Investing In Winter

Dec 23, 2022 | Heath farm | 0 comments

In September, as our garden was in full production mode, my mind began to be pulled toward next year’s garden. The garden is always about next year. This year we had 2 families subscribe to a 20 week CSA and I used every inch of my two tiny garden beds to fill the weekly baskets. Next year, the goal is 10 full baskets and 10 half basket subscriptions.

one csa basket from our tiny bed

Our family will need more than our current 8×10 and 8×12 garden beds to meet the new demand. But where to put the garden beds and how to arrange them? When we first moved into Old Reliable, I expected the southwest corner of our property to be the vegetable garden zone and we would do the traditional yearly tilling, crop rotation, and weeding. (I had not heard of regenerative agriculture yet.) It has been five years, and the southwest veg patch never materialized. It is out of sight, out of mind and not close to readily accessible irrigation. There is the added complexity of accessibility for our daughter’s wheelchair and the safety concerns for our son Roman. The southwest side has a steep slope from the driveway to the garden area, too steep for a wheelchair, and it is outside our fence, making it unsafe for Roman to be outside with me, and he cannot be left inside by himself for long stretches of time.

One night, while standing at the kitchen sink gazing absentmindedly at the sunset, it struck me that the best place for a high-intensity garden plot would be right in the middle of the backyard. There is a wheelchair friendly concrete sidewalk and the area is fully fenced for Roman. Inspired, I drew up gorgeous plans on graph paper which included a large outdoor eating area, gabion borders for the beds, trellises, and a modest solar powered fountain for good measure. Then my husband crunched the numbers on the material costs and let’s say that those gorgeous plans are going to stay paper dreams for quite some time. The truth is that, probably like many people this year, we do not have the funds to invest in much more than just the bare necessities of life forget your worries or your strife. I mean the, baaare necessities...oops.

Someday all this will be garden!

Alright, so we don’t have money to make my garden dreams come true. What do we have? We have free cardboard from local stores, mounds of free woodchips from a local tree service, piles of nitrogen rich manure from the goats and ducks, and local stones from the field behind out house. And we have time. Time is money in the garden, but usually the dormant frozen winter is considered unproductive (and therefore worthless) time, but this is certainly not the case with regenerative agriculture. Instead of investing time in the spring to till rows for garden beds, exposing a full weed-bank, and spreading purchased fertilizer on the bare soil (and exposed weed seed bank), we can lay no-till, deep mulch beds in preparation of winter, let our mini herds of microbes do their thing, and plant directly into the prepared beds the following spring. There is still a lot of energy and work to create an ideal soil, but we are putting that work on creatures designed for the purpose instead of trying to do it all on our own. Regenerative agriculture is all about healthy soil, and though healthy soil slows down activity in the cold winter months, it is not fully dormant, it is not stagnant.

With the new frugal plan in mind, my husband went on a carboard gathering mission and came home with a mini van full of carbon. Our three oldest daughters went to work taking all the tape off, and then I laid down the first 4’x32′ bed with three layers of overlapping cardboard. Next, Timm broke down sticks and laid them down to create a miniature hügelkultur environment for our micro herds, and then wheelbarrow loads of duck coop bedding and wood chips were piled on as the kids hauled rocks for the border. I took a picture of the before and in-process to show you, but I figured I’d wait to write up a blog post until we had all 6 new beds prepped and ready for winter.

In progress

Now, winter in upon us, and we have a total of 2 of the beds prepared. It turns out that, with a young family, we really don’t have all that much time to spare for projects, even simple projects like creating these garden beds. We are in a season of life where we are laying the foundation for things to come, it’s not as glamorous and exciting as a Fixer Upper style reveal, but it is real life. Instead of a dramatic before and after post, this is a much more realistic and hopefully relatable moment. If deep snow holds off awhile longer we may be able to set up one more bed in preparation for spring. As it is, we have already more than doubled our garden square footage from the 176 square feet I had to work with this year to a minimum of 432 square feet next year and it cost us a little bit of sweat equity and precisely zero dollars. If we do not get all the wood chips and animal bedding spread on to new beds by next year, I fully intend to make the most of it and just stick heavy feeders like squash and tomatoes directly into those mounds next Spring. Our handy little micro herds in those piles won’t sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting to be shoveled into the garden, no indeed, they are already, this very moment, breaking down the ample organic matter into accessible minerals and nutrients for plants and they will keep doing that all winter long.

many hands make light work


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