Friday, December 30, 2016

Sewing: SWAP Again Again

So, I noticed that the really long knit skirts were so long that they were hanging up on the top of my short boots. I was considering taking off four inches next time. I had a length of black woollyish knit that I thought was a bit short for the full-length pattern. So I made a shorter copy in black. Turns out that I would have had enough fabric, but, so be it.

I also timed the sewing. From picking up the prewashed fabric off the shelf, to putting the last stitch in the skirt, was two hours and twenty minutes. McCall's 6654 is a really simple skirt to make.

I realized that my "replace jeans" scheme should include something to wear when I've been too lazy to press shirts--because woven home-sewn shirts almost always need pressing. So I'm adding a black tee as a part of the scheme.

And this wipes out the difference between the more and less ambitious versions, leaving me with (boldface items are complete):

  1. Purchased black long-sleeved tee.
  2. Early Bird indigo silk/linen jacket.
  3. Pale grey knit skirt.
  4. Dark grey knit skirt.
  5. Black knit skirt
  6. Darkish green knit skirt.
  7. Jacket two
  8. Jacket three.
  9. Shirt one
  10. Shirt two
  11. Shirt three
I may have the green skirt done as soon as tonight. The jackets will be relatively easy, assuming I continue with the comfortably rumply theme of the indigo jacket. Then, for the shirts, I'll need to fit a new pattern, and progress will sloooooow.

Returning to add: Update! Green skirt's done!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sewing: SWAP Again

OK, maybe every-other-day-ly blogging?

I finished another copy (copy? what do you call another rendition of basically the same thing?) of the knit skirt, in a nicer knit. It's dark gray; the previous one, which I'm wearing again, is light gray. I'm new to sewing knits, and realized (after the hem of the first one "popped" when I got into the car) that I needed a stretchier stitch. I used the "lightning" stitch on my Viking Rose, which I think is a stretch stitch, though I'm not quite positive because I couldn't immediately find the manual. I'll use the same stitch to re-do the hem on the first one.

Next I'll make a dark-green skirt. Then a black skirt. That will more than fill the "skirts" requirement for my SWAP.

Have I blogged any detail for my SWAP? (SWAP: Sewing With A Plan, an 11-piece sewing challenge managed at Artisan's Square.)  I'm calling it the Maybe I'll Do It This Time SWAP, because I keep planning SWAPs and never finish them. The theme here is to have clothes that replace jeans.

I have two variants, one more ambitious and one less, both listed below. The ones in bold are done. I'll probably re-post statuses and fabric choices.

  1. Grey knit skirt from McCall's 6654, view E--a long columnar knit skirt.
  2. Mossy green knit skirt, same pattern.
  3. Black knit skirt, same pattern.
  4. Silk/linen blend indigo blue jacket, made between 11/5 and 12/26, and therefore qualifying as an "early bird" garment.
  5. Another raglan jacket.
  6. A short cape.
  7. A drop-sleeve straight-hem woven shirt.
  8. And another one.
  9. And another one
  10. And the same again.
  11. And yet again.

And now the less ambitious, again with the completed items in bold.
  1. An existing self-sewn gored skirt in a washable black and white "denim".
  2. My existing long straight knit dark brown wool boucle purchased skirt.
  3. The grey knit skirt from above.
  4. The "wearable muslin" grey knit skirt.
  5. The green knit skirt from above.
  6. The brown jacket from above.
  7. The silk/linen jacket from above.
  8. Another raglan jacket
  9. A drop-sleeve straight-hem woven shirt.
  10. And another one.
  11. And another one.
Neither of them are very exciting. I have vague ambition of adding a little excitement to the remaining jackets. We'll see.


That is all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sewing Again: Ha!

I finished another thing! McCall's 6654, view E--a long columnar knit skirt. I used a very cheap and disturbingly off-grain knit, so I assumed that I was just creating a muslin to check the fit. But it actually hangs and looks just fine--a nice plain greyish skirt.

I'm wearing it right now as I lounge on the couch. That's what I made it for--I want to wear skirts instead of jeans, but I want the skirts to be just as comfortable as the jeans. This one, so far, seems to work.

But it's not really interesting enough to photograph. So I won't.

That is all.

Sewing: Whimsey

Willow: How come you didn't tell me I look like a crazy birthday cake in this shirt?
Buffy: I thought that was the point.

I finished a jacket! Ha! And looking like a crazy birthday cake is absolutely the point.

The body is fuzzy green cotton, while the collar and cuffs are silk chiffon in a pattern of white and purple circles on grey, with purple silk layered under it to add body to the chiffon and add more purple to the silk. Then there are shiny German glass buttons, plus one big throat button. For glitter.

All whacky. Yay!

Monday, December 26, 2016

So, "daily" lasted one day. I'll just declare Christmas as a holiday.

Today is the starting day for the Stitcher's Guild 2017 SWAP--that thing where you create 11 garments few months. I should be starting, but I'm typing here, in between looking at vintage jewelry on Etsy.

I've been putting all sorts of things in various Favorites lists, and I'm discovering that I have slightly disturbing taste. A large percentage of the brooches that I've Favorited look like something that could come to life and attack.

And all that glitter craving is leaking into my sewing plans. I'm looking for excuses to add beads and shiny buttons, but puzzling over how to deal with laundering the theoretical garments.


OK, I really really should try to sew now.

Photo: By D. Sharon Pruitt. Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Maybe Daily Blogging: Vacation!

Write. Write. Writey write write.

I'm on vacation. (Woohoo!) And I'd like to ease back into a writing habit, at least a bloggy writing habit. So, write. Tappitytap.

Have I mentioned that I apparently type at 110 words per minute? I took one of those online tests, and I don't offhand see a reason for them to boost my ego by lying about my typing speed. And that's actually after a lot of backspace-correction, so I'd guess that my flying fingers are actually typing at something closer to, oh, 130 or more.


Below, I realize that there are a lot of producty things. So, I'll just say here that no, they didn't pay me.

I've discovered that Etsy has a lot of vintage rhinestone jewelry. A whole lot. And a much better interface than eBay. This is a very dangerous fact to learn. Especially since while I'm looking at the rhinestone stuff, I see other stuff.

