Friday, July 1, 2016

Garden Progress


Rich said...

There's lots to comment on in this series of photos.

I hope you provided enough Cool Hand Luke and chain gang references to completely annoy the weed wacker swinger. Along with constant badgering to swing it high and hard enough to get grass flung onto their backs, annoying the kid swinging the weed wacker with obscure quotes is standard operating procedure whenever I'm around that tool.

I started most of my gardens like that and slowly enlarged it little by little by tilling around the outside of the garden. Again, if there was a kid within earshot they'd also get a lecture about how the garden was like the world, life, or eating an elephant. Almost anything could be built or accomplished by taking one bite at a time, or something like that.

Finally, that looks an awful lot like a pile of charcoal or biochar. That would require the story of conquistadors, the search for El Dorado, terra preta, and building something that could last for a thousand years.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

On the charcoal, I had a bunch of downed timber on the garden bed (long story) that I burned with a pretty hot fire. I still have more to go. I did it mostly just to get rid of the downed timber, rather than haul it off.

I know that you use biochar. How would you use that charcoal, if you would? It's a combination of charcoal from boxelder, crab apple, and buffalo berry.

Rich said...

The greatly simplified theory behind biochar is that the microbes and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil grow in the pores of the biochar.

When I first started using biochar in the garden, I'd mix it with something like compost, manure (chicken or cow), or even something like a water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro to "charge" it so that the microbes and fungi can colonize the biochar and start doing all their beneficial business. Then I'd spread it over part of the garden and till it in.

After years of applying biochar and building up the fertility, I usually just spread plain biochar in the fall before planting a cover crop of something like winter wheat.

It shouldn't matter what type of wood or organic material was used to make the charcoal, once it's turned into charcoal it's basically just carbon.

I'd suggest starting out by applying to only part of the garden at first (just to be safe), because it might take a year or so to get it to the point where it's working right. Although some people claim they've had problems with getting the biochar charged at first, I never had any real problems and have reached the point where I've applied over 100 tons per acre on parts of the garden and am convinced that there's a benefit to using biochar.

As always, results may vary.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

Very interesting, thank you.

One of the problems I have here is that the "far", as viewed in these photos, edge of the garden is really sandy. The near end is nice soil, but the far end isn't.

Normally, when I had time to do things properly, I'd use quite a bit of cow manure on the far end to try to build things up. This year I didn't intend to make it quite as large as I did, but I got started late, and bought too many potatoes, so I ended up expanding into that area recently. That came after my application of cow flop, and the soil, after lying fallow for several years, didn't look to bad, but it sure dries out quickly.

I'm tempted to take the coals down to that end of the garden, where I haven't dug anything up, turn the soil with the coals in t, and give it a go. I'll apply cow manure in the fall or at least next spring to try to get it built up. Maybe between the two this will improve the soil down there.

On that end I ended up planting alternate rows of peas and potatoes, with the hope that the peas contribute to the soil a bit.

Rich said...

If it was me, I'd also start by spreading the charcoal on the sandier end like you described. After years of using it, it seems to me like the biochar helps hold or moderate the moisture in the soil.

I have the typical Oklahoma red clay soil which used to go from saturated to rock hard in a few days, and now it seems like the extremes in moisture levels aren't quite as bad. It can pour down rain and the soil absorbs it without getting as saturated, and it takes longer for the soil to dry out. I could be seeing what I want to see, but that's my impression.

You might try broadcasting something like some pinto beans (or black beans or blackeye peas, etc.) over the newly tilled area, then either raking them in or running the tiller shallowly over them to get a quick cover crop/green manure crop growing. You want them to grow into a thick block of beans to shade out the weeds, and then you can either till them under just as they start to bloom, or you can let them grow to maturity before tilling them in.

I've always just used an inexpensive bag of beans from the grocery store as my seed for something like that.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

Thanks! That gives me some ideas. I'll keep you posted, and I appreciate your advice.