Friday, August 28, 2020

Happily ever after: the truth about the covid (non-) garden

 How I came to put a demonstration garden in the WRONG place...

In my blog posts of early April, 2020, I laid out how to start a no-till vegetable garden in a hurry.  And, I'd be posting pictures right now with the bumper-crop of fresh veggies I'd grown there had I not forgotten just one tiny, wee point: vegetables can't grow in shade.  

You see, the last time I really paid attention to that far corner of the garden, it was a sun-baked sort of a wasteland: too far from the house to be easily watered, the sort of spot you only visit with the mower on your once-a-week rounds, or plant if you are really desperate for more garden-plots.  So, I planted a tree there. 

The problem with gett old-er (OK, actually old) is that time flies.  It seems to me I had just planted a young (cotton-less) cottonwood tree there.  It was a bare pole when it was put in, and really, how much shade can a little tree like that cast, anyway? However, in reality, at least ten years must somehow have passed. During those ten years, two things happened.

First, the tree grew. And grew.  And grew.  See, the thing is, oaks, maples and the like are slow-growing trees.  At this time of life, I've planted all the oaks and maples I am going to. To get results I'll live to enjoy, the trees I've planted in the last decade or so are first cousins to a weed (cottonwoods, hackberries, catalpas...)  The second thing that happened was the mowing was taken over by another, so that corner wasn't really on my usual rounds anymore. The result: that corner of the garden--on my mental map, a sun-baked area sporting a tiny tree--is in reality, cool, damp and shaded, presided over by a cottonwood of substantial height, girth and...shade!

In the contest between my mental map and reality, guess which won. Cool and shady is good for people but it is no good for vegetables. Result? I put in a supposed vegetable garden in the shade where no veggies would grow. If you look at the pictures from the original blog posts (which I obviously didn't at the time!) you can see that trouble was about to erupt: the shade of the cottonwood casts a shadow right through the middle of the plot. When the leaves came out, oh boy.

Embarrasing! I put in a demonstration garden in the wrong spot! I know the no-till method works: I've used it before when I established my now-30-year-old main veggie garden, and for many flower-beds in the intervening years.  So, I'm very confident in the instructions I published. However, this particular plot can provide no proof because of the shade. No pretty pictures of bountiful veggies will ever be forthcoming.

What to do with a shaded, heavily-mulched bed in the middle of a cool area, far from the house? I could have planted more bramble bushes (rasperries and the like) but there are two big raspberry beds on the place here, yielding more than we can eat already--no more thorny tangled maintence projects are required at this time.  Ditto current bushes, and no one around here cares for gooseberries.  The spot languished while I tried to ignore my mistake. 

* * *

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

Three chickens were acquired around here through a series of strange circumstances--a story for another time.  Their actual coop where they spend the night is on a gravel path in the vegetable garden, behind an electric fence, but that coop is mighty small.  For sanitary and sanity reasons, the chickens have to go to "day-camp" for room to roam.

Now, originally, these were three itty-bitty little chicks being put out in a roofed wire pen; a sort of a moveable chicken run.  The run was placed under various trees for shade near the house, anchored on sod, and rotated daily to different spots for so the chicks wouldn't be scratching in their own mess.  In this run, the baby chickies pecked around, enjoying fresh air, clean ground and a new supply of little bugs daily.

However, chickens are like trees in one particular: they both g-r-o-w.  Pretty soon the cute little chicks turned into pullets with *remarkably* big feet, tipped in razor-claws.  At the end of each day, the sod on which their run perched was worn out: bare dirt patches began appearing under all the trees in the shady spots where their run had been.  I'm no lawn fetishist, but what with all this chicken-scratching, the place was starting to look mighty disreputable. And, you know, it began to smell a bit barnyard-ish also. 

* * *

TK puts two and two together...

One day, a few weeks ago, the penny dropped, the light went on, the dots connected! On the one hand, I had inadvertently created a heavily mulched spot in the far back away from the house: a spot for which I had no particular use.  On the other hand, I had some sort-of-smelly, sort-of-destructive chickens that needed to be put out daily to a shaded, cool spot with no sod to dig up. 

It couldn't have worked out better if I'd planned it!

Serindipity was even kinder to me than I could imagine. Not only had my inadvertence created a perfect chicken run, but it was heavily stocked with worms (a chicken delicacy!) non-sodded, and best of all, an exact perfect size so the moveable wire chicken run could be moved eight times before it had to be on the same spot again. Stated otherwise, the chicken's moveable wire pen somehow clocked in at exactly one-eighth of the size of the mulched "garden plot," meaning that the chickens would not be in the same spot again for eight days: long enough for--let's be frank here--the barnyard smell and its sources (poop, feathers and chicken dandruff) to have utterly vanished into the heavy mulch.

The icing on the cake is, the chickens are daily given a treat of whole-grain scratch containing oats. As is the chicken-way, they bury as much as they eat, what with all the scratching around in the mulch. By the time their run rotates back to the spot it occupied eight days previous, the uneaten oats have sprouted and fresh oat greens wait to provide variety to the chicks' diets.

It all happened by accident, but it is a happy accident indeed which turned a sort of a useless and shaded would-be "garden" into a very useful chicken run!  So, instead of being forced to report to you my big "oops-my-out-of-date-mental-map" mess-up, I can instead report that the covid-garden did indeed grow a useful crop after all...(or will as soon as those darn chickens start laying some eggs!)

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