I'm planning to sew over vacation, too. My goal is to find the clothes that I will actually wear instead of jeans. Random thoughts (writey write write) include:

  • Columnar knit skirts, like McCall's 6654, view E. (Picture here.) I have one columnar knit skirt, in wool, and I wear it probably as often as all of my other winter skirts combined. I find the shape to be the most flattering on my hip-heavy figure--having a skirt expand to my hips and then keep expanding, as an A-line does, doesn't work for me in the mirror. But a narrow woven skirt isn't comfortable enough for me, hence the knit.
  • Drop-sleeve woven shirts, long, with a straight hem, intended to be worn untucked. I'm going to start with the Style Arc Lauren Boyfriend Shirt. (Picture here.) I'll extend the length, make it the same length front and back, give it a straight deep hem with mitered corners and vents, and make a variation with a faced neckline instead of a collar. 
  • Straight-hanging cardigan outer layers. For the woven one, as described a few posts ago, I've been working on Butterick 5261 (Picture here), an out-of-print raglan shirt jacket.  I made the straight-hem version once with almost no alterations, other than making the hem deeper and finishing it with mitered corners, and replacing the gathers in the cuffs with tinytiny pleats. I thought that was likely a failure, but then I wore it a few days ago and it worked just fine.
Next would be a woven cardigan outer layer. And as part of a theoretical travel wardrobe that I'll probably post about soon, I'd like a knit tee, though I debate whether that's worth developing as a pattern versus just buying it. But the above three are more than enough for several days of sewing.

My main concern with all of the above is the likely shapelessness--there's nothing to give me even a hint of an inner curve at the waist. But I keep reminding myself that the goal here is to stop wearing jeans, and even a shapeless skirt outfit will be more flattering to me than jeans.

So. That is all. I might go trace patterns now.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Blogging: Post Something

Goodness. I thought I'd be posting within minutes of that last administrivia post. But not so much.



I haven't yet figured out what causes the spurts of regular posting and the intervening lulls. This appears to be a lull. But I thought I'd type, just to see what happens.

Tappity tap.

I'm watching Bob's Burgers. It's become one of my very favorite TV shows. Which is impressive, since I don't like cartoons. Louise is my favorite. Right now she's trying to persuade Teddy to let her "inspect" his blow torch.


Again the um.

"All right, this is going to be fun. We have a babysitter and a lot of alcohol."

Yes, that's Bob on a later episode of Bob's Burgers. They're on the wine train. The steward just severely displeased Louise and kept her from the chocolate. He's gonna pay. Don't thwart Louise. She's rather like Helena that way. From Orphan Black. You know.

Here's another Louise link. For your entertainment.


OK, that appears to be all.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Blogging: NoTheyDidntPayMe

Blogs so often have affiliate links or sponsored posts or such things, that I hesitate to mention any product at all, much less link to it. I fear that people will not only think that I'm being paid for doing so, but that I'm failing to disclose that I'm being paid for doing so.

So I'm adding a new label, NoTheyDidntPayMe, and creating this post as something to link to. For the record, and as mentioned on my Policies page, I don't accept free products other than perfume samples in my role as ordinary customer. (In the past, I accepted a few perfume samples in my role as a blogger. I don't even do that any more.) I don't have affiliate links or sponsored posts or advertising. I don't intend to earn one penny or one piece of swag from this blog. I have no issue with people who do earn from their blogs, but I just don't want to deal with the complexities.

If I mention a product it's just because I like it. That's true whether I think to link to this post or not.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rambling: The Season Turns

So, it's November and the garden is done bearing. Well, mostly. I did just thin the carrots, rather late, so there's a Ziploc of baby carrots in the fridge waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. And some scallions and leeks saying, "Look, we grew; aren't you going to do something with us?" And some lettuce occasionally inching along when there's a pocket of warm weather. And so on.

But there's only so much to do in the garden right now, and the sewing machine and serger said, "Ahem. Remember us?" So I'm sewing. 

From far too many patterns new and old, I chose Butterick 5261, an out-of-print raglan shirt jacket pattern (see pattern envelope here), to work on. First I made a too-large size in a silk/linen blend in a denim blue. Then I started a a smaller but still-too-large-size in a nice lofty green cotton flannel with a small woven pattern The main body is done and pressed and topstitched's too big. I'll finish it anyway. I'm hoping that I end up using them--I do like oversized clothes, but when I sew clothes I feel that they should fit. Maybe I should pretend I bought them.

Why did I make the wrong size twice? Frankly, I got tired of making muslins--two patterns had failed at the muslin stage, so I chose a simple style in a size that I knew would be big enough and just made it up in real fabric.  When I reduced the size I chose a sturdier fabric, and a sturdier fabric needs less ease, so the smaller size was just as too big. Whee!

Anyway. I think that the right size would be to go down yet two more sizes above the waist, one size at the waist, while staying at the current size at my hips. I want to persuade myself to finish that process; I tend to get irritated before a pattern is fitted and move on to the next one, ensuring that I never make a garment that really fits. The Liberty Shirt, for example, has been waiting a year or so for me to fix the armhole for my odd shoulders, and add an inch or two to the length. I love that shirt, but I just don't want to do the work.

Meanwhile, I've been doing almost no writing. I'm going to try to resume random burbling on the blog. We'll see how it goes.

That is all.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Prep and Planting: Garlic Again

I planted half the garlic. And shallots. And multiplier onions. Just in case I don't get to the other half, I planted half of each of the eight varieties.


Apparently that is all.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rambling: Hobbies Again

I'm melting, melting!

Not really. But that's how I sometimes feel when a hobby-eager brain abruptly loses interest. My garden-planning notebook is on the table next to me, and I'm not driven to open it. I was going to look up more cultivars of cosmos, and now...meh. I was going to order radish, it's probably too late in the year anyway. Sewing? Yeah, whatever.

I suspect it's about sunlight or shortening days or some such thing. I'm sure I'll be over it soon. But I wish it would hurry up.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rambling: Hobbies

I continue to plan next year's farm.  The plan's settled down a bit, so there's less to blog about. I always find it vaguely disorienting when a hobby that has filled my brain to overflowing suddenly leaves room to spare. I'm still taking notes, drawing plans, choosing varieties, but it's just polishing and refining right now.

So the other hobbies edge in, peering and sniffing and vying for space. NaNoWriMo is on its way. The seasonal shift in my perfume preferences should be finished soon, so I could start in with the perfume again. I want to make a few more of a particular skirt that I wore over and over this summer. There's some cooking that I'm thinking about. I have a stack of books that I started reading and didn't finish. And so on.

But I want to avoid that splintered focus thing. My mind seems to be healing up, at least in the hobby realm (the work realm is another matter), but I don't want to start pulling it in a dozen directions again.

Maybe habits don't splinter focus as much? I've been working on a walking habit (Exercise? Exercise? Nooooo!) and a morning writing habit. Is there a place for a sewing habit, too?

Splinter splinter.

We'll see.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Patient Garden: Seed Fantasies

So, a large part of gardening is musing over seed catalogs--and, these days, seed catalog sites. Actually, I sometimes wonder if the actual dirt-and-plants part is just there to serve the catalog part, instead of the other way around. I think I'm joking when I say that. But I'm not sure.

