Garden Progress: Storms and Bobcats the Second Week of April

I’m up early again. It’s 6:30 am. I’ve been up a little more than an hour.

I like the quiet time I can steal away by getting up now. I like how I’m more prepared to tackle my day after this time, after some gentle yoga, and after writing my lists and making my plans.

I dislike why I have been waking this early–anxiety. I woke from a dream I don’t remember but that left me feeling unsettled, and so my mind began to turn and grind, picking-up where I’d left off with work yesterday evening and then eventually fixating on one of its favorite obsessions right now: groceries. If my anxiety doesn’t fixate on the garden, it fixates on that. One helps the other, though, and I can’t wait for our garden to be up and running so I don’t have to worry about running out of produce.

But now I feel a vague sense of unease that threatens to gnaw at my day unless I channel this energy elsewhere. So here I am. The sun is starting to peak-up now, its pastel lavender and peach light illuminating the corner of the garden I can see from my perch on the sofa. I know if I scoot a little to the left I’ll be able to see the greenhouse, and if I scoot to the loveseat I’ll be able to see the raised bed garden. This knowledge brings a smile to my lips. Today the sun will be out and it will warm-up again after a week of freeze and rain. It’s a wonderful day to be in the garden.

Last weekend, we did so much the day before Easter my head still spins just thinking about it, but the work was necessary and the results speak for themselves. Earlier in the week, we had a very severe storm that toppled our greenhouse. Brian ran out to save it from blowing away and to anchor it more as best he could against the almost 70mph winds while I soothed our two children’s fears. If he hadn’t gone out, we’d have lost every plant in there. As it was, we only lost some tomato and pepper seedlings and three larger tomato plants.

So, knowing we had to reconstruct the greenhouse, anyway, and already planning on finishing the raised bed garden as much as possible, on Saturday we rented a Bobcat. The Bobcat would help us finish leveling and graveling the raised bed area and also help us re-use the soil we dug-up from that area to level the pit where the greenhouse stood. The pit used to be an above-ground pool before we ever lived here, and it’s been an awkward hole, a hazard of dips and little hills ever since.

As anticipated, this made the work extremely fast, and I do think Brian had quite a good time operating it, as evidenced by his wide smile in the photo above. It took us several hours to remove the soil and level both spots as best as we could, and then we had to go purchase and unload four more loads of gravel before returning the Bobcat by 3pm (lest we be charged for another day’s rental!)

We managed it. We started at 7am and didn’t stop until 3pm, when we finally ate and took a brief rest. In between bouts of helping Brian with the Bobcat and shoveling dirt to and fro, I also was busy in the kitchen with Chloe making their Easter basket goodies. Finally, by 7pm, we were ready to reassemble the greenhouse and place it back onto the newly leveled ground.

We added wood framing on the bottom to reinforce it, and Brian 3D printed more clamps and brackets to secure the PVC pipes. Then, we staked it all again (there’s still more wood frame to add, not to mention the doors), but we were due for a freeze the next day and yet another high wind advisory and were out of time and daylight. It stood up to the wind and the frost for the first two freeze warnings. By the third night, however, with heavy rain and cloud cover during the day preventing the greenhouse from heating-up from the sun, we lost more tomato and pepper seedlings. We had some fairly large and healthy tomato plants, so I’m bummed, but we do have more seedlings under the grow light at the shop, so it could be worse. The lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, cucumber, and all the berries are still quite happy in the greenhouse. It’s coming along, and will no doubt get there by winter. I’m so confident I ordered my lemon tree. 🙂

With all the freezing weather and snow/rain/sleet, we weren’t able to get much accomplished during the week. We toyed around with layout of the raised beds, leveled more gravel, and determined we’d need another load. We’re up to 9 loads of gravel (each load is 1/2 a yard).

This morning after that 9th (and probably not final but we’re so close) load of gravel, we tilled-up the butterfly and perennial beds and were finally ready for soil! I’m so excited to fill these raised beds and plot out the plantings of the butterfly beds–this is the fun part of gardening, not that endless digging isn’t good, honest hard-work (and a great workout!)

Some of you may be questioning why, if we just dug-up a bunch of soil we had to Bobcat over to another place in the yard, would we now pay money to buy soil? Our soil is heavy clay. The only reason our main garden produces at the level it does is all the composting and soil turning we’ve done over the years. We do a leaf mould pile and a traditional compost heap, which gets a lot of chicken manure, wood chips and ash, and kitchen waste to keep it nutrient-rich and happy. We till all of this into the garden deeply at least once each year, but sometimes twice. The soil in the main garden is now what I would classify as a clay loam, which means it holds onto water just enough to be useful in a drought but not so much that plants get water-logged in heavy rains, and is very high in nutrients, encouraging plants to grow deep and strong roots.

The soil we turned-up from all of our leveling in the raised bed garden, though, is still heavy clay–the same we encountered that first year in this house. We could likely make bricks or pottery from it quite successfully. It is not suitable for placing in a raised bed immediately, even with a healthy dose of compost and leaf mould. So, it became fill dirt to level the uneven patch of yard, and now we’ll have to pay for topsoil. We also do not have enough compost and leaf mould for this new area, and so will have to purchase it. The topsoil is not especially nutrient-dense, so the compost will make-up for that. And drainage is especially important in raised beds, and so the leaf mould will not only add nutrients but will improve drainage. Leaf mould is far less expensive than purchasing vermiculite (especially if you make it yourself from your raked leaves!), which is what is often used in commercial-grade potting mixes, and does not come with the ecological baggage of peat, which I do not use for that reason.

We won’t necessarily be planting much in these beds this weekend. We wound up starting cucumbers and peas under the grow light (and I already have a healthy crop of lettuce in the greenhouse), so I’ll let them get established where they are at and will wait to plant them out for now. With so many days of successive freezes and some pretty demanding wind, which would not be good for tender seedlings, I feel safer with them in the greenhouse and/or grow room for now. But, having the beds filled and ready for the fun and easy part–the planting!–means we can turn our attention away from this project to more items on the garden to-do list. I get to go shopping for more plants for the butterfly garden, we need to create a new fence in our main garden, which we have already tilled, and there’s a load of brush from the forest that will need chipping for the compost heap. We have invasive honeysuckle in the forest, so each Spring we cut it back severely and otherwise tend to the trails. It’s our hope to maybe one day attend to the under-story of the forest and plant some ferns, woodland flowers, and other goodies that will help improve the forest’s health and, perhaps, help keep the honeysuckle at bay (and improve the health of the forest’s wildlife).

It may have been cold and spitting icy rain two days ago, but it’s mid-April, it’s sunny and in the mid-50’s, and we’re 3-4 weeks away from planting out the garden. It’ll be here before we know it. We’ll be ready. I can’t wait.

Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, teacher, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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