I count myself fortunate to be able to experience the change in seasons. Not that there is anything wrong with living in a mono-climate but, a change in seasons thrusts you into changing or makes a difference that has you either looking forward to the coming weather or mourning the passing of your favorite season. I love to grow fruits and vegetables but my window of growing is limited. Now we may be able to keep growing through the fall and winter. Thanks to a research grant funded by the USDA through the National Conservation Resource Services (NRCS). That is the good news.
The fact that the High Tunnel cost us three times more to install (we had to pick up that tab) but it was built on top of some of the worst ground on the property making that factoid icing on the cake.
We got the soil test back and it just confirmed what we had guessed. Even having come from the city I could still tell what good soil looked like. I played baseball on many of the city's fields. There were some that where lush and green with soft spongy soil, while others would be hardpan, infield and out. The soil in the high tunnel is bad and lacking in minerals and what is known as tilth (in essence fluffiness of the soil), it is low in PH and micronutrients and it is mostly sand and clay on probably fifty percent of the entire inside of the 96x35 foot print.
In July, we had planted some of the cherry tomatoes inside the tunnel once it was finished. They have turned out to be hardy plants. We had to feed them organic fertilizer because the soil was so bad and then watered them periodically. Periodically, in this case, meant that the plants where forgotten and watered incidentally.
To my surprise, after forgetting about them longer than usual, I walked inside the tunnel expecting crispy critters and found them alive but stunted. They were about a foot and a half-tall, straight stem with small leaves. Two plants actually had small cherry tomatoes on them. We have since watered them more frequently and gave them another side dressing of fertilizer. They are still growing but growing slowly. In the mean time, we are hauling in topsoil from around the farm and will take the compost pile and spread that throughout the tunnel.
Next comes planting seventy-five percent of the high-tunnel footprint in Hairy-Vetch and Winter Rye and then setting up the irrigation (we have decided on overhead sprinkler for this year). Once the grasses are established, we would turn the chickens loose and let them work their magic on the soil. We had to get a special exemption for this but the Natural Resources agent actually liked the idea, especially after showing him the sandstone that was in the south-west end of the tunnel. The cherry tomatoes are not growing like any tomato that I have ever grown. They are all one stalk towering straight up.
We planted the same kind outside and they grew nothing like these are growing. I know neglect, bad soil and lack of moisture has everything to do with it and is interesting to see how the plant is adapting to such a bad environment. It is going to be interesting watching these things grow into the winter and see how far they get before the chill really gets to them. We will also get a feel for how efficient the high tunnel is at keeping the tomatoes living late into the season. We have since planted spinach to also keep track off and experiment with.
In the mean time, we have some serious work to do before we can plant anything of substance in the tunnel. The PH needs will be raised to get it to at least 6.0 if not 6.5 and to do that we have to add lime and in this case water. The micronutrients concern me more and that is where we need to focus our efforts. Being organic has its limitations and it takes time to bring soils back to a healthy state, naturally, so we know that we will be using fertilizer in the short term. We need to meet the requirements of the program so there is some pressures to do something other than grow grass.
For nutrient rich soil we have found that we really need at least two years of planting cover crops, chickens, tilling, planting cover crops, chickens and so on, for at least four times in those two years. Our chickens are moved to new rye and vetch when their occupied ground has been devastated. Really, devastated, has the wrong connotation in this case. What the flock leaves is a fluffy, nutrient rich little specimen of Mother Earth; the soil is aerated and devoid of insects, weeds and grasses. There is this cyclical event with putting on nitrogen fixing grasses and keeping chickens concentrated in order to maximize their own nutrient potential. At least two out of three flocks stay inside their fences, which helps us with our nutrient calculations.
I am hoping that we can take flock three inside the high tunnel and keep them there in a feeble attempt at breaking their free roaming ways. So I get to grow into the winter. After this terrible season with the drought, marmarated brown stink bugs and high heat level it might actually be enjoyable to see how things turn out. We will have to see. In the mean time,
Buy Local: Emeril does.