Burying a Bunch of Rotten Wood

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A trench filled with partially rotten wood.

I spent almost all of yesterday digging a long trench through the middle of my garden, filling it with rotten wood, and then covering it up.  I am hoping that this will help with reducing the amount of water required to irrigate the garden this and coming years.

I heard about this idea from Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast under the name Hugelculture or Woody Bed.  It is a class of land improvements that buries wood under soil to promote the growth of fungus and bacteria that holds water and moves nutrients around.  I’ve heard these woody beds several times on the show, and since I had a bunch of rotting wood on the edge of my property, I decided to give it a try. The only real trouble I had was that after about four inches down, I hit Oklahoma Red Clay Soil, which is very difficult to dig through. I basically had to scrap layers of the clay off and use the shovel handle as a lever.  I ended up breaking off the handle of my garden hoe trying to loosen it up so I could remove the clay from the trench.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

The other thing burying this wood allowed me to do is to build a swale-like structure over the bed.  A swale is a mound next to a trench along the land’s contour.  The idea here is to slow water flowing across the land and give it more time to absorb into the soil.  I didn’t survey out the contour of the land, instead just guessing roughly where level would be and slightly curving the ends uphill.  I intend to adjust the structure in the future as I find where water is flowing too quickly and pulling soil away.  About the only remaining garden bed preparation I am planning on doing before spring planting is spreading a layer of compost out and working it into the top inch or so of soil.  Before I do that though, I need to fix the garden hoe.

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Plants in the Ground

Peas, tomatoes, and strawberry plants

Today was a big milestone for me: I finally put plants I raised from seed into the ground.  The peas have gotten so tall that they have been needing support for a while now.  Putting them in the ground allows me to have a support system to prop up the plants.

Also, I took this opportunity to plant all of the first round of plant starts.  I know it is still before the last average frost date here, but I think it is close enough to the date that I can probably