Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Winter Gardening Confessions (An Update)

garden in January

Seems like anytime I’m making small talk these days I’m asked “How’s your garden?” (No complaints here; I’m happy to share!)

So, let me just tell you how the garden is. It’s good. But not as expected. I just paid the garden a visit yesterday for the first time in a couple of weeks. (A couple of weeks?? Hmm… I feel like this post is part confession…) Here’s what I found.

Winter Update

The peas still look green and healthy. They’re a wee bit larger and beginning to tangle about each other, but otherwise there’s no change. The lettuce in this bed looks healthy but is essentially the same size as in November. This is also the bed with an outdoor thermometer inside. Here are the stats: Under the row cover, it was 65*. Outside the row cover, it was 34* and sunny. The high temp was recorded at 96* and the lowest recorded temp was 18*.

This lettuce seedling hasn't had any noticeable growth in over a month.

This lettuce seedling hasn’t had any noticeable growth in over a month.

Peas growing in January

The peas are (barely) growing under a row cover on this January day.

Confession: The kale bed has never been covered (for several reasons). Despite being buried under several inches of snow, half of the kale looks good still. The other half was transplanted from the Fenceline Garden in late fall and never did look terribly healthy. I’m going to sample both tomorrow (perhaps in an omelet?) to see how they taste.

This kale is growing under a blanket of fall leaves and snow.

This kale is growing under a blanket of fall leaves and snow.

The cover over the carrot bed was partially collapsed and covered in some major ice chunks. After I remedied that situation, I crawled inside (yup… I confess I was too lazy to open the iced-to-the-ground side) and plucked a couple of carrots from the center of the bed. In fact, I ate them while I wrote this post! They’re pretty small (maybe three inches) but they sure taste good! Can I tell you a dirty little secret? (More confessions…) These carrots were transplanted from a different bed. I know, I know, you shouldn’t transplant root vegetables… but there were a bunch of small carrots still hanging around this fall and I was curious to see what would happen if I transplanted them to another bed for winter growing. If these two carrots are any indication, they haven’t grown at all, but they sure are tasty!

Hard to believe it, but there are carrots "growing" under those leaves. More like "stored" under those leaves.

Hard to believe it, but there are carrots “growing” under those leaves. More like “stored” under those leaves.

Next I checked the bed with beets and chard growing in it, both crops still there from fall. They don’t seem to have grown much but I did pick a few beets for dinner. However, my favorite part of this bed isn’t edible… not yet anyway. Late this fall (November?) I direct seeded spinach to this bed. I’d given up hope that they would ever germinate, but there they were today smiling up at me! These are about the only plants that have actually shown growth during the winter. It will be fun to see if they continue to grow to a harvest-able state during the winter or if they simply overwinter till we hit springtime.

This bed has chard and which have shown no noticeable growth in over a month. The spinach in this bed however has germinated nicely over the last few weeks.

This bed has chard and beets which have shown no noticeable growth in over a month. The spinach in this bed however has germinated nicely over the last few weeks.

Spinach seedlings grown under a row cover in December and January.

Spinach seedlings grown under a row cover in December and January.

And speaking of overwintering spinach, yet another bed had a layer of teeny baby spinach plants sleeping under a blanket of fall leaves (and a canopy of plastic). No growth, but I’m pretty confident that they’ll overwinter for a spring harvest. Same deal with the turnips; no growth, but they look healthy under their leaf-mulch and hopefully will take off this spring.

This spinach seedling germinated in late fall. There are many more like it under this layer of leaves.

This spinach seedling germinated in late fall. There are many more like it under this layer of leaves.

Turnips waiting for spring under a bed of fall leaves (and a plastic row cover).

Turnips waiting for spring under a bed of fall leaves (and a plastic row cover).

