Monday, January 25, 2010

Ever Evolving Garden

Three summers ago we hired a guy to do some dirt work for us. What we had requested and what we got were two different things. We had envisioned three levels of contour terraces that wrapped around the shape of the hill with short banks in between. We ended up with two levels with an extremely steep huge bank in between. We ended up hiring the same guy to come back out the following spring and just smooth it all back out. I thought that since the error was both his for not doing what we'd asked and mine for not being there to supervise, he should give us a deal when he came out to redo it. I was mistaken. However, we were much happier with the finished result which is a gradually sloped hill leading down to one long flat stretch which greenhouses and compost piles are situated on. 
The dirt work was finally completed mid June 2008. We have a short growing season so I was pretty bummed to get such a late start. Then we had a super hot sunny June and the poor little seedlings had a rough start. Then it rained for the entire month of July and we thought the hillside was going to wash away. Our ground is so hard and rocky that we can't even run a tiller in it. Most veggies do better above the ground anyway where their roots are warmer. I had a few boxes that I'd used in previous years so we moved those into place. We had one load of peat dropped off the previous year. We mixed that with old horse manure to fill boxes and mound crooked raised rows.  Above the bank that boarders the flat strip and the sloping hillside we pounded rebar and put in boards for raised terraced beds.  In the top two photos you can see how barren it looked. We planted a low growing white clover everywhere there weren't beds. I wasn't sure if it was going to take hold, but by this past spring it came back up fairly well.
 These two pictures are of the garden at the end of May 2009. You can see the old boards from the year before. The newer beds we had just put in have fresh boards. This coming spring we plan to put in a few more rows continuing up the hill. In the top photo I am standing in the lower right corner of the garden. To my left are compost piles and the greenhouses. In the distance you can see our screened tent which is where I milked all summer. The glass greenhouse up in the trees was one of our first fun projects on the property. I plant greens in the beds in early spring as it gets great spring and fall sun. We've talked about keeping turkeys in there in the winter. I've heard of a lady who keeps heritage turkeys here in Fairbanks. She says that they spend the winter perched in trees above her barn on all but the coldest nights.
 We have a road that comes up and boarders the garden and makes a loop. I'm standing on the road looking at the center of the garden. We haul water and pump it into garbage cans and a two hundred and fifty gallon tank which are to my left along the edge of the road. We have hopes to put gutters on most the animal shelters and start collecting more rain water. We also might rig up a tarp for the sole purpose of collecting rain water.
Here is a late summer picture from the same vantage point. 
Here is a nice picture of the clover which has finally taken off. We chose this clover because it's roots work to loosen the soil and if I remember correctly it fixes nitrogen. Also, it keeps other taller weeds from taking hold. It is nice to walk on, until it flowers and the bees come out. But even that is a good thing as the wild bees are drawn into the garden and pollinate the clover as well as the other vegetables and flowers. 

So far there is a lot of extra space in the garden for new beds. In addition to more vegetable and flower beds,  I was thinking of planting some fruit trees on the lower terrace, but I only have room for a few. I also want to start a nice perennial strawberry and raspberry patch. Followed by asparagus, blueberries, more rhubarb, currants, sea buckthorn berry, medicinal herbs, and the list goes on and not enough room for everything. I still haven't even gotten close to producing all the vegetables we need to feed ourselves through the winter. The only thing I came close to this year was garlic. I still have enough of our own garlic for a couple months. 

I have refrained from getting into any perennials (other than herbs and flowers) because our soil is so poor. As far as improving the soil, we've planted some buckwheat and oats in addition to the clover as cover crops. Last summer we moved a small poultry tractor with ducks in it around on the flat strip. This spring instead of putting all the goat bedding into one pile I am thinking of spreading it over the lower strip of barren hard ground and maybe just letting it sit or maybe trying to plant a cover crop under a thin layer. I am thinking of planting raspberry canes this summer where our compost piles have sat for the last two years. I am going to dig a big trench and fill it with compost and amendments and go from there. I hope to get a similar strawberry patch started as well. 

So far we have had no need to fence in the garden. Generally the biggest pest up here are moose who tend to stop by and eat all the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower heads at harvest time. We think that our male goats are keeping them away with their strong bucky scent. I think the best reason to fence the garden in would be so that I can let the goats graze on the banks while we are close by. If the garden was bigger I'd fence it into a couple sections and let the goats or chickens take turns fertilizing it. We've come a long ways over the last couple summers, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much more we can grow this summer.

1 comment:

Martha said...

Just found your blog - how long is your growing season in wherever you are in Alaska?

I garden in northeast Oklahoma where we have a Zone 7 = fairly long growing season.

Your place looks lovely.

I just recovered from being sick as a dog myself, so I feel for you.