Saturday, July 25, 2009

Intensive Succession Planting

If you really want to maximize your harvest from a small plot of land (and I think most readers do) you should definitely think about planting multiple crops in succession in the same spot over the growing season. Too often people (myself included) plant a crop in the spring, harvest it in say late July, and then leave the ground bare into the fall, not realizing the potential for late-summer/fall growing. In our food garden today we removed and composted the old pea vines, tilled in the weeds and debris and then created two long planting strips in the beautiful dark Earth.

We'll let the planting area sit and mellow for roughly a week (maybe less if we can't wait) before we plant salad greens and a fall crop of carrots. That gives the leafy green debris that was tilled in a chance to decompose a bit before we plant. We could have also tilled the full pea vines into the soil, returning them directly. If we did that we would probably have to wait a bit longer to plant the succeeding crop. As fibrous plant matter decomposes the microbes actually draw the available nitrogen from the soil and tie it up, not a good thing for any crops that you're trying to grow simultaneously. I think it's best to haul the plant matter away to the compost (to be spread on the same soil later of course) if really intensive growing is your goal.

In the Annapolis Valley there is still plenty of time to plant lettuces, spinach, carrots, kohlrabi, most leafy brassicas, turnips, chard, beets and even early maturing peas. Alternatively you could also plant green manure crops to enrich the soil after the main crop is finished. I like to plant buckwheat to succeed my pea seed crop which comes out in August. The buckwheat gets tilled back in to the soil in September or October when it's flowering, feeding an influx of organic matter to the abundant soil microbes and earthworms.
Before: picking up the pea stakes before scything down the plants.

Taking a post-scything pea break:
Incorporating organic matter while creating an annual plant promoting soil disturbance (that's a lot of words to decribe tilling).

After: the finished bed ready for planting.
(Thanks to Regine for the photos!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Scythe Artwork

Recently we set out to create the below piece of farmer-style protest artwork in our neighbor's hay meadow, a giant 350. The significance of 350 is that it's the maximum parts per million of CO2 that the atmosphere can contain without seriously disrupting the present ecological balance of Earth. The idea is outlined by and in far deeper detail and insight by the Vido Family ( For us it was mainly a fun project to spend a beautiful summer evening working on, but the more serious message behind it is to demonstrate a human-powered, human-scaled and totally fossil fuel free way to turn grass and weeds into feed for ones animals, with a scythe! The grass that was cut for the design was fed to the animals, and although it was rained on several times the goats relished it.

To make the design I first selected a fairly good stand of grass near a big aspen tree, the tree was crucial because otherwise I wouldn't be able to photograph the thing. Because of this the angle isn't ideal, it was hard to find a big tree with good grass nearby (the field has been more or less abandoned for 7-8 years and the grass is sparse). I staked off a rectangle and mowed a swath around the outside of the design. I then made thee even blocks of grass for each number and then carved them out freehand. And there you have it, my totally amateur scythe powered artwork attempt.