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Friday, January 30, 2009
Building The Market Garden
Our soil here is sandy and gravelly, in other words very well drained. Additionally, the previous owner was a chemical farmer who grew the same crop over and over again. I bought the property in 1992 then left it dormant until 1997 when we began building our house. The spring of 1998 I had the soil tested by the MSU extension. Basically, the soil was depleted and had about 0.1 to 0.3 percent organic matter. As I recall, you need about 3 percent organic matter to sustain life in the soil. No wonder there were places where even weeds wouldn’t grow.

So, we began the slow process of building organic matter and life into the soil again. First we coaxed some grass to grow. Then, our first experiment with chickens made a huge difference, but the effects on the soil fertility were short term. Next, we installed a rotational rooting pork program in which we gave the pigs lots of mulch hay to work into the ground. That definitely made a difference. Now we can grow weeds like you wouldn’t believe. So, there are still improvements to be made to the soil.

Still, the soil is very well drained. We can help that by putting more organic matter into it, but also by putting the water where it can do some good. One of the permaculture tools that I’ve learned over the past year is to hold the water as high on the land as possible as long as possible. Since we’re in the position of needing to put in a market garden, we have a great opportunity to demonstrate the technique.

When we had the house built, we also put up a 30X40 ft pole barn. Until just recently, the pole barn has not had gutters (eavestroughs). The water just ran off the roof and soaked into the ground next to the building. In our area, we get about 36 inches of rain every year. That’s a pretty decent amount, but we almost always have a four to six week dry spell in the heat of the summer and everything dries out. If you want vegetables (and lots of them), the dry spell presents quite a problem. Then again, we sometimes have rain events, like last September when we had ten inches of rain over three days. Due to our soil and elevation (our property has the second highest elevation in the county), we didn’t have any flooding although things did get a little saturated.

Storing the water for even a 100 ft square garden would also be problematic. Let’s say you wanted to store enough to have the equivalent of one inch of rain once per week over a six-week period. That would require storage capacity of 37,403 gallons. That would also require collecting more than one year’s worth of rain (one year and three months actually) from a 30X40 ft roof. Doesn’t seem very practical or affordable, does it?

The same 100 ft square garden gets 36 inches of rain each year, or 224,416 gallons each year. Because of our soil conditions and elevation, most of that water percolates through… doesn’t hang around for our veggies. So, finding a way to store that rain in the soil in the garden is paramount. We can supplement that water with the 30,000+ gallons from the barn roof judiciously applied to increase the effective rainfall on the garden by 13%.

So, here are our tasks:
1. Pile on the organic matter to hold the rainfall in the garden.
2. Build the soil fertility up drastically. See task one!
3. Capture the rainfall from the barn roof and soak it into the garden.
4. Build earthworks in the garden to interrupt the flow of water and hold it as high on the ground as possible, allowing it to soak into the garden.
5. Protect the crops from predation.

Plan for task 1:

Our county has a compost facility that will distribute compost at no additional charge (we already pay for it in our taxes) provided you load it. If they load it into your pickup truck, they charge a small fee per load for screened compost. For the planned beds in our market garden, we need about 43 cubic yards of compost. That’s a lot of trips with my pickup truck and trailer, but is much cheaper than having the material delivered.

We also plan to put wood chips on the paths between the beds to hold more water and make homes for worms and other decomposers. There are a number of tree trimming and removal operations in our area who need to dispose of their wood chips. Our hope is to convince them to drop the chips here at no or minimum charge. This will not only help us, but save landfill space as well as drop off charges to the trimming service.

Plan for task 2:

The activities for task 1 should bring our soil fertility a long way, but we don’t plan to stop there. The topic of another blog entry will be “Making Bio-Char”. Based on trials conducted by other people, I’m convinced that Bio-Char will help our fertility significantly. Of course, I plan to conduct my own trials as well.

All gardens have weeds. Ours is no exception. For additional fertility boost, we plan to rot our weeds in water then apply the result either as a foliar spray or directly to the soil. An yes, we are composting kitchen scraps and such but the volume we need far exceeds our capacity to produce compost. In time, our hope is have sufficient perennial crops in place to make our soil fertility self-sustaining. First we need to replace all of the fertility extracted from the soil by the generations of farmers before us who used unsustainable farming practices.

Plan for task 3:

We have just had gutters installed on the barn roof and routed the downspouts into a storage tank. This tank will hold 1550 gallons, so we’ll need to do something about the overflow. The plan is to carry the overflow in a pipe from the tank to a “pocket pond” at the highest point in the garden. A “pocket pond” is merely shallow, large area hole in the ground. From there the water will soak into the garden. Here are some photos:
From rainwater collection

From rainwater collection

Plan for task 4:

We need to dig the “pocket pond” referred to about, but will also dig some shallow ditches (or swales) on contour in the garden. We’ll plant perennial shrubs and herbs along the down-slope side of the swales.

Plan for task 5:

Experience on this land has taught us that planting an unfenced garden here is otherwise known as “feeding the wildlife”, namely deer and rabbits. We already have fences along most of the edges of the garden, but will need to build fences along the remaining edges to exclude these predators.

Here’s a sketch of what I hope the garden will look like:

From rainwater collection
Posted by Larry at 8:22 PM
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Blog Archive

* ▼ 2009 (7)
o ▼ March (1)
+ Market Garden Progress Report
o ► February (2)
+ Rainwater Collection Follow Up
+ Blanket Box – part three
o ► January (4)
+ Testing The Blanket Box
+ Building The Market Garden
+ Rainwater Collection
+ Blanket Box – part two

* ► 2008 (15)
o ► December (2)
+ Blanket Box
+ Mycelium Running
o ► November (3)
+ Observation on Plan C Conference
+ Plan “C” Conference, Food Track Part One
+ Plan C Conference
o ► September (7)
+ Sensible Investments
+ Market Turmoil
+ Edible Forest Gardens
+ Surviving Peak Oil, Preparations, and Relocation: …
+ Energy – who are you going to call?
+ A Quick Note About Tarps
+ A Simple Shed
o ► August (3)
+ struggling with photos
+ Help, I need to build a lightweight animal shelter…
+ What’s a Micro-Farm?