Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My first Back to Eden garden

Last spring I hauled home 6 dump truck loads of wood chips from the local stock yard. I piled them up after bringing them home and watched them steam on cool mornings. I mulched around fruit trees and berry bushes with them, but most of the pile remained unused. Until this week.

After watching the Back to Eden film which details Paul Gautschi’s gardening technique, I was persuaded to give it a try. I had already sowed some fall greens in our main garden, and I didn’t want to disturb them (we’ve been eating some tasty salads for about a week now). One of our smaller garden areas had sweet potatoes in it, but it was time to get them out.

So, after harvesting about 20 bushels of sweet potatoes, and bringing in the basil plants to dry, it was time to create a Back to Eden garden. This particular garden plot is 50 feet by 75 feet.

The first step was to remove what weeds were left and then smooth out the remains of the ridges in which the sweet potatoes were grown. I used the disk to do that, although that wasn’t the only or best option. I wasn’t trying to work the soil up, just level it out a little.

Then, I hauled several truck loads of compost and dumped them on the garden. I used the tractor with a box blade to spread the compost as evenly across the garden as I could. 002It ended up being about one inch to two inches thick.

The next step was to haul wood chips. I hauled 6 or 7 truck loads, leaving about one truck load where the original pile was. Then, it was time to spread the chips across the garden as evenly as I could. I used my Bobcat for some of this, but a lot of the spreading had to be done manually, with a rake, hoe, shovel, and wheel barrow.

It took a couple of hours, but I was able to spread the wood chips across the garden to a depth of about 4 to 6 inches. It looks good, I think. Soon, I hope to plant some garlic and a few potatoes in it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back to Eden–a must-see gardening film

A friend sent me a link to the teaser for a recent documentary called Back to Eden. It’s about the gardening philosophy and techniques of Paul Gautschi. He said that if I watched the teaser that I would then watch the full video (which is available to be viewed online free). He was right. I’ve watched it twice so far, and it is excellent! It’s inspiring. I will be implementing the methods Paul talks about in the film as I am able, starting right now.

If you already grow your own food/garden or are interested in doing so, this is a must see film. Watch the teaser and see if it doesn’t pique your interest and prompt you to watch the full film.

Now, follow this link to watch the full-length film: www.backtoedenfilm.com/

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Our three gardens

It’s been a few days since I last posted. There’s not been a lack of things to do, and I have still been accomplishing much. Once the rain stopped, we got busy in the garden. We set out 50# of seed potatoes, 32 pounds of onion sets, 150 tomato plants, nearly 300 sweet potato plants, a few cabbage and broccoli plants, and about three dozen eggplants. We’ve also planted peanuts, dried beans, green beans, sweet corn, pop corn, squash, melons, okra, and cucumbers. I’ll be planting some more sweet corn and green beans soon.

We’re using three different garden areas this year, more than we’ve utilized in the past. One has the onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and sweet corn in it at the present time. 025Another has the sweet potatoes and some watermelon. We’ll probably put the next planting of sweet corn in this garden since there is still room for it. The other, and largest, garden has several types of melons, green beans, dried beans, and peanuts in it.

The children have been helping with taking care of the garden. Each year as they grow they are more able to contribute to our food production. 004My boys have really been helpful this year with planting and weeding. I try to not overwhelm them with too much at a time, and they’ve really been doing a good job and with a good attitude.

I think it’s important for children to grow up with responsibilities and learning to work. There are so many things that they can do to contribute to their family, and there are so many valuable things to be learned through the process. Too many children, I’m afraid, are not expected to contribute to their families in meaningful ways. When I was growing up, my family had a very limited income, and our gardens provided a good deal of our food. Each of us was expected and required to participate in the growing, maintenance, harvesting, and preserving of food. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I certainly do now.

One of the challenges we’ve faced with the gardens during the last couple of weeks is the deer. They decided that we’re growing food for them. They’ve eaten on our peas, beans, beets, chard, and lettuce. 037They basically destroyed the beets and chard – I guess they tasted good to them. After they’d eaten on the beans which were just starting to blossom, I put up some deer deterrent: baling twine. I’ve been told that deer don’t like the smell of baling twine, and three years ago we put up a fence of it around our garden because of the deer, and it kept them out of it.

After I fenced off the beans with baling twine, the deer decided to eat some of the younger beans. These deer appear to be very hungry based upon how they’ve been eating. 032So, the boys and I put up a perimeter fence around the bean garden using 10’ poles driven into the ground and four strands of baling twine. We also tied rectangles of aluminum flashing onto each pole to move with the wind and create noise. So far, the deer haven’t been back in the garden, but it’s only been a couple of days. I’m hopeful it will keep them out for most of the growing season.

Yesterday, Malchiah and I worked on getting some of our tomatoes staked up. Last year I used livestock panels in an A-frame configuration – two panels on either side of the row tied together at the top. 015This year my rows are 30 feet long which requires four panels per row. I have 12 panels and didn’t want to spend the money to buy more. So, to be able to cover more rows (we have 8 rows of tomatoes), I changed the method for this year.

