I’ve been gardening all my life – my Father got his Masters Degree in Agronomy and for as long as I can remember he has kept a very large garden, large enough to feed his family of 9. Growing up we spent each spring building hills for the garden and planting, summers were spent weeding and maintaining and fall was always a huge harvest that the entire family participated in.
Dad would fill the wheelbarrow with corn and bring it to the deck for us to shuck, then it would move inside where we had long boards with nails sticking out of them to put the corn on to remove the kernels. By the end of the corn harvest we would have hundreds of bags of corn ready to go into the freezer. Same with beans, during the week Dad would pick beans into a brown paper sack and bring them in for us to snap while we watched TV. Mom always had a huge freezer full of produce that we harvested from the garden.
That is where I learned to garden – a first hand education from my Father that continues to this day. My Dad is the first person I call when I have a question about gardening, and I have yet to not receive an immediate answer. Now I am trying to pass that legacy of learning on to my kids. By keeping a large garden I hope that they will learn the value of producing their own food and hopefully at least the rudimentary skills of how to do so.
This year I’m living in a new home – one that didn’t previously have a garden. I wish I had done a better job of photographing it so I could show pictures of each step but when I’m working I often forget to grab a camera!
To layout our garden we identified a large section of pasture that didn’t get flood irrigated very well because of its upward slope. We plowed it twice with a tractor then disced it. This leaves a lot of big clumps of dirt but the soil is generally broken up. I then went in with a tiller and first went over it tilling it just a few inches deep, then I went over it again tilling it about a foot deep. This resulted in a very nicely turned soil that is easy to plant in.
Our next step was to furrow and hill it. I prefer to do both with a landscaping rake. The head of this rake is about 40 inches wide and I find it the perfect size for digging furrows and smoothing hills. There is a technique to building furrows with a rake. By continually holding the rake handle in precisely the same spot and maintaining the length at which you extnd your arms you can always strike the rake at the exact same distance from your body. To successfully build parrallel rows, you make sure that you maintain your body and your striking distance at a continuous length from an established line (such as the garden border or the previous row you built).
Let me explain that a different way – instead of trying to eyeball whether you are parrallel and constantly adjusting where you are digging based on what your eyes tell you, keep yourself and your rake at a consistent distance from the line. Then it all comes out pretty! (I’m sure that I just left you all confused. Just give it a try sometime :) ).
Once I’ve built a furrow, I use the landscaping rake to smooth over the hill. This lets me pull any rocks and organic chunks off the hill into the row and provides a nice smooth planting surface.
Deep furrow and hill gardening is really all I’ve ever known. There are a lot of advantages to it in my mind and I like the way my garden looks with it. Angela recently posted about her raised bed gardening which is essentially the same but she has used planks to build boxes for her rows. One advantage to the method I use would be when you want to alter the soil – I can dump a full load of manure or other matter onto the garden (in spring or fall when nothing is growing), spread it out and just till the entire garden. That said, I really like her garden and think it looks wonderful!
I also had to bring water down to my garden. I did this by attaching a short garden hose to a well hydrant and installing 200 feet of pvc pipe down the side of the pasture. The hose on the well hydrant attaches to the pvc pipe which runs to a manifold system in the corner of the garden. From there I installed a hose bib and 3 manual manifold stations. Each of the stations has two lateral lines that have kickback sprinkler heads on them 5 feet in the air. This will allow me to water over my corn once it gets 5 – 6 feet high.
After spending several weeks getting the garden set up, we spent about two weeks planting. We are able to spend 3-4 hours each evening working and all day Saturday. By the time we got finished planting the beans, peas, squashes and melons our corn (which we planted first) was already coming up.
You can also see in this picture that the soil in my garden is a little too clayish. We’ve begun working on altering that through mulching. I have a brother who has a lawn maintenance company from whom I was able to get several tons (literally) of cut grass. We’re now working on mulching everywhere with it.
We finished planting almost a month ago. We’ve weeded the entire garden twice now and are currently working on our third weeding and mulching. You can see in the following pictures where we need to weed again and where we’ve finished our third pass.
This is the salad bar area. We’re using staggered planting so that we have fresh cuts longer which is why only parts of it are currently planted. In this area there is lettuce, radishes, celery, spinach and peppers (I think there are a couple other things but I don’t remember right now :) )
These are the carrot and onion beds. My kids planted the carrots the first time and they never came up so we recently planted it again. The onions are doing quite well though.
The corn is coming up nicely. In Missouri we had a saying about corn – for it to be a good crop it had to be “Knee high by the Fourth of July”. It seems that my crop is on target.
These are my perennial beds that I’m working on getting established. On the left are 50 strawberry plants, straight ahead are about 30 raspberries, to the right are a dozen grape vines that will be grown onto the fence. Mixed in with the grape vines are lots of herbs.
As an update on my post about potato boxes – here they are, coming up strong!
We’re getting very close to plucking the first fruits of our labor!