Playing in the dirt.

Posts tagged ‘Soil’

We Are Go!

It’s official, there are seeds in the ground.  Repeat, there are seeds in the ground.

Yesterday, I pulled all the staples holding down the chicken wire, watered the soil, then raked in two bags of compost to make up for what I took out in produce last year and what settling there was over the winter.  Then I ran out of steam.

Tonight, I re-strung my square foot markers, and planted one square each of:

  • Onions for greens and sets for next year
  • Shallots for the same reason, though some of these might actually get large enough to eat
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Kale
  • Radicchio
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips
  • Carrots (Paris Market)
  • Carrots (Dragon)
  • Daikon radishes
  • Radishes (Early Scarlet Globe)
  • Radishes (French Breakfast)
  • Spinach
  • Lolla Rossa lettuce
  • Bunte Forellenschluss lettuce
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Red Romaine lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Mizuna
  • Kohlrabi

All of those should be okay even if we get another freeze, and some are supposed to be planted before the last frost, anyway.  We’re technically a month away from our average last frost, but the forecast for the next week at least is 70s during the day, and above 40 at night (Fahrenheit, for my non-USian readers).  I have plastic milk jugs to cut down for cloches, and I can throw sheets over the bed cover if the weather turns on us again, so I’m pretty confident.  This is a little earlier than last year’s first planting, which happened on May 27.  I’ll be planting additional squares of most of these after I get the new beds built.


Patience, Shmatience

One of the trials of gardening at 7200 feet is the short growing season.  We’ve had a couple of shirt-sleeves days, but our last frost date isn’t until June sometime.  I, however, have had entirely enough store-bought produce.  So along with starting my Anaheim and Pasilla Bajio pepper seeds today, I filled a couple of long planters with mushroom compost left over from last year and planted some assorted lettuces and lettuce-like things, and some chives.

Three Jiffy starter boxes and two long, pale green planters filled with mushroom compost join some empty water bottles on a table.

The bottles are to cut down for small pots to put the onions in when they need more space than their tiny   starter peats.

I planted iceberg, red romaine, Lollo Rossa, Bunte Forellenschluss, arugula, spinach, mizuna, lovage, and chives.  The peppers are in the covered Jiffy starter box.  I started the peppers on a Friday, so there would be two days before I see them again, which will hopefully make it feel like less time until the excitement of sprouts.

The onion sprouts are just visible in the front starter box on the left side.  They have had a small haircut to keep them from falling over, so I’ve already had my first harvest this season–I put the trimmings on my tuna sandwich for lunch that day!  I am hoping they didn’t get so tall due to insufficient light…the table is directly under a skylight, but the angle of the sun puts the most direct light about two feet on the other side of that cubical wall to the right for now.  (By midsummer, it will be shining directly onto that table, and I will be considering wearing my sunglasses at my desk.)  I guess I’ll have my answer when I see if my pepper plants get all leggy on me or not.

Soil from Scratch

I’ve talked some about the poor soil in my area, and the need to mix up some decent soil if I want anything to grow.  For reasons of living somewhat off the more beaten paths, I ended up deciding on a mix of 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, 1/3 mushroom compost, and 1/3 steer manure/compost blend.  For a bed 8′ long by 4′ wide by 8″ deep, I needed 24 cubic feet of soil ingredients.  A slight miscalculation, though, since the interior measurement is actually 7’8″ long by 3’8″wide, which means I really only needed about 21 cubic feet of soil materials.

Or so you would think, right?

I’d read that peat moss expanded, so there might be some leftover soil that could be added as the mix settled.  I hadn’t read that “some leftover soil” would be nearly half the materials I purchased.

I had also read about a method to mix soil by pouring the ingredients on one end of a tarp, and walking the end back and forth a few times, then walking it it side to side a few times, but most places cautioned that trying to mix the whole lot at once was too heavy, so I decided to start with a fourth of my materials.  That was also too heavy, but might not have been with a second person to help manage both the tarp and the weight.