We started with three rows yesterday. I set some cedar posts at the ends of the rows and one post in the middle of each row. Then, we hung two panels between the posts right above the tomato plants. The panels are about 9 inches off the ground. I tied the larger plants to the bottom of the panels and wove their branches them. As the plants grow, we’ll weave them through the panels to the top, or as tall as the plants grow. We’ll tie them to the panels as necessary. It takes more work to set posts in the ground, but this way we have enough panels for six rows. 020I’ll stake up the other two rows differently.

We’ve been enjoying fresh blueberries and black raspberries this week. Soon, it’ll be time to pick blackberries. We usually pick and preserve as many blackberries as we can. Last year we picked around 20 gallons. We’re planning on doing the same this year.

I’ve been teaching two sections of my class this summer. There’s one more week to go in the session. It’s been taking a lot of time, but it’s worth it. My objective is to encourage the students to question the institution of school by considering some of its harmful effects and how it is not designed to promote learning/education as they assume. As one of the authors they read says, “School makes children stupid.” I enjoy the class, but it’ll be nice to be able to focus and devote my time to projects (like finishing our house) here on the farm.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Compost & mulch in the orchard

Things are really greening up around here. It’s so pretty with all the new leaves coming out on the trees. Spring is a neat time of year. Around here it’s also a wet time of year. We received nearly five inches of rain during the last week. The ground is saturated, but it’ll dry out before too long.

There are a lot of jobs that need done around the farm during Spring. I keep plugging away at the things that need done. Last week before some of the rain, we composted all of the blueberry bushes and mulched them with wood chips. I worked the compost into the soil around each bush before putting the mulch around them.

Today, I worked in the orchard. Last year I didn’t give the fruit trees the attention they needed. With plenty of compost available this year, I didn’t want to neglect them again. I was going to till around each tree, but the pull rope on the tiller broke. I’m going to have to fix that and a couple of other things on it tomorrow or the next day.

So, instead of using the tiller, I used a grub how and worked in a circle around each tree, working up the soil out to the drip line of each tree (as far out as the branches extend). There were 14 trees, I think (I forgot to count to make sure). Once I had the ground worked up around all of the trees, I mowed between the trees with the bush hog. 010Then, I hauled compost to them. I put half a loader scoop at the base of each tree.

I used my grape hoe to spread out the compost. It ended up being 4 or 5 inches deep around each tree. Then, it was time to mulch them. I put a full loader scoop of wood chips at each tree and spread it out beyond the composted area for each one. A few of the trees didn’t need a full scoop of mulch. So, 008I put the extra around the little hazelnut trees I set out a few weeks ago and a little bit around the cherry bushes.

The orchard looks nice and neat now, and I hope the compost gives the trees a nutritional boost. The wood chips will keep the weeds down and will provide nutrients as the break down over the next year or so.


The children and I have hunted for morels several different days during the last couple of weeks. We’ve looked for them in previous years, too, but the most we’ve ever found is about 20. 002I’ve read about where to look for them and have tried to note where we find them growing, but there’s been little consistency. Basically, they grow where they want to.

Last week we did find about three dozen of the tasty little buggers. We’d had rain a couple days before with some cool weather. As it warmed up, some Morels popped up. We probably spent two and a half or three hours looking on our ridge to find these. The photo shows a few of the ones that we found that day.

After washing them and cutting them in half lengthways, I sautéed them in butter, and we enjoyed them as a special treat for dinner. They were very good!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cows on grass and gardening

We moved the cows out of the barn and back onto grass this week. They seem happy, and our milk production has gone up. 025I’ve provided them with some hay to make sure they have enough roughage as they transition back onto green stuff, and they are doing well.

After I moved the cows out, I started cleaning out the barn. They were in the barn for four months. I used straw and saw dust for bedding while they were there, giving them fresh bedding every day and letting it accumulate during the entire four months. 028Two full grown cows and two young steers can make a lot of manure mixed with bedding in four months time.

I used the Bobcat to start cleaning it out. The way the barn is set up, I can only get the Bobcat straight in from outside and clean a pathway across the cows’ area inside. There isn’t room to turn and clean out the rest mechanically. We’ll have to clean out the other 80% by hand, or at least loosen it and throw it into the middle so it can be moved out with the Bobcat. We’ll complete this work over the next couple of weeks, I hope.

On other blogs, I’ve read about people starting their garden plants inside over the last couple of months, 015but I didn’t get any of starts going until yesterday. I have no place inside our current home for starting seeds. In the past I’ve started seeds in the basement of a previous home under grow lights or in a greenhouse. I don’t want to use the power to keep a grow light on with our electrical system now even if I had the space/place inside for it.

