In June, I boasted about the warmer than usual night-time temperatures. I was intent on getting as much planted and established as quickly as possible – including an early potato crop. Squelchy soils in the paddocks caused by stormy squalls later grabbed my attention. There was no need to cover plants with frost cloth. The early potatoes were planted in a sunny sheltered situation. The raised bed, made of lots of compost and well rotted organic material, drains well. Early this week, all of the early potato plants’ shoots had just emerged above their warm blanket of mulch.
On Tuesday this week, Himself and I had our attention diverted with a stint of caring for grandkids overnight and all day Wednesday. Busy as, we missed the weather forecast and of course we never gave it a thought to put a frost-cover over the plants. The first frost (albeit a light one) of winter happened on Tuesday night. It dissipated quite quickly next day before mid-morning. At first glance, the larger potato leaves are affected – but I looked more closely and noticed the very small leaves at mulch level seem to be OK. They may have been somewhat sheltered and the soil was not frozen. Tonight, there’s an extra layer – of straw – over the plants. So, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the damage isn’t too bad.
Another thing I noticed was that a few heritage potatoes that had self-seeded in a weed-like manner seem to have resisted the frost. I re-read my gardening books about recovering frost affected potatoes. Each mentions mulching and mounding. On reflection, I’m not sure what I learned or my options were. (1) Leave Himself in solo charge of the grandkids? (2) Turn TV on and watch the weather while we give the kids their bottles? Work in the garden later – by torchlight if necessary. (3) Every night, think, ‘frost’. (4) Let self-seeded potatoes have their way in the garden. (5) Gardening moral – an ounce of prevention is better than a cure.
The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.
Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.
I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.
I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.
Now that they have young children themselves, it’s intriguing to note how both my sons are designing their gardens, seeking ways to become self-reliant and are in Bill Mollison‘s words “working with, rather than against nature” in Introduction to Permaculture (pg. 1. Reprinted 1995).
After reading my copy of this book, my younger son has just created his first and instant garden vegie garden ~ without digging. The raised beds were constructed using paper as a mulch, sprinkled dolomite lime, and then layered using composted chipped and leaf matter and cow manure. He’s now an ‘expert’!
Urenika or Maori potatoes are easy to grow and can be cultivated for most of the year in our moderate climate. I place the seed potatoes on wilted comfrey leaves over rotted hay on top of clay loam soil and then cover with hay or straw. I like to plant the potatoes in a windy and dry area as protection from mildew or fungal disease. In the six years I have grown these potatoes, I have not needed to spray the plants. These potatoes have flourished despite the weather fluctuations and seem resistant to disease.
Harvesting the potatoes needs minimal effort as I push the mulch aside. There is much to be said for the no-dig approach to gardening. Clods of soil do not adhere to the potatoes. The soil enriched by worms and humus matter is workable and is ready for planting a different vegetable crop. At this point I will scatter sheep manure over the soil and leave the garden bed to rest a while. Less physical effort for the gardener. Mint finely chopped, freshly ground pepper, butter and salt to taste complement this simple dish.
My gardening work is now easier. My garden diary for 2000-2001 shows what has been done since we settled on this block of land. The list of inorganic rubbish goes on: cars; car parts; cattle carcasses; fencing materials; glass; growing pots; horticultural chemicals and containers; house demolition rubble; irrigation pipes; plastic; rusted barbed wire in the grass; telegraph cable; water pipes.
The stream is cleared of fallen trees and flood debris. Swamp Cypress and Nyssa Sylvatica now grow in a swampy area that used to feed into a small sludgy pond. The ponding area was filled in. Pest plants like blackberry, hawthorn, honeysuckle, jasmine, pampas grass, privet, ragwort and scotch thistle involved hard physical effort of removing by digging, pulling, slashing and then burning. Rampant invasive growth of Kikuyu and Wandering Jew is another story.
The saw-tooth polyhouse was no longer in commercial use – apparently the previous owners grew Sandersonias for export for a few years before out time. We’re not commercial growers – just lifestylers with home gardening opportunities to be developed over time. A weedy site, weedmat helped smother the weeds. The overhead watering system was revamped. We reclad the roof with heavy storm-grade plastic. There is a scoria base hence the drainage is good. I don’t know how to work a polyhouse in terms of horticulture. We have tended to use this building in part as a very big ‘plastic’ shed where we store bales of hay made in our paddocks.
Himself constructed wooden pens to rear calves during winter-spring months. It’s warm and dry for them as we have sawdust layer on top of the weedmat in their pens. These young animals go from the shed out into the paddocks and onto the grass as they grow bigger.
In another area, I’ve managed to grow aubergines, beans and tomatoes reasonably well using a dripper system for irrigation. It gets too hot for growing anything over the summer months there’s little ventilation other than rolling up the wall sides and roof vent. Lots of learning from the experience happening here.