Two bags of steer manure/compost blend, two bags of mushroom compost, and one bag of peat moss stacked on a tarp.

There’s actually very little dirt in soil…

I cut the second quarter in half again, and only mixed half a bale of peat moss, one bag of mushroom compost, and one bag of the steer manure mix, but after wrangling the first batch, even that was a little on the heavy side.  The other half of the second quarter I just broke up the peat moss on the tarp and dumped it along one side of the bed, poured a bag of mushroom compost down the middle, and added a bag of steer manure blend down the other side, and mixed it all with a hoe, going back and forth across the rows of ingredients.  I think for a single (mostly able-bodied) person doing the work, that this was the easiest method available to me.  I am considering renting a small cement mixer for next year’s additions.

That first half of the materials filled the bed to within a half inch of the top, so I watered it well and let it sit for a week.  It rained a few times, and the wind has been howling for days, drying everything out, so it should have been alternately beaten down by water and then dried by the wind, shrinking it further.

By today, it had only settled another half an inch.  I threw up my hands and added two more bags of mushroom compost and mixed it into the top layer of mix with a hoe, since part of the peat moss’ job is to make my soil stick together, so it doesn’t blow away.  It would have been kind of silly to just put the light and crumbly mushroom compost on top only to let it end up miles away.  It was late, since I’d had to wait for the wind to die down, so I watered it down and called it a night.

Getting Dirty

One of the major challenges I’ll be dealing with is the abysmal soil quality in my local area.  There is very little organic matter, so we’re left with a layer of fine sand over a layer of hard clay, mixed with assorted rocks.  It’s excellent if you’re a rabbit or badger or fox, and it grows bunch grass and sagebrush pretty well, but it doesn’t grow much in the way of salad fixings for people.

A field of grass with a wire panel fence and some assorted buildings in the background.

Home, home on the range.

It’s pretty, though, for those who like a long distance view with the weighty presence of mountains in the distance.  (That’s me.)  This photo was taken at about 6pm.  If I’d taken it at 6am, it would have been white — we woke up to snow this morning.

If you can imagine what it would be like to move across something halfway between firm sod and dry beach sand, that will give you an idea of the texture involved.  Where the grass is bunched up, it’s solid, but in between the bunches, it’s loose and fine and blows away.  Since the wind blows most of the time here, there are many places where the soil has eroded so much between clumps that the grass seems to be standing on its root-tips, as if it is prepared to run away from peckish pronghorns.

The only real answer for this on a small scale is to make good soil from scratch, then keep it in a box, so it doesn’t blow into the midwest.  Mr. Teaspoon, as promised, kindly picked up my dirt ingredients today.  Since I plan a 4’x8′ bed, 8″ deep, I need 24 cubic feet of soil.  My original plan was to use coir, vermiculite and and a couple of different kinds of compost.  As mentioned yesterday, I could stick to the plan, or I could have a garden this year, so instead, I’m using 8 cubic feet of peat moss, 8 cubic feet of mushroom compost, and 8 cubic feet of a steer manure/compost blend.  There are a couple of well-rotted bales of straw lying about the place, so I’ll likely mix in one or two of those to make up for some of the aeration and structure I had to sacrifice, and I’ll just have to water a bit more often to make up for not being able to get my hands on the moisture-retentive vermiculite this year.

Bags of mushroom compost, steer manure and peat moss on a blue tarpaulin.

A (co)m(p)ost humble beginning.


8-1 cu.ft. bags mushroom compost @ 3.38 ea. for $27.04

8-1 cu.ft. bags steer manure/compost blend @ 1.47 ea. for $11.76

4-2.2 cu. ft. bags peat moss @ 9.11 ea. for $36.44

and sales tax of $4.51

added to the $16.07 in seeds and tarp yesterday makes the total expenses so far $95.82.

My original budget was $200, but I hoped to come in well under that.  If Mr. Teaspoon makes it to the lumber yard tomorrow, I hope he’s able to find a good deal.