I didn’t get a chance to check on the newly seeded carrots and parsnips which are under several inches of leaf-mulch and several more inches of snow.

raised beds in snow

The story of ‘looks-healthy-but-no-growth’ is repeated in the greenhouse. I have many (100?) seedlings that I was going to plant out in the garden which are frozen in time. Some of them were destined for beds that have row covers and I probably should go ahead and transplant them. (Confession: With the busyness of the holidays I didn’t get around to it.) I did bring one lettuce plant into the house which is beginning to grow as it thaws.

SAMSUNG\

SAMSUNG

 

So in summary, while things aren’t growing like I thought they would, we still have a few winter delights to nibble on and I’m optimistic that I’ll have several early crops in the spring.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Update: Hugelkultur on a Micro-Farm

Christmas is one week from today… but I’m still digging in dirt! Ever since the end of our CSA season I’ve been planning to double the size of our garden for 2013. The initial plan was to tackle this in the spring with a day full of volunteer help and free food! But then I learned about a new-to-me gardening method that requires a significant amount of fall preparation to be ready by spring – hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is a German term that roughly translates to “mound culture”. The hugelkultur gardening method has been used in Eastern Europe for centuries and is essentially a sheet-composting method that involves burying woody debris (logs, branches, sticks) and other organic matter under a mound of earth to add nutrients to the soil and retain moisture. For more details on the definition, benefits and challenges of hugelkultur, hop over to this previous post.

If I had known earlier that I was going to want to implement hugelkultur principles into our expansion, I would have begun planning and implementing it back in October. Tackling this endeavor in November and December has provided its own set of challenges, but all the same, here’s an update on how things are going.

Hugelkultur Update

Recap

First a recap: I wanted to create 10 hugelkultur beds. Because we live in a suburban neighborhood, I felt it was important to partially bury the beds for the sake of appearance. The plan? Make them two or three feet deep, four feet wide and 12 feet long. That. Is. A. Lot. Of. Digging. I was already sooo tired of digging after creating our hotbeds that the thought of moving that many hundreds of cubic feet of earth one shovelful at a time made me want to faint! On top of that, I knew that time was of the essence since (at least in theory!) cold weather is on the way. So to avoid frozen earth and aching backs, I hired Luke Schemenauer and his bobcat to do the dirty digging work! [Luka (Luke) Schemenauer, 269-214-0837, luka@i2k.com]

Bring Wood!

Within a week of creating the pits, we had them all filled with old or rotting logs. The lumber came from our own property, including logs that had been lying around since we bought this house and wood from a dying maple tree we had to cut down a few years ago. We were also fortunate to develop a win-win situation with a number who has a brush pile that needed some clearing. We hauled off many logs and now he has that much less work! (Don’t worry – I asked first!).

This was an interim shot… they ended up more full than this.

How to Deal with Nitrogen Drawn-Down

Most of the wood we used is well-rotted, so it should retain moisture well and have a minimal incident of nitrogen-drawn down because it has already decomposed so much. (Because logs are carbon rich, they need a lot of nitrogen to decompose. Plants also need nitrogen and thus the log decomposition can ‘rob’ the plants of nitrogen they need.) There were three beds however that had somewhat newer wood (from the maple tree). From what I’ve read, nitrogen drawdown during the first year of planting can be an issue, but I’ve found very few people who actually experienced the dilemma. As a precaution, I did my best to add nitrogen-rich materials to these beds. This was one of the points where I wished I had developed my hugelkultur plans sooner – it’s hard to come by green, nitrogen-rich material at Christmas time!

The first bed received a modest helping of freshly cut grass clippings. (Yes, I mowed my Michigan lawn in December!) Despite having mowed about ½ an acre, this is all I got for my labor.

This wheelbarrow load of grass clippings came from mowing less than 1/3 of the lawn in December. I got about this much again after mowing the ‘Back 40? around the garden.

The second bed received all of the compost I could gather from this summer’s compost pile – around 9 cubic feet in all. I also continued to toss table vegetable scraps onto this bed right up until I covered it.

And the third bed got nothing. Not because the spirit of Scrooge came on me but because in the spring I’ll be planting beans in this bed. Since beans actually add nitrogen to the soil, I’m hoping it will be a sufficient defense against nitrogen-draw down.