So, the new candidates of the moment (for next year's garden) are:

Jimmy Nardello Italian Peppers: I wasn't going to grow peppers next year, but that didn't stop me from paging through the pepper section of the 2015 Baker Creek catalog. These jumped out at me, looking so classically pepper-like that they almost didn't seem real. But  don't like hot...wait, they're not hot peppers. But I won't eat all the fresh...wait, they can be dried. Patient food!

They're frying peppers. I don't really understand the idea of frying peppers (You cut them up and fry them with onions and put them on steak sandwiches, is that it?) but, hey, frying! And they're in the Ark of Food, so they're, well, cool.  Twice-cooked says that they have "an almost-overwhelming fruity sweetness that, when cooked, becomes creamy and complex". Well. Who wouldn't want to grow that? And, even better, apparently Territorial sells them as plants, so if I want to spend extra money, I can save myself the labor and uncertainty of growing them from seed. Well, they sold them as plants this past year--I don't know if they will this coming year.

So I've evicted something--I don't recall what--from the garden plan, to devote one bed to them. Of course, they could be evicted in turn, but I don't think so.

Ananas Noire Tomatoes: Next year's garden plan has four tomato plants. Just four. That's more tomatoes than we need, but which four?  This is complicated by the fact that we like our tomatoes very sweet and very low acid. And that's complicated by the fact that apparently sweet tomatoes aren't sweet due to sugar, but due to flavor aromatics that make them seem sweet. Or some such thing.

That doesn't help us pick a tomato. For years, we've been chasing a holy-grail tomato that a friend once gave us. It was orange, smooth-skinned, round, medium-sized. Last year I tried several orange tomatoes without success; this year I'm going to abandon the quest for that specific tomato and just go for "sweetest."

Ananas Noire sounds good, looks delightfully freakish (that's it in the photo), and it has the advantage of also maybe being available as a plant.

Mountain Magic Tomatoes are/were also available as a plant, and are sort of on the other end of the heirloom-to-modern spectrum. Red, round, smooth, crack-resistant, disease resistant--but apparently low-acid and sweet. Territorial pictures them as dried tomatoes as well, which is an interesting concept just in case we decide to break down and get a food dryer.

Surprisingly, that's just about all. For now.

Nardello Pepper Image: Territorial Seeds.
Ananas Noire Image: Territorial Seeds.

Edited to note that I have no affiliation with Territorial. It feels weird that I feel obligated to say that a company isn't compensating me to mention them. But when I mention a company in a post, I assume that people will tend to assume that they are. See? 

OK, that's all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blogging: Housekeeping

So is this a gardening blog? A perfume blog? A diary?

Nobody knows. But I've tweaked it just a bit, added a list of the six main topics, added a glossary to point to when I feel that some context is called for, removed some pages that I was failing to maintain, and, well, there we are.

I also removed a fair number of blogs from my blogroll--the ones that haven't had a post in so long that it seems likely that they've gone permanently idle. And now I feel bad, because I'll probably never know if they've re-awakened now. But it's done.

The garden is gently winding down. There's still plenty to write about. I have a dozen photos on my phone recording the process of shelling my corn. And I'll be putting in the garlic. And there's bed after bed after bed to prep, in gaps in the rain, on until spring. And the ittybitty lawn at the farm wants seeding. Plenty to write about.

But my mind is occasionally looking up and around and noting, "You know, I used to write about perfume." And in addition to the Farmer to Farmer podcast, I've started listening to Seamwork Radio.    And thinking about notions that I might want to gather for some sewing over Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  And NaNoWriMo is coming up. Winter hobbies.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Patient Garden Crop: Lettuce again, and some rambling about seedlings

So, seedlings are not patient creatures. The plant is trapped in a tiny volume of dirt, totally dependent on you to come to its rescue when it needs water, food, light, more root room, whatever. First it wants the lights closer, closer, I'm starving! Then further, further, you're croooowding me! And water me, water me, water me right bleeping now! That's too much! Drain off the excess! My feet are all wet now! I think I see a mildew spore! Heeeeeeeelp!


But seeding in place isn't so straightforward either, at least for small seeds like lettuce. Their demands for water are, if anything, even more frantic, since the weather conditions are less controlled. And the imperfect conditions in general mean that I can't rely on every seed, or even every third seed, to sprout. I can plant three bean or corn seeds and expect two or three of them to come up; for me, the same is not true of lettuce. Part of the issue there may be lettuce seed's demand to simultaneously (1) be damp and (2) be exposed to light, in order to germinate.

I had some success with a couple of lettuce plantings, using two changes of strategy:

Soaker drills with automated watering: "Soaker drills" meaning the lines of mini soaker hose, running along slits cut in the weed fabric, that I've been mentioning in the past few posts. (If I'm going to keep making up my own phrases, maybe this blog needs a glossary.) The soakers are right next to the seed, and the automated watering timer allows us to run the watering for five minutes a day (well, we could even water for one minute a day, I believe) in addition to the usual substantial watering every several days. So the seeds don't dry out.

Presprouting the seed: Following, I believe, Carol Deppe's directions, I made myself a sprouter with a canning jar and a piece of window screening fine enough to keep the seeds in. I dump in about half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of lettuce seed (which is a lot of lettuce seed--I've been buying the larger packets since I started this) and run enough water into the jar to get it all wet. Then I pour the water out through the screen and shake the jar a bit to get the seeds to release from the screen and fall down onto the glass. The seeds should end up just damp, not in standing water. I repeat the rinse-and-drain two or three times a day.

To the right is a picture of the sprouting jar. That unappetizing-looking stuff clinging to the glass is the damp lettuce seed.

I realize that "two or three times a day" and "patient" don't really seem to mesh. But it happens to be patient enough for me, because I'm going to use the sink that the jar is sitting next to several times a day anyway. And if I slip and don't plant, all I've lost is some seed, which is why I'm buying the larger packets.

The impatient part of this is that the seeds need to be planted within roughly two days of starting the process. Or at least I think they do. By twenty-four hours after the first wetting, I can usually see little barely visible tendrils breaking their way out of a few of the seeds. By two or three days, a lot of the seeds have breakthrough and some of the tendrils are starting to look long enough to break with handling.

Just because I would have liked to know what lettuce really looks like when germination is well advanced, I offer someone else's picture. It looks like, yes, it would  certainly make long, if I waited too long. So far, I've caught the seed before the tendril is longer than the seed.

So I did this, twice--soaked seed, planted it in two or three days next to mini soakers, and waited. And it did great. Too great. It was essentially impossible to get the seed out in anything but clumps, so I got clumps of three, five, ten lettuce plants all fighting it out in the same spot. I thinned where I could, but most of the plants were so close together that it was impossible to thin down to just one; removing its companions would have damaged the survivor's roots too much.

Last weekend I started gently digging up entire clumps and setting the tiny plants at a measured spacing. It seems to have worked, and the result is that I have lots of decent lettuce seedlings now at a time when it's getting a bit late to start new lettuce from seed. So, yay.