Without a place for starting seeds and with the length of our growing season, I’ve not worried about having not started my seeds yet. So, yesterday, 014I mixed together some growing medium (one part compost, one part peat moss, and one part rich dirt) and planted some seeds: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. I put them in some flats I had from last year and set them under a makeshift greenhouse.

The makeshift greenhouse is a metal framework with plastic stretched over it. When I checked it a couple of times today, it was nice and warm and moist inside. I think with the warm weather we’re having, the seeds should sprout fairly quickly. I don’t plan on setting plants out until mid-May. So, if all goes well, they should be ready by then.

Then, today, the boys and I planted some things in the garden. First, I worked up an area about 30 feet by 30 feet. 020Using my grape hoe (an wonderful tool), I pulled dirt into four ridges. I filled the trenches left from pulling the dirt together into ridges with wood chips about 6 inches or so deep. This makes nice walkways with material that will break down over time, feeding the worms and adding to the soil. Then, I smoothed the tops of the ridges with a rake, making rows about 18 to 20 inches wide for planting.

This afternoon, we planted several varieties of lettuce, spinach, beets, swiss chard, and carrots in these wide rows. 023We also planted several rows of sugar snap peas in another area right beside the first one. We’ll be planting a lot more things in the coming weeks.

I had an interesting experience while using the Bobcat to the wood chips from the big pile to the garden: a wheel fell off. Apparently, the lug bolts had come loose, they worked themselves out. I hadn’t noticed this was happening. As I made a turn to head into the garden, the wheel fell off, and the Bobcat sat down on its haunches. I found three of the bolts and borrowed one from each of the other wheels to reattach it before continuing with the work.

After finishing the planting, the children and I went for a swim in the pond. It was a bit cool, but we all enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Bobcat M500 back together

A few weeks ago, I wrote about working on my Bobcat M500. I had to take it apart in order to pull the engine so I could get the starter off of it. The starter was in need of repair – the brushes were completely worn out. I also had Jack (the local guy who works on starters) check the generator, and it tested out fine, thankfully. That meant that something else was causing it not to keep the battery charged.

While I had the Bobcat taken apart, I cleaned it a bit. It had quite a bit of grease and grime on it. It probably could’ve used a good power washing, but since I didn’t have access to a power washer, I used soapy water, a brush, and a rag. I also purchased some cans of cheap spray paint and gave it a new coat of paint. It was nothing fancy, just something to cover up some of the scratches and places where the metal was bare.

While I had the engine out, I discovered it needed new head gaskets. Amazingly, new ones are still available – Kohler doesn’t support the engine (K662) anymore, but they apparently still have some engines that use the same head gaskets.

After getting the new gaskets installed and the repair starter on it, I completely rewired things. I welded a corner of the operator’s cage which had come apart 015(it’s home-made by a previous owner) and gave it a new coat of black paint. I also painted the wheels and rear weight red.

Putting it back together went well. I had to replace a few bolts that hold things together. Of course, when I had the engine back in and before I had all the other things put back, I checked to make sure it would start and run okay. It did.

After getting it all back together, I had to run it and check things out. It worked well, but I noticed the batter wasn’t charging. I suspected the voltage regulator, and, when I tested it, it was clear that it wasn’t working (it regulates the voltage from the generator for charging the battery – alternators have built-in voltage regulators). 017So, I ordered a new one, and when I arrived I put it on. it solved the problem.

The only other problem I had was that the air filter needs replaced. I still have to find one or figure out a way to put new filter material in/on the current one.

Since I got it back together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve used it around here some, and it is quite handy. I’ve moved compost and have loaded some manure and bedding into the truck to haul it to a compost pile. The only complaint I have about it besides that it’s almost underpowered (it is amazingly strong for its size and small engine) is that it drinks gas at an alarming rate. These old Kohler engines aren’t known for being fuel efficient.

Yesterday, I hauled the Bobcat to the stock yard in town. The company that owned the stock yard went bankrupt. So, it’s closed. Anyway, before it closed, the guy who ran the place had the power company tree trimmers dump several loads of wood chips for him to use in their back lots instead of rock (wood chips would keep the cows out of the mud). I liked this idea (it was my idea), because I intended to get the wood chips and manure later on.

However, since the place closed, the pile of wood chips has just sat there looking forlorn and lonely. When I asked, I was told that I might as well get the wood chips if I wanted them. So, I used the Bobcat to load them on my truck and bring them home. I used my smaller truck and trailer to haul the Bobcat, and then after bringing home a small truck load of manure/bedding (all that I hadn’t already gotten – I left it in case anyone else wanted it, but it was still there after four months), I drove my big truck back. 007I loaded and hauled six loads with the big truck, approximately 72 cubic yards of wood chips.

They’re all piled nice and neat here on the farm, now. It’s very satisfying to push things into a nine foot tall pile for some reason. We’ll use wood chips for garden walkways and to mulch around trees. When I get some more manure, it can be mixed with them. If they’re just left to break down, they’ll make some excellent compost on their own.

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