Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mark the Calendar--Sure Signs of Spring

During this afternoon's Seminar, a feathered friend dropped in: A bluebird perched on a nearby fencepost in the middle of the garden for several minutes, so we had a great view of him. So blue, so beautiful!

Earlier in the afternoon, I was thrilled to hear the trill of a red-winged blackbird. Probably it was down by Maple Grove Tributary, sitting in the dry cattails. Soon there will be the different trill of the Northern Chorus Frogs that are colloquially called Spring Peepers, though that common name more properly belongs to a different species.

Speaking of frogs, when I lifted the lid on the big earth-contact tank in the front yard pen this morning, I could see several nice big Leopard Frogs in the muck at the bottom, along with the goldfish. During our Seminar, when we took the lid off again, we found SIX of them tucked under the curled rim of the plastic tank! One by one, I tried to scoot them out and catchthem to show the by one, they slipped through my hand and dove to the depths! I love that they have made the stock tanks their homes; it speaks well for the health of the ecosystem of the farm.

Eventually I got down to the business of demonstrating the layout for planting pea beds to the apprentices. On these beds that had tomatoes last year, and were heavily mulched, we use an abbreviated version of our standard bed prep procedure. We rake the remains of the mulch to the side, pull any green weeds that have sprouted (not many with that nice mulch), and just rake it flat. We don't undercut with the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe, nor add lime or manure and work it in with the Ro-Ho, because peas are pretty tolerant of our normal soil pH, and we don't need a fine seed bed for the large seeds.

So we're really just getting the surface clean enough that we can use the Seven-Row Furrower as a row marker. Then we use another home-made tool--a narrow, pointed furrowing hoe that a friend made from a standard garden hoe--to deepen all but the middle furrow.

We won't use all 7 rows for peas--that would be a jungle! Four rows--every other one--would grow and produce nicely in all but the driest season, but it would be hard to pick the middle rows thoroughly. Pea picking is labor intensive; anything "free" thing we can do to make it easier is worthwhile. So we leave the middle row empty, and plant the rows next to it with peas, one seed per inch or slightly further apart.

That leaves the 2 outer rows on each side. We plant green onions in these, using the little bulbs called "sets". We place them in the furrows root down (or we get spiral onions) about 3" apart. After all onions and peas have been placed, I run my hand down each row, thumb on one side, fingers on the other, loosely pulling the soil over the planted row with a fluttery pinching motion. This covers them while keeping each one in the exact place I planted it. Then I tamp the center of the bed--the pea rows only--with the back of the rake.

This all takes slightly less than 1 1/2 hour, start to finish. After mulching and putting up the pea fence, we won't have to do much to this bed until harvest time--60 days on the Sugar Sprint snap peas, less than that for the green onions. When the onions are done, as the peas are waning, we'll transplant heat-loving summer crops (often basil) in place of the onions, letting the peas shade them as they get established.

By the time I finished this task, it was too dark to fetch a cartload of mulch, but I don't think the soil will dry out too much overnight. Tomorrow morning, I'll mulch the bed quite heavily with a relatively weed-proof layer of waste brome hay.

The last finishing touch will be to put up a section of woven wire fencing down the middle of the bed, between the t-posts at each end that supported the tomato cages last year.

I actually thought to keep a record of how many sets and seeds it takes to plant a 23' long (our standard) pea bed on this pattern: .2 lbs. of peas, and about 3 lbs. of onion sets--ABOUT. The yield of green onions from this planting will be about 70 bunches.

ABOUT. In the waning light, I hurried to gather tools in for the night. With most of them in the wagon, carrying the bucket of weeds, I could get them all in one trip. But I was concerned that the coffee can holding the remaining onion sets would fall off the wagon, so I set it in the top of the weed bucket. Called ot the dogs, got the cart turned around, thinking about the meeting I wanted to attend that was due to start in 15 minutes.

Of course you know the rest of the all seems perfectly obvious when I write it. When I got to the sheep pen, I hurriedly tossed the goodies into the pen. The sheep are onto this game, even this early in the growing season. They had been snacking on the last of their evening feed of alfalfa hay, but fairly flew to the spot at which the weeds were about to land. I hear the "doink" of the coffee can landing upside down under the weeds just as the sheep hit the weed pile.

In the name of science--or at least data collection--I hurriedly let myself into the pen and made spooky noises and pushed and shoved and flapped my hands enough to confuse the sheep. Confused, they retreated a step or two, just long enough for me to rescue the coffee can and sift out most the onions, but they sure seemed like they wanted to eat them.

In addition to looking nice and clean on the market stand, I grow the white onion sets because they are easy to see in the dark...both when you're planting them, and when you have to pick them up out of the sheep pen.

The "dark side" of the day's springtime adventures was getting the first mosquito bites of the season. Time to start patrolling the farm for anything that can hold water, so they have no place to lay their eggs.

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