All of these beds would have benefited from a layer of composted manure if time and my budget had allowed.

Add the Leaves!

With the beds full of logs and branches, I moved on to adding our fall leaves. I have to say I was a little hesitant about this since dead leaves are also carbon-rich and I feared they may contribute to nitrogen draw-down. But in the interest of adding other trace nutrients to the soil of my hugels, I took the leap. (Big thanks to my hubby for helping me with this!)

These beds are filled with rotting logs and branches, as well as a layer of fall leaves.

Hugelkultur beds that are partially buried. So far they’ve been filled with rotting logs and leaves.

To Water or Not?

My next challenge: Watering. The primary purpose of all this work is to develop raised beds which need little or no watering. And as I read online instructions for making hugelkultur beds, many people recommended ‘thoroughly wetting’ the logs at this point in the process. My challenge? It’s December. For a few hours a day, it’s warm enough to run a hose, but the freezing that happens to that hose after its use is a pain in the butt to deal with. Also it had rained during the week the logs had been in the pits (less than ½ an inch) and I wondered if that would be sufficient. I spent a morning researching and didn’t get any direct answers. One person commented on my question in the forum at www.permies.com that he thought the beds would probably retain more moisture from a good rain after being completed than from being hosed down in the midst of the process. With all of this in mind, I made the judgment call not to hose them down. *fingers crossed*

The logs had already been rained and snowed on several times, but with less than 1/2 an inch of precipitation.

Dirt Dilemma

Last but not least, we (hubby helped again!) worked on filling the holes back in with dirt. I knew it was going to be a major task to put that mountain of dirt back where it came from, but Ryan had an idea: We borrowed his father’s four-wheeler and used the snowplow to push the dirt back! In some cases, it worked really well. But then there was the awkwardness of figuring out how to fill the beds closest to the existing fence without driving over the beds on the outside. And then once all the small piles were gone, we realized that a snowplow is just not going to efficiently move a giant mound of dirt around.

Enter shovels. And a visit to the chiropractor. And then, well… I did something I hardly ever do. I gave up.

If I even see another shovel before spring, I may need therapy.

I owe you some ‘after’ pictures. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share a few shots of a little someone who came out to survey the work.

Marley came out to oversee our work.

Marley the Foreman.

I wonder if he approves?

Just before I gave up, I happened to look down a few lots and noticed that one of our neighbors has some manner of machinery with a big scoop on the front (a front loader?)!  I couldn’t say for sure, but I think there were angels ascending and descending on it… I promptly walked over to see if I could pay him to move some dirt, but no one was home. I’m planning to stop by again today and very much hope that he’ll be able to help us before (if?) the snow comes. If we haven’t been able to move the dirt before then, at spring time we’ll mound some up over the beds (six inches), add a layer of compost (six inches) and advertise the rest on Craigslist as free (come and get it!) fill dirt.

As it stands now, 8 hugels are level with the ground and filled with logs, leaves and dirt. Two more are dirt-less but otherwise level. And then there’s a would-be hugel pit that isn’t quite in the right spot so I plan to fill it in. So other than Mt. Dirtmore towering in the tree line, I think things look acceptable enough for the neighbors to tolerate through the winter. (As I’ve mentioned before, we want to be good neighbors!) Who knows, if the weather stays this mild, maybe I’ll eventually pick up a shovel again and chip away at that mountain bit by bit… maybe.

 
 

Black Friday Black Gold


I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday! We enjoyed ours and know that we have much to be thankful for.

Many of you probably also ‘celebrated’ Black Friday by standing in unbelievably long lines early in the cold morning to get great deals on Christmas gifts. Although I did do some shopping online, I didn’t dare venture out into the mob of wild shoppers. Instead of heading toward the retail district, we headed the other direction into the country to take advantage of an awesome (FREE!) deal: Horse manure! That’s right – on Black Friday we went out to a local farm and picked up some ‘black gold.’