But I'd rather plant at a better spacing in the first place. Two weekends ago, before the transplanting experiment, I decided to test the possibility that the drills alone were the cause of the sprouting success and that the presprouting was unnecessary. I dug a tiny barely-visible trench down a drill, got a pinch of seed between dry fingers, and dropped seed. by. seed. by. seed. down the trench. Then I covered it all with vermiculate and hoped.

The result: Meh. One of the two varieties of lettuce planted that way seems to be coming up fairly nicely; the other hasn't shown its head. That's interesting--I expected universal failure or universal success--but it's not reliable enough. And the successful one took the full two weeks to get big enough (about the size of half a sequin) for me to feel even slightly confident that it's lettuce and not weeds. The failed lettuce variety might still emerge, but I'm realizing that I've already gotten used to and spoiled by the speed with which presprouted lettuce starts growing.

So I'm back to presprouting. A few pinches of Merlot lettuce are sitting in my sprouter. My next strategy for getting a more normal spacing is the cornstarch method, where you make a thin cornstarch slurry, mix the seeds into it, spoon the mixture into a Ziploc, cut a tiny hole in one corner, and squeeze the seed/cornstarch mixture out as if you're decorating a cake. I'm going to take pictures as I do that, and post again with the pictures if it works.

Which makes me think about the nature of this blog. I suspect that a normal responsible blogger would try new things, maybe a few times, and only after working out the kinks give you a nice professional informed post about how to use that technique.

Not me. I seem to prefer blogging my uncertainty.

That is all.

Sprouting jar image: Mine.
Lettuce tureen image: Wikimedia Commons.
Germinating lettuce image: By Rasbak at nl.wikipedia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Patient Garden Crop: Parch Corn

So, dried corn is a pretty patient crop. At least, it was for me this year. I'm working out how to make it even more so next time.

Dig. This can be done at my leisure, as far ahead of planting as I please. No impatience here. And I can prep deeper now that I have the broadfork.

Fertility. Corn should be fed during the growing season, at fairly specific intervals. This year I got away without doing that, but I suspect that the crop suffered--the stalks seemed rather spindly. I got about one ear per plant. I don't know if that's a good crop for this variety or not.

Post-planting fertilization is an issue for the whole farm. I can't lift the weed cloth once a crop is in progress, so I can't add more solid fertilizer. And I'd rather avoid mixing up fish-and-seaweed; having to do so at specific times is an "impatient" requirement. So I need to sit down and do my research on slow-release fertility--rock phosphate and greensand and such. Neither of those take care of nitrogen, though. Is a legume cover crop an option? Does it provide slow-release nitrogen as it decays? Research.

Then there's water. The farm has automated watering, but the corn beds this year were watered with tubing with fairly widely spaced emitters, so there was no guarantee that water would be right on the seeds or seedlings. So I did some hand watering, which is incompatible with the patience thing. The drill-and-mini-soakers would take care of that. Really, I should grit my teeth and trust that the seed will emerge from one good soaking at planting time, but the precisely placed watering will be good for the rest of the season.

Planting? I planted the seed in groups of three, the seeds an inch apart, the groups eighteen inches apart. The idea is to end up with one plant every eighteen-or-so inches. Next time I would plant the seeds more like three inches apart, because by the time I got around to thinning, I was afraid that ripping the losers out of the ground might cause root damage to the winners.

I might also increase the per-plant spacing. That might help with the fertilizer question--the wider the spacing, the more nutrients for each plant to rummage around for.

Then? When the corn was up and thinned, I was pretty much done until harvest.  (Weeding? You might ask. Remember, weed cloth.) I admired the corn patch and was pleased with each stage. Getting tall! Tassels! Ears! Kernels in ears! Kernels turning red! Kernels no longer puncturable with a fingernail! Woo!

Then, harvest. The corn was near dry by the time I harvested it, but the harvest window felt a little tight. If the rainy season had started early, I would have had to harvest still-soft corn pretty quickly and fuss over getting it to dry without molding. A shorter number of days to harvest would be better.

So, next time: Consider a shorter-season corn, prep deeper and plusher with the best slow-release fertilizer scheme I can think of, choose a wider spacing, use mini-soaker drills, plant seeds further apart in their groups (marching along a drill), soak the planted seed and force myself to wait for emergence, and water rarely but deeply.

OK, then.

Meanwhile, I'll admire the corn picture.

Image: Mine.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Prep and Planting: Garlic

This weekend, I prepped beds 6B through 6E (96 square feet) for garlic, even though the garlic hasn't arrived yet. I'm doing work even though there is no neglected plant material slowly dying in the fridge or on the porch.

Yay me!

The (excessive) detail: I broadforked the beds to loosen the soil down to twelve inches. Then I used a digging fork to break up the big surface clods from the broadfork. Then I tried to (mis)use the hula hoe to break up the small surface clods from the digging fork. Then I watered the bed to soften up the remaining dry bits, and I'm planning to come back and repeat the hula hoe part after it's had a chance to soak in and mellow.

This is a lot of tool time. It probably wouldn't have been necessary if the soil had been in better shape, so in the hope of making it all easier next year, I added double the usual annual compost when I added fertilizer. I don't think these beds got any this year.

After all that, I cut slits in the weed cloth for drills and assembled soaker hose, etc., etc., in the usual way. The new usual way. As in this post. So, except for the final hula hoe run and stapling down the weed cloth and soakers, the beds are ready. I'm pleased with myself for doing the job thoroughly and not stalling on anything that could be done. That finishing thing.

I need to prep three more beds for the garlic. Plus one for the potato onions. And one for the shallots. Y'know, later. Meanwhile, ow.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Patient Garden: Planning

So as the summer farm shuts down, I continue to plan the fall/winter/spring-all-those-future-times farm. I find myself looking at perfectly productive bean and tomato plants and demanding, "Are you done yet?" Bad ungrateful farmer.

Last year, my planning was all focused on a drawing of the farm. This year it's all about bed counts. The farm has a total of 120 beds, each with four feet by six feet of growing space. They're organized in rows One to Twelve, each with beds A-K. (Yes, that's eleven letters. We skip I to avoid confusion with J when rapidly scribbling. So, ten beds per row.)

But the count shrinks in the planning, as I reluctantly accept my limits--I'm not going to prep 120 beds to the plushness needed for vegetables and plant every one of them with different fancy things. At least not this year.

So rows One to Four--forty beds--are the pumpkin and flower patch. The flowers will be types that will consent to grow in lean soil, and while the pumpkins need to grow plush, each pumpkin plant will occupy more than one bed and won't need a lot of intensive planting.

So that leaves me with eighty beds.

Row Five is reserved for blueberries--all ten beds. I hope that we get the soil acidified and the blueberries planted this year--we've been planning it for the last two or three years. But whether we do or not, it's not going to be used for anything else. So, down to seventy beds.

