In The Beginning...

By Carolyn Herriot

In August 1999 we began a year of sweat and toil along the garden path at our new property in the country, and there's lots to report. I'm happy to say that the results have exceeded my expectations.

The first necessity was to keep the deer who used to parade down our driveway from demolishing the newly planted garden. I discovered two things about deer. First, they are creatures of habit with good taste; that is, they like to travel the same route, grazing on your most expensive plants as they go. Second, the only sure-fire way of stopping them is to change their route by fencing them out. We have had no deer problems since the last section of fencing went in; we can now enjoy watching them observing us from the other side of the fence, and all my plants are 'un-nibbled' and thriving.

Our system consists of virtually invisible black polypropylene, eight-foot mesh fenching, with high tensile strength. It is UV resistant, lightweight to install, and was relatively inexpensive at $3,000 for the whole 2.47 acres.

If you have seen the cement-like clay on the slope where I planned to plant the garden, you might have bet it was impossible to grow anything in it. I might have agreed! I couldn't even dig a spade into it, but instead of despairing I hired Maverick Excavating!

 
 
Thank God for Maverick Excavating!
Rototilling the green manure crop under early April 2000
     
 
 
The design for the garden is layed out (easy for crop rotations)
The initial stage of planting June 2000
 
 
 
Our abundant food garden
September 2000

 

For years I have preached the value of mulching with manure, compost, leaf mulch and seaweed. Here was my chance to prove my own point. I created a large volume of usable compost for spring from a 30-foot windrow begun last September. Here's my recipe for this speedy breakdown:

Layer the windrow with six-inch layers of varied materials (grass, clippings, leaves, weeds, herbaceous cuttings, manure, or spoiled hay) as you build it.

Moisten it by allowing it to get rained on before insulating it for the winter.

Insulate compost pile with hay bales and cover the whole windrow with black plastic. On sunny winter days the pile heats up as the sun penetrates the plastic and the hay bales trap the heat inside the pile for speedier decomposition.

I uncovered my windrow on March 31st and was delighted to find completely-ready compost, in perfect time to add to my garden beds.

 

 
 
The insulated windrow provided huge quantities of compost
(ready in only four months!)

As a result of adding all these amendments to the mineral-rich clay, it is the healthiest garden I have ever grown. What had been hard, dry, dusty grey clay, with nary an earthworm in sight, is richly-textured, friable dark loam, teaming with earthworms today. My garden grew so tall and lush that visitors couldn't believe that we had only been here one year. With our full southern exposure, which bakes the garden on hot days, the moisture-retentive clay is a blessing.

By mid-summer we were enjoying some good colour and interest in the herbaceous borders, and I was pleased to note that I had not planted too many colour clashes that needed to be moved. I was excited to see how much growth the shrubs at the back of the border put on in one year; the shrubbery will have much greater effect next year, as will the perennials, so I will not have to plant so many annuals for colour.

We now have an orchard, a project I had not anticipated starting until fall. But when the bobcat dug out the ten holes for the fruit trees, we discovered that this soil was much better then elsewhere, so we mixed leaf mulch and compost into the planting holes, and a few days later I had planted my orchard of five apples, one pear, a peach, a cherry, a fig and a plum. All the fruit trees made good growth in a few short months, and I am glad we got a year's start on our orchard.

A highlight has to be the food garden, which got off to a shaky start. My transplants keeled over day after day! A soon realised that we have wireworms, as a result of moving grass from the area. I resorted to a biological nematode control, watering it in over the food garden. Ten days laters the wireworm problem was solved. What a relief!!

All the vegetables planted produced bumper crops, again a testimony to the sun, mineral rich clay, and all the amendments that we added. I even managed to grow great carrots for the first time by adding coarse builder's sand to the carrot patch, and spreading coffee grounds around it.

All the experiences are learning ones, but it's a good feeling to know that the accumulated years of experience are paying off! Now on to Phase 3!

 
 
The greenhouse goes up the third week of September 1999
 
 
Seeding the greenhouse spring 2000
 
 
Visitors to the nursery love strolling
through the greenhouse

 

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