It’s time to flip soil in the gardens to get ready for spring planting. I’ve already set up a cold frame and planted arugula, cabbage, beets, chard, and a few wild flowers. Spinach is up, and our kale, chard, and borage overwintered nicely. I’ve found some delightful potatoes, and the rhubarb is already unfurling small leaves. All the seasonal bulbs are poking up out of slightly warmed soil, but we won’t see them flowering for another couple of months. Though we’re in the middle of winter on the calendar, here in the temperate rain-forest, warmer Pacific fronts dominate the region, preventing long hard frosts from setting in. Snow is in the forecast, but a cold frame in early February is usually enough protection for cool weather crops. We’ll also be getting the greenhouse back online- as I’ve been missing the abundance of a well tended vegetable patch.
After several years of experimenting with the zone one gardens, I’m making some major changes. The classic consequence of having so much space around the buildings to plant brings too much tending time. Weeding is out of control- especially when morning glory established its self. However, the rich composted soil these larger spaces have cultivated are perfect for some larger shrub species, and some root stalk roses I planted a few years ago are now establishing bush like structure, and I’ve stool and layered them, shaping the future hedge, which will protect the gardens from chickens. After tearing out all the old chicken fencing- which had been slow buried over time as more compost entered the garden, the chickens came right in to help glean and clean the soil. It made a mess of walkways and the driveway, but denuded the soil of harmful bugs. I would not encourage the chickens to be in the food gardens during the growing season because of fecal contamination issues.
With all the fertility mounting in our garden, a lot had spilled out, onto the driveway, which surrounds the house and cultivation space. I took a 4 pronged pitch fork and slipped it right under the sod, pulling up the layer of turf, then flipping it up into the hedge layered roses to form a planting bank. I then shoveled up the underlying soil, piling it on top of the sod and roses, revealing the driveway and cutting a satisfying edge around the gardens. I’m planning to establish thimble berry in the bank pictured above. Further back along the edge, you can see the roses and continued bank of turned turf. I will be covering the turf mounds with an organic, slow decomposition, weed cover sheet, which will prevent the grass from re-establishing. The plan is to plant squash into it later this summer.
Mulching is a big payoff in our cultivated spaces around zone 1. Cardboard is the best material for this practice, especially if you are establishing trees and shrubs- as the plantings will establish within a few years, shading out the weeds. Some species, such as lavender, cannot fight off the turf encroachment, and must be mulched every few years, along with diligent hand weeding during the growing season. Hopefully, once the twin berry and crabapple establish, these lavenders will be large enough to hold thier own. This area pictured below is also a compost location (black box with yellow lid), and we’re slowly building up this mound to create another hedge. Banking the fertility- literally, gives all these perennial species a head start on developing healthy root systems in a collective effort. Companion planting is a great way to bring diversity into your gardens, invite the complex system of plant neighborhoods to thrive, and reduces the need for human management.
Vegetable gardens demand a lot of sunlight and watering. Then you’re contending with a lot of weeds. It’s a big part of my personal struggle with gardening on a large scale- there’s no over-story. Without shade, all the bramble species and grasses fight to get a foothold, as this environment is usually temperate rain-forest canopy, which does not allow the weeds and other invasive to take root. With an intact forest, you’re not going to cultivate carrots and squash, so a cleared patch is maintained, and a never ending fight with nature persists. Sure, we could put everything into raised container beds, requiring more water and tending in other ways. The bottom line is- gardening will always require a lot of work and inputs to remain productive. It’s a luxury, and not the main mission of EEC, but veggies are nice, and self sufficiency, even partial sufficiency, feels compelling. We’re also eager to demonstrate alternative cultivation practices. Since gardening is a gateway to land stewardship- EEC will keep hosting gardens, as well as forest restoration.
Building good topsoil takes thousands of years in a non-human altered environment. Watching the fertility building in these gardens over the years gives me hope that the land can heal and regenerate faster with holistic help. Our original human instructions are to tend the landscape- assisting in regeneration and expansion of health in the ecosystem, which in turn, feeds and nurtures us. How did humankind drift so far away from this mantle of responsibility for the environment? That’s a story for another day. For now, we’ll keep tending the soil, forest, water, and life here at EEC Forest Stewardship. Look for more garden updates in Spring, as we’ll be checking in on the cold frame plantings and getting more seed in the ground.