just right, not too big, not too small. I think its about 24x24. There are definitely times I wish it were bigger, but it would take up more time that I don't have now. That is one reason I still don't have a greenhouse.

Giant spinach.

After a day like today where I spent much needed time weeding my garden and putting myself on vacation from my business, it proved for a relaxing evening. I love how gratifying this sort of work is and how non-stressful it is. I wish I had time for less stressing and more weeding.

I'm cheating and adding back in some pics I took in September but never posted. Sep 2013, part of the harvest.
The only picture I can find of our new pasture. Our LaMancha goat chasing after a yummy bush. Sep 2013.

2 comments:

Carol G said...

Your garden looks great and very inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I love your stories, Anna. Wish I had a chicken coop/garden like yours!