Row Ten is all strawberries. And we're going to leave three beds each of the existing strawberry areas, so that's sixteen beds of strawberries, and fifty-four beds remaining.

Row Twelve will be all beans, Blue Lake and Fortex probably. Forty-four beds remaining.

There are a lot of salad greens and alliums and roots (carrots, beets, blah) that I want to plant and harvest, plant and harvest. I want lots of salad leaves, in particular as discussed in this post. So, ten beds, dotted here and there, will be "salad". Down to thirty-four.

Seven beds of garlic, plus one for grey French shallots and one for potato onions. Twenty-five.

While we're talking about onions, one bed for scallions, maybe perennial scallions. Twenty-four.

Four beds for herbs. Twenty.

We eat a lot of broccoli and cauliflower. So I've allotted them eight beds, ignoring the three beds already hosting overwintering versions. Twelve.

Three beds of Copra onions, because I miss them. But this year I'll grow them from seed. Buying plants just seems wrong. Nine.

Black currant bushes already occupy two beds. Seven.

Two beds for tomatoes, two plants each. Five. This is a huge tomato reduction. We didn't make much use of this year's tomatoes; I think that the reduction is appropriate.

Two beds for Armenian cucumbers, two plants each. Three.

And the last three beds will get raspberries, so that we're growing our three favorite soft fruits.

This leaves a few things out. If I fall in love with the parch corn, I'll eject something and put it back in. The same for the Candystick Delicata. And potatoes, potatoes, what to do about potatoes?

Anyway. There's also the question of succession plants. The crops that I've listed are just the priority crops for the beds--the crops that the bed is required to be ready for. But there's lots of time around these crops. The beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers won't go in until May. The garlic, shallots, and potato onions will be out sometime in midsummer.


That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Patient Garden: A Tale of Two Beds

I like to keep track of things. I want to keep track of my farming processes. So here I blog about my process for "flipping" a bed--taking a bed that's finished with its previous crop and preparing it for the next crop.

Have I mentioned my new broadfork? A broadfork is a bigger, freaky, acrobatic version of a regular digging fork. I want to dig deeper and better. but still dig mostly with hand tools, so I decided to try the People's Broadfork from Meadow Creatures, which is supposed to loosen the soil to a depth of twelve inches. The cool thing about a broadfork is that you don't push it down with your knees like a regular garden fork or like a shovel. Instead, you climb on top of it, using your weight, rather than your muscles, to push the thing into the ground. See the woman in the picture on the Meadow Creatures site? Like that. My knees have expressed a rather firm "Don't push me," attitude lately, so I like the idea of putting less load on them.

(And, no, Meadow Creatures did not pay me with chicken wings or perfume samples or garden equipment or anything else to mention them. I just like the fork.)

So. Earlier this year, I grew peas in two beds. They finished off sometime in midsummer, and I got around to snipping the plants off at ground level (the ones that didn't just break off) in...August? The idea of snipping rather than yanking was to leave their roots in the soil to decay and add organic matter. No, I have no idea whether this is actually a valid strategy.

My bed-flipping steps were:

I yanked the ground staples that were securing the weed cloth over the two beds, uncovering a four foot by twelve foot strip of dirt.

I broadforked the two beds. This took me about fifteen minutes, which is far less time and effort than it would have taken to dig the beds much more shallowly with a shovel. The photo below shows the halfway point--the left-hand side is forked; the right is still fairly compacted soil.

Below is the bed fully forked, with the broadfork triumphantly posing. 

The broadfork leaves pretty big clods. as you can see in the photo. Or at least, it leaves pretty big clods the way I use it--I may just have bad broadfork technique. A shovel would do the same. A regular garden fork would break the soil up finer. I'm debating how I feel about this. If I needed a really fine seedbed, I guess I could fork and then shallow-till with the electric tiller. But the below are my usual steps.

I sprinkled organic fertilizer over the whole space, using an amount at the high end of the cups-per-square-foot on the bag. I feel as if I should be composting or collecting herbivore manure or applying rock dust that will provide nutrients for years and/or brilliantly cover-cropping for fertility. But for now--bagged organic fertilizer. And sometimes rock phosphate. And I'm trying to find a reliable source of greensand.

And what about compost, you might ask? Well, I've been reading that I should perhaps minimize compost additions to avoid the threat of symphlans, and this bed got a generous dose of bagged organic compost before the peas. So no compost this round. These beds will probably get some when I refresh them again, maybe in late spring.

Then I broke up the big clods, by abusing my smaller hula hoe. You can see the job two-thirds done below. This is absolutely not what the hula hoe is made for, but it's by far my favorite tool for breaking up soil. I would be doing this if I had dug with a shovel or a conventional fork, too.

Then I manicured the bed. That is, I got down on my knees (Oof. Ow.) and ran my hands over the soil, squishing clods and smoothing it all out for a fairly even surface. 

Then I hooked up the watering.  The plan is to run three drills down each bed, so I plugged three lengths of mini soaker hose into the watering spine, each of them twelve feet long plus maneuvering slack.

Next, I re-covered the bed with the weed cloth, and cut slits for drills where the cloth previously had holes. Most of the ground is covered, and I can plant in the drills at whatever "spacing in the row" that I'd like to use.

Then I arranged the mini-soaker along the drills, and turned in the water for a leak test.

And it's done! Ready to plant. 

Other Images: Mine.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Harvest: Parch Corn!

I grew parch corn!

You're not excited enough.


Are you excited yet? I can get louder.

Specifically, Supai Red parch corn. This is my second time trying to grow it, and many years of wanting to try it.

Now, I haven't technically "tried" it yet, because I haven't parched any. I tried and failed. I think it needs to dry a while longer.

What is parching, you may ask? I'm not actually sure; my understanding is that it's something almost, but not entirely, unlike popcorn. Or sort of like puffed rice You heat it and it "poofs." I think.

It's beautiful, isn't it? I was hoping for a couple of ears, but instead I got about forty. So, yay!

If it never parches, it's still flour corn. Apparently all parch corn is flour corn. (But not all flour corn is parch corn.) So I'll find a way to grind it.

Anyway, yay!

That is all.

Images: Mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Patient Garden: Potatoes


Potatoes are the subsistence food, but they're also jolly. After the zombie apocalypse, we'll all be munching on French fries.

The problem with growing potatoes is the dirt. Now, everything grows in dirt, but for most crops, you  pretty up the dirt with fertilizer and compost and stuff, you pat it all down all nice and neat, you insert the seeds and/or plants, and then you're done with the dirt. Well, at least I'm done with the dirt, because I do that weed barrier thing.

Potatoes involve a lot of dirt encounters. First there's the normal soil prep, with an extra priority on that loose, friable soil thing. Then you're likely to dig a trench to plant the potatoes in. Then the potatoes come up and you bury their stems once, twice, maybe three or four times. By the end the trench has been filled and the bed is now likely mounded up to a hill. Dirt, dirt, dirt.