To be honest, we didn’t really get ‘black gold.’ Black Gold is a term used to describe compost because of its extreme value in creating healthy gardens. Composted (aged) manure contains lots of nutrients and is a great addition to any garden! This manure is far from composted but it will bring value to our garden by warming our hotbeds as it decomposes. And as the gardening season progresses next spring and summer, it will indeed become ‘black gold.’ Even if this hotbed experiment doesn’t work, I’m excited that in the spring I’ll have raised beds that are essentially 3 feet deep and full of very rich soil!

My original plan for winter growing was to convert six of our4’ (wide) x 12’ (long) x 1’ (deep) raised beds into hotbeds. The conversion process involves removing the 12 inches of garden soil, digging a pit in the bottom of the bed that is 1.5 to 2 feet deep, filling the pit with manure (horse and goat so far) and hay/leaves/grass clippings, adding 6 inches of soil back on top and then topping the bed with a plastic row cover on PVC hoops. Here’s a quick update on the process.

Bed #1 was converted to a hotbed a month or longer now. It has peas and lettuce (transplanted from the greenhouse last week) growing in it and they’re coming along beautifully!

Hotbed raised garden bed with plastic row cover

Hotbed #1 with peas and lettuce growing in it

Hotbed #1 with peas and lettuce growing in it. At the time I took this picture it was 85* inside the row cover and about 35* outside.

Peas growing in Hotbed #1.

Peas growing in Hotbed #1.

Lettuce seedling in Hotbed #1

Lettuce seedling in Hotbed #1

Bed #2 was converted to a hotbed last week except that it still needs a plastic row cover. I’m hoping to cut plastic for this today (I have a roll of plastic in the garage… somewhere…). The bed currently has kale growing the middle; that portion of the bed has not been converted because I transferred the kale there this fall from other parts of the garden. The hotbed ends are ready for cabbage and cauliflower transplants. The cabbage and cauliflower seedlings are in the greenhouse right now and should be ready within a week to be transplanted.

Kale in a raised hotbed

Kale is growing in the center portion of this bed. The ends have been converted for hotbeds (there’s horse manure underneath). All we need now is a row cover!

Bed #3 was converted to a hotbed this past weekend. All it needs is a plastic row cover. Unfortunately I don’t think the plastic I have in the garage will be large enough for more than one cover so I need to buy more ASAP. (It currently has a “roof” of plastic sheeting that isn’t quite big enough to cover the whole thing.) The middle of the bed is occupied by carrots that I transplanted from another bed. (Yes, I transplanted carrots. I’ve done it before and they’ll be fine.) Next week the ends of the bed will be receiving leeks which are currently in the greenhouse.

Remember that these beds start with 10-12 inches of garden soil in them but I’m only returning 6 inches of soil back. That’s because I discovered last month that the manure can heat 6 inches of soil but 12 inches is too much. So where do the other six inches go? I’ve been topping off other beds in the garden that have lost soil or compacted slightly. In fact as I went to fill this bed back in, I was running low on garden soil and decided to add compost from our summer compost pile. It’s hard to believe that the rich, dark dirt I shoveled in was carrot peels, onion tops and grass clippings just a couple of months ago.

Hotbed #3 with partial plastic row cover

This is hotbed #3. Soon it will have a row cover that also covers the ends.

Transplanted carrots inside a hotbed

These are the carrots I transplanted last weekend. They look pretty sad right now, but they’ll perk up soon. :)

Bed #4 currently has turnips growing in one third of it (on the end). I have to say that they are holding on just fine but are showing no progress in their growth. I left them undisturbed while I dug up the remaining 2/3 of the bed. Currently there’s a 2 foot hole there waiting for manure. There wasn’t enough horse manure to fill all the beds so I’m hoping to get enough goat manure this week to fill at least this bed. I’ll also need to get plastic for a row cover. Once its complete, I’ll be transplanting lettuce and broccoli into it from the greenhouse.

Hotbed #4 with turnips and lettuce seedlings

This is hotbed #4. There are currently turnip and lettuce seedlings growing here. I’ll be converted the other side into a hotbed this week.

