Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smallest Farm Sunday

Season Starts on Smallest Farm

I'm not going to claim the Obamas stole my idea--there was a grassroots or shall we say carrot roots effort behind it--but we Smallest Farmers now have the presidential seal of approval.

Here in the Miller-Orchard neighborhood, we have an earliest ever start on the smallest farm, with the first official crops going in the ground on Saturday, March 21. That's a week ahead of last year. It was a perfect all-sunny day, with rain forecast (accurately) for today, so I spent about nine hours straight digging and planting and pruning, with help from the junior farmhands. We're seeing the catnip sprouting in several patches, which is a good sign that we actually have spring.

Last year I spent all winter planning and mapping on graph paper, with mixed success in the final product. My pumpkin and squash vines overran the south garden, and my hot peppers were too close to a walnut tree that lowered their yield. (Walnut roots contain a chemical called juglone that inhibits growth of nightshade-family plants like peppers, tomatoes and eggplant). The boys are hoping for better pumpkin success than last year, when the giant pumpkins stared to grow, reached about normal pumpkin size, then inexplicably rotted on the vine.

This year I'm less scripted, with little more than a big-picture plan. We'll let the volunteers grow where they grow, and this being an odd-numbered year the elections are smaller so I'll have more time at the end of the season.

The two gardens are flipped this year. Hayden learned about George Washington Carver and crop rotation in school and now he's getting a real life lesson. (He also wanted to plant peanuts but he's accepted that we can't grow them this far north). The north garden will be dominated by corn and the pole bean fence. A massive trimming on an inconveniently placed tree (now just a tall skinny twig with a tuft of leaves at the top) has increased the sunshine just south of the north garden. The vining plants will be planted along the south edge of the north garden, trained out through the fence, and allowed to sprawl out into the yard. This will expand the garden size yet save me the work of moving the fence. (I still need some chicken wire; the fence kept big wabbits out but let baby wabbits in).

The south garden will have the peppers and tomatoes, and was the site of yesterday's season-starting planting of peas, spinach, lettuce and radishes. The north row will be a wall of sunflowers, planted from last year's saved seed. I've also got saved seed from beans, catnip, cilantro, and acorn squash. I wish I still had saved seed from my purple pod pole beans; I haven't been able to find that since about 2000. All I find now are purple bush beans and I haven't planted a bush bean since 1995. That was the first year I planted pole beans, still my favorite garden thing.

I'm also making a second effort at what we'll call the west garden--a round patch maybe 10 feet circular that had been dominated by a weed patch. I dug it up last year and planted flowers, but the weeds overtook them. Only the catnip held its own. This year I dug it up again, yanked up some more roots, and planted some herbs yesterday: basil and cilantro. I may try to get some okra over there, or I may put that in the south garden.

We also have a remnant of this neighborhood's orchard roots: an actual apple tree. I'd like to prune that to help its fruit production, but it's also Ethan's favorite climbing tree. I'll settle for just actually picking apples this year; that was one of the casualties of my late season lack of time in a presidential year.

We'll have pictures through the season, unfortunately my camera's memory card is in my still in the shop main laptop.

One last ag note: next year's sec of ag race is warming up as Bleeding Heartland reports on Fairfield organic dairy farmer Francis Thicke getting in on the Dem side. Folks think this means Denise O'Brien is out; in the meantime I can't find any evidence on what Dusky Terry has been up to since the end of the Vilsack presidential race.

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