All that soft friable dirt stuff attracts (1) weeds and (2) cats seeking a warm sunny litterbox. I disapprove of both. In my single bed of potatoes last year I thwarted the cats with a layer of floating row cover. That didn't do a thing against the weeds (in fact, it probably encouraged them) and it also added heat to potatoes already coping with a too-warm spring. So that's not a plan.

After a fair bit of dithering and sketching, I dreamed up a scheme that involves cheap three-foot weed barrier or maybe paper row cover, Crystal Geyser one-gallon square jugs with the bottoms cut out, and, well, potatoes. I may blog a sketch later. Or photos even later. Details aside, the plan lets me cover most of the potato soil against the weeds and cats.

This method isn't "patient", because it requires that I show up at a fairly specific time to do the first hilling, but I'm trying to make that as easy as possible by digging the smallest possible trenchlike hole for each potato, thus requiring the smallest possible amount of soil for filling in--maybe little enough that I could ask a friend to do the first hilling if I'm going to be out of town. The second hilling will be much more work, but if the original hole is fairly nice and deep, it will be moderately optional.

All of this ignores the cost of inputs. In addition to compost and fertilizer, I'll need four feet of weed barrier and one Crystal Geyser jug per plant. (And, yes, I am getting the MacGyver vibe. I'm just ignoring it.) I want the cost of all that (admittedly, I guess I'm going to drink the water) to be lower than the value of the potatoes.

Though I'm going to do it either way, at least one year. Got to be prepared for the zombies.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Blogging: Patient Garden and that...thing

That thing. That thing. What do I mean?

See, the phrase "patient garden" means what I want it to mean--at least it to me. But when I say it so often it still has a sort of BrightHappy catchphrase feel. Maybe the BrightHappyness is the thing. See that picture? Bright and happy and scary as all get-out, right?

And the blog, for, oh, a whole two weeks or so, actually seems to have a (gulp) topic. It's (slightly) less diary-like and more information-like. It's not flitting around like a drunken flour moth. And that feels...weird. Kinda weird. Maybe the problem is that if I keep that up, I'm in danger of eventually taking it seriously? Maybe the seriously is the thing.

Because, see, I would love to reach the point where I could say, "So you want to have a vegetable garden in spite of being able to tend it only at irregular and unpredictable intervals? Here. Here is The Truth of how to accomplish that." Of course, The Truth isn't achievable, but a nice bag of well-organized advice is theoretically possible. Eventually. Where eventually is several growing seasons from now.

So I feel weird about the blog lately. That's all I wanted to say. I think that I needed to say that, in order to keep on doing the Patient Garden posts. Because I wanna do them. For some reason. Not knowing the reason might also be the thing.

OK. That's said. More vegetable discussion will commence.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 19, 2016

Patient Garden: Next Year

I'm planning next year's crops. Really, I'm always planning next year's crops.

Right now, I'm plotting to increase the space devoted to crops that fit two categories:

(1) Crops that are flexible about harvest time, that store for a long time, that I will actually eat. For me, this category is dominated by alliums. Garlic, shallots, potato onions, bulb onions (both overwintering and main-season.) All the oniony things that dry down into nice storable roots. But if the parch corn and the Candystick delicatas are a success this year, they will also be in this category. Potatoes would be in this category if I could solve the problem of weeding. I have a tentative scheme for that that I may post about sometime.

(2) Impatient quick-growing crops that I will eat. This is mainly lettuce and various greens grown for baby leaves, but may also include radishes, baby beets, and...well, probably other things. While there's always a risk that I won't catch these at the right time to eat them, their quick-growing nature limits the loss if a gamble fails.

I'm trying to grow less of:

(3) Long-season crops that are impatient about harvest. Tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini, sweet corn, snap beans, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and any number of others take a good long time to produce, and if you're not there to eat the product, you've wasted that ground for that season. 

We will be growing some crops in category 3, because we love snap beans and Armenian cucumbers and it's hard to imagine growing a big garden and not having any tomatoes. So I'll try to grow the least impatient cultivars. 

Armenian cucumbers are already pretty good--they seem to bounce back nicely after oversized fruits have been removed. Last year's dryfarmed Early Girls held for a very long time on the plant, and another very long time in the house. I've read that Fortex beans have a pretty long edible period, from tiny strings to long long beans.

(I feel as if I've already written most of that last paragraph. But I don't see that I've posted it. Hmm.)

So the category 3 crops will probably consist of:
  • Two fairly conventionally grown beds of tomatoes, each with one Early Girl and one Sungold, in tomato cages that I hope might hold them up a little. The two beds will be as far apart as I can reasonably get them, on the theory that if one of them catches something the other one won't. I'll plant them dryfarm style, but I'll water them unless next year is an extra droughty year.
  • Blue Lake bush beans by the left-hand fence. The fence gets shady earlier than some parts of the garden, but I've found that beans seem to embrace just a little shade. And last year's beans didn't get as much water as they wanted, and I don't want to give them much more, so the shade might close that gap.
  • Fortex beans, also by that fence. I'm going to pound in some rebar near the other side of their bed and string something--strings? Netting? Wire? Chicken wire?--across, to support the beans.
  • Blue Lake pole beans, supported like the Fortex.
  • Two beds of Armenian cucumbers, each with two plants. Even when the plants are in temporary shutdown due to oversized fruits, four plants will likely give me plenty of cucumbers. Of course, when they're not in shutdown, four plants will give me enough cucumbers to feed the town. So. Hm.
Um. That seems to be all.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Patient Garden: Crops That Go Poof

So, there was that scene in Buffy, where Buffy killed a demon, and they were all standing around looking at its body, and Willow said, "Isn't he gonna go poof?" But, no, unlike the vampires, the demon failed to collapse into easy no-muss-no-explanations dust, and they had to drag him off to bury him.

Yes, it's relevant. Give me a sec.

Some garden crops don't get harvested. It's just the way it is. The spare zucchini, cucumbers, big tomatoes during tomato glut, that sort of thing. They don't get harvested, and then they just sit there on the plant slowly getting soft, and eventually getting all disgusting and furry or winey or vinegary, or they exude the "what died?" odor of a sidewalk covered in decaying figs. These crops are impatient in a particularly unpleasant way.

But some unharvested crops aren't like that. Instead, they go poof. This is a relatively good thing. While of course it would be nicer for all crops to wait patiently in prime condition until the gardener gets around to them, poof is much better than furry.