Bed #5 is all tucked in for the winter. Because it was around 70% full of existing, frost-tolerant plants (chard, beets, radishes) I decided not to convert it to a hotbed. Instead I planted spinach in the remaining 30% of the bed and gave it a row cover. So far the established plants look great in there but the spinach is taking its sweet time germinating. It will be interesting to see how this bed fares during the winter compared to its hotbed counterparts.

Raised bed with winter row cover

This bed already had many frost-tolerant plants growing in it so I decided not to convert it to a hotbed. Instead, I planted some spinach in the remaining space (which doesn’t seem to be germinating). We’ll see how this bed fares through the winter without any manure beneath it.

Radishes, Beets and Chard

Radishes, Beets and Chard

Bed #6 had carrots still growing in it until this weekend when I transplanted them into Bed #3. Why did I transplant them? For several reasons. One is that I needed to move some plants around to stage the garden for my new crop rotation plan. (What I grow in each bed this winter will impact what I can grow there this coming spring and summer.) Also, the carrots were spread throughout the entire bed (carrots that were too small to harvest during our CSA season but have grown since then). I decided to put them all in one concentrated place to make better use of the bed. At any rate, this bed still needs a lot of work. I need to remove all of the garden soil, dig the 2 foot pit (before the ground freezes!) and then fill it up with compost. I’m starting to think I won’t have enough manure to fill both this bed and bed #4, so I’m going to experiment by using non-manure compost here. I’ll be using table scraps, lots of leaves, and if I can manage to mow the lawn one last time before sticking snow, grass clippings. Once this bed is converted, it will be home to lettuce (in the greenhouse). I was also hoping to direct seed radishes into this bed… but I thought I would be doing that several weeks ago. We’ll see if the bed gets/stays warm enough for the seeds to germinate.

Raised Bed

This raised bed has a long way to go to become a hotbed! It will feature plant-based compost instead of manure.

Other garden areas are mostly being ‘winterized’. I’m halfway through the process of mulching the Fenceline Garden with leaves. Three of the beds in the Main Garden have received seeds that will overwinter and grow in the spring. Crops include scallions (no growth seen), parsnips (growth observed), carrots (germination observed) and asparagus (no growth seen). These beds will be mulched with shredded leaves this week. Dormant beds will be mulched with either leaves (likely un-shredded because of time constraints) or maple wood chips. And last but not least, one of the small beds at the front of the Main Garden was supposed to overwinter spinach, but the seedlings are coming along so well that I think we’ll be eating from it this winter instead of harvesting from it in the spring! That will mess up my crop rotation a little bit, but my excitement over hopefully having fresh spinach in January is overshadowing that conundrum for now.

Raised garden bed with winter row cover

This garden bed is half as wide as the others and is NOT a hotbed (no manure below). Spinach is growing inside… we’ll see how long it lasts!

Spinach seedlings in raisede bed under row cover

Spinach Seedling

Spinach Seedling

So that’s what’s happening around here regarding winter growing. We have some exciting developments happening regarding expansion of the garden for next season, and I can’t wait to share that with you next week. Stay tuned!

 
 

How to Use Leaves in Your Yard and Garden

I’m pretty sure we’re the only family on the block whose lawn is still covered in leaves. Why? Because leaf pick-up happened at least a week ago. In our suburban neighborhood, leaf pick-up is where everyone rakes or blows their leaves into the street and on a specific day the city comes along and sweeps them up. And what does the city do with them? They contract with a local waste management company which composts them and then sells the compost to individuals and organizations. But we have different plans - We can use leaves for so many other things on our micro-farm. And that means there are many things you can use your leaves for as well.

  [Read More]
 
 

October 2012 Update

As much as I really dislike being cold I have managed to drag myself outside several days and accomplish some goals. (And thankfully we’ve also had a few sunny days in the midst of all this rain!) Here’s a quick update on what’s happening at Arcadia Farms this October.  [Read More]
 
 
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