What, precisely, do I mean by poof? Well, consider Sungold cherry tomatoes, for example. They sit on the tomato for a while, and when they're done waiting, they fall off. But they don't squelch on the ground and get furry; they just sort of dry down and eventually melt into the soil, causing no more trouble than, say, raisins. The same is generally true of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, and the like. Actually, huckleberries are so small that I'm not sure what happens to them. It's possible that they dry up and cling to the bush until winter, the way that I think currants do. But currants are no trouble either.

My point is that the gardener doesn't actually have to do anything about these crops, aside from feeling vaguely guilty about not having harvested them. Which raises the obvious question: Why grow them if you're not going to eat them? They're still consuming land and water and fertilizer.

The answer is that some crops are so good that they're worth having around even if you only get a fraction of them. Many people would include Sungold tomatoes in that category; I don't know if I would. But I would definitely include most of those berries.

I'd especially include strawberries, though those aren't quite so reliable at going poof. In an under-watered strawberry patch, the strawberries are small (but still delicious) and usually do just dry up and fall off if they sit unclaimed. In a lush thriving patch, the berries are likely to be big enough to at least occasionally go furry.

Anyway. My point is that crops that go poof can be perfectly good average, if not precisely admirable, citizens in a patient garden.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Patient Garden Crops: Chard. Fordhook Chard.

I hear it in Sean Connery's voice. I just do.

So, I want to like chard. It's immensely patient. Last year, I bought a six-pack of rainbow chard seedlings and made them wait and wait and wait for me to plant them, until I was sure they were dead. But they forgave me and grew. They kept growing, all year, while I ignored them. Well, I occasionally gave some leaves away, I think, but I didn't eat any myself.

They survived the winter and grew again this spring, while I ignored them. I tried to pull them out and the big roots said, "Yeah, right," in a display of patience that might be more accurately described as stubbornness. Only when the weather turned hot in their second summer did they finally bolt. We cut them down to the nub, and even then, they resprouted salad-quality leaves. Finally, a few weeks ago, I wrestled them out once and for all--I think that the bolting diluted their stubbornness.

A grand success in terms of patience. A complete failure in terms of food. I don't like chard. At least, I don't like big cooked chard leaves.

But friends like it. And I like it fine in restaurant salads.  And the nice man at the food pantry assures me that they'd be happy to take any extra. So I'm going to plant some seeds of Fordhook chard.

Look! Fordhook chard! Pretty! (Image from Territorial, the folks that I ordered the seed from.)

Fordhook is described as having huge leaves, and therefore the very young leaves are also reputed to be extra-large. My theory is that I'll plant it at a fairly narrow spacing and keep it cut for those baby leaves, but when I inevitably let it get out of hand, then I'll just cut it for big leaves and give them away, and wait for the plants to sprout the baby leaves again. The net result would be--if all goes according to plan--salad greens that find summer heat not too upsetting. Patient salad greens.

A plan?

We'll see.

Dig for Plenty Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Chard Image: Territorial Seed Company.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

(Im)Patient Garden Crops: Lettuce

As previously discussed, garlic waits patiently to be harvested. Lettuce, on the other hand, shrieks "Pick me! Pick me! PICK ME! OK, fine, I'm gonna bolt." But I want salad greens, including lettuce, whenever I want them. Even if I've been away for a month. I am unreasonable and demanding.

So, I start planning.  Googling suggests that in warm weather, lettuce goes from seed to baby leaves in about thirty days, and to a head in another twenty or so days after that. The heads may hold for a week or three. And cut-and-come-again lettuce, again according to Google, usually produces fresh leaves about two weeks after being cut. I do realize that these numbers vary by lettuce variety and temperature. I'm just using them to work with.

So let's say that I'm going away for a month in warm weather, I don't want any lettuce to go to waste, but I want some to eat right before I leave and right after I get back. Let's say that the farm contains recently-planted lettuce seeds, month-old baby plants, and maturing plants of head and leaf lettuce. I leave the seeds alone (or plant seeds, if there aren't any in the ground), leave the babies alone or maybe thin them a bit for the coming month of growth, give any large leaf lettuce plants a haircut, and harvest any mature heads of heading types. That's all probably too much lettuce, so I schedule a morning hour to run the extra by the food bank.

When I come back, the former seeds are now baby leaves, the former babies have been heads or large plants for about a week, and the former large cut-and-come-again plants have sprouted new leaves that are now about two weeks old. Most of that will probably be nicely edible, at least if I've chosen reasonably heat-tolerant lettuce. If the heads have that threatening pointy I'm-gonna-bolt posture, I may again run some by the food bank. And I try to get some new seeds in the ground in the next week or two.

What if I'm coming back in one or two weeks? I do pretty much the same thing, without the thinning. What if the weather is cooler? I only cut the biggest heads, because everything will be growing slowly.

Sounds easy. We'll see if I mock this post next year.

It all means that I need to devote a fair bit of space to lettuce, enough to allow me to have room for seeds, babies, maturing cutting lettuce, and maturing heads, all simultaneously. And since I don't want to have to rush to harvest and prep and seed, I probably want double or triple that number of "spots" so that there will usually be one or two ready for seeding at any given time. So let's say twelve drills, three drills per bed, four beds of lettuce.

That was for warm weather. In the winter, lettuce will grow much more slowly, so those twelve drills, adding up to seventy-two equivalent-row-feet of lettuce, would come in handy if I got them seeded at just the right times--in time to make decent teenage lettuces before it gets cold, lettuces that can then grow slowly and be eaten through the winter. I think. I'm not really at all sure.

I'm looking at the Twin Oaks Lettuce Log from Sustainable Market Farming by Pam Dawling. She grows in zone 7a in Virginia; I grow in zone 7a in Ashland.  Judging from the log of seeding, transplanting, and harvesting times, lettuce planted in late summer for winter lacks the "I'll get to it when I get to it" vibe that I'd like in a patient garden. But I'm hoping that the rest of the year, and the harvest, will be reasonably leisurely.

The late-summer lettuce planted so far this year includes twelve feet of a nice butterhead whose name escapes me, seeded in early August. And six feet of that same butterhead and eighteen feet of Tom Thumb, seeded in late August.

I'll plant another nine or eighteen feet of some sort of leaf lettuce in late September.  I ordered seeds! Seeeeeds! Galiano, Hampton, Italienischer, Merlot, and Mottistone. Reds and greens and speckles, rumply or frizzy or oakleafy. I hope it all works.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Patient Garden Crops: Garlic

The ideal patient garden crop is willing to wait several weeks for attention. It doesn't insist that you plant it as soon as the soil is prepped. It doesn't whine at you to thin or prune or stake or spray it with only a few days' notice. Or harvest it in a hurry. Or, for that matter, eat it in a hurry.

Garlic qualifies, on all counts.

I wasn't going to plant garlic this fall. Now I've forgotten why, because, what's the down side? It's a flavoring! It's a vegetable! It's a perfume!

So, I put together a garlic order from Territorial, half a pound each of Duganski, Inchelium Red, Premium Northern White, Susanville, Uzbekistan, and Vietnamese Red. Woohoo!

Oh, now I remember part of why I wasn't going to plant garlic: The weed cloth hole spacing. It seemed ridiculous to plant garlic eighteen inches apart in both directions. But if I cut drills through the cloth, I can plant at six inches in the row, rows eighteen inches apart. That makes six-foot drills, twelve plants per drill, thirty-six plants per bed. Looking at the cloves-per-pound on the Territorial site, that works out to be just about half a pound of seed garlic per bed. So, six beds, one for each type, and maybe a seventh mixed bed if the clove count tends high instead of low.

Again, woohoo!

I'm planning to start adjusting the farm watering to allow me to turn the watering on or off for every single bed, with little inline manual valves. (It's probably only a matter of time before I write Patient Garden: Watering.)  That way, I can have the garlic on the watering system when I plant it, shut off its water as soon as the autumn rains start, turn it on again when the rain stops in late spring, and then shut it off when it's time to let the heads start to dry.

The only impatient part of this crop is the scapes--the stalks, with their little hatlike ends--from the hardneck varieties. Garlic-growing instructions suggest that you visit the garlic patch weekly once they start developing, to cut them off--both for eating, and because if they're allowed to keep developing, they'll steal some resources from the bulb.  But if I don't remove the scapes in a timely manner, the garlic will survive.

So, I can prep the soil and set up the drills and watering well before I plant. I can plant and turn on the watering and mostly walk away for months, probably returning once to turn the watering off, and once to turn it on again. I should cut the scapes, but I don't have to. There's a pretty long acceptable period for harvesting--there's an ideal moment, but a little early or a little late is still OK. And then the harvested heads keep for months.


Main Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Patient Garden: Weeds

I thought I wanted a low maintenance vegetable garden. And I do, but that's not the overriding goal. What I want is a patient vegetable garden. A garden that will wait for me to have time for it--a week, two weeks, a month--without throwing a weedy, tomato-rotting, lettuce-bolting, tantrum. I want the farm (our roughly five thousand square foot vegetable garden) to be patient.


Weeds are impatient. If you turn a bed and come back less than week later, you can clear the cute green weed-fog with a few strokes of your choice of hoe.  And then you need to come back soon to do it again. And again. And again. And again. In theory, fewer weeds re-sprout each time, but testing that theory requires a nice long period of assiduous weed control.

If you miss a few rounds of that game, the weeds keep on growing. Exponentially, I believe. A bed that would have taken less than a minute to weed a month ago is suddenly an afternoon's work, with all the other beds all around it impatiently begging for attention. At that point the gardener is tempted to just abandon the whole thing and wait for next year.

I got tired of that.

Weed cloth?

Heavy-grade weed cloth (every time I buy it, they ask, "You mean 'weed barrier'?") is intended as a permanent solution--you're supposed to staple it down and then cover it with mulch. In fact, failing to cover it voids the warranty. Using it in an annual vegetable garden, where you need to turn and amend the soil frequently, is quite, quite mad. 

We did it anyway.

Weed cloth.

Here I'm going to describe some geography. The farm is approximately a square. It has twelve wide rows, each one six feet center to center and about seventy feet long. The planting area of each row was intended to be four feet wide, with paths two feet wide. The last few feet of  each row is too shady for annual vegetables, so I divide each row (identified by a number) into ten six-foot beds (identified by letters). So, a total of 120 beds (from 1A through 12K), each with a growing area four feet wide and six feet long.  

Last year, we started covering the whole space with "pro" quality weed cloth, and we'll have the last gaps filled by the end of the season this year. We ran three-foot-wide cloth down center of each path, making a striped farm--three foot dirt, three foot cloth, three foot dirt, etc. Then we ran six-foot-wide cloth down the center of the dirt stripes. (At least, that's how we ended up. Actually laying the cloth was less systematic than I make it sound.)

So, the general idea is that I lift the cloth for a bed or beds, work and amend the soil, put the cloth back down again, cut holes in it, plant the plants through the holes, and when that crop is done, repeat the whole process. Simple, right?

Holes bad.

Except, if you cut too many holes too close together, the purpose of the cloth is mostly lost. Lacework isn't much good for weed control. So spacing is an issue. Last year, I started looking for ways to space everything no closer than eighteen inches in both directions, and for many crops that works just fine. Onions can be planted in groups. Bush beans, kale, and so on, make bigger plants with wider spacing, and wide spacing is a part of dryfarming.

But some things, like lettuce, beets, carrots, mache, baby greens, and so on, just don't seem suitable for the wide spacing. It took me until this year to realize that instead of cutting individual holes checkerboard-style, I can cut slits and plant in little rows, I believe called "drills". I effectively get rows eighteen inches apart, that allow any spacing within the row. This also eliminates the problem of trying to spot-water all those little holes; instead, I ran mini soaker hose down the drills. The photo shows baby beets sprouting in the first drill that I planted.

Cuts bad.

Once something is planted through the fabric, I can't lift that fabric.  So if bed 4G is done and ready to be replanted, but beds 4F and 4H are still going strong, I have to cut. Then, to keep weeds from sprouting through the cut, I have to patch with a short length of fabric--usually one foot overlap on each side. I'm doing my best to amend groups of adjacent beds at once, but I suspect that in the long run, almost every bed will be cut on both sides.


Remember how the original "stripes" were three feet of cloth and three feet of dirt, but I said that the growing area was supposed to be four feet? See, when I chose the three-foot cloth, I thought that eighteen inches of overlap was required to foil the wilier weeds. I was wrong. And I didn't know how much of a pain it would be to lift the cloth, so I assumed that lifting the path cloth along with the row cloth would be no big deal. I was wrong again.

So it would have been better to have permanent two-foot path coverings, so that lifting the six-foot cloth would expose a full four feet for amendment. For now, I'm treating the path cloth as permanent, amending the three exposed feet of dirt (exposed, that is, when I lift the six-foot fabric), and planting with spacing that pretends that the un-amended six inches on each side is fully productive soil. I'm deluding myself that the fertilizer will dissolve into it and the earthworms will work it for me--and I'm treating it as bed and not path and making sure I don't step on it. We'll see if I get a visible edge effect that proves me wrong.


The fabric also means that I can't add solid fertilizer during the growing season, so I'm researching organic soluble fertilizers and slow-release fertilizers. And there are some crops, like potatoes and peanuts, that are simply not intended to be covered during the growing season. But...

Weeds!'s worth it.

(Edited to add: I forgot the part where the cloth costs money. I hope to amortize the cost across five years, but I can't reliably predict, because I am merrily voiding the warranty. I'll address the cost in a later post about cost of inputs versus value of produce. After I find out whether the terrifying July water bill can be blamed on the farm or the effort to revive an accidentally neglected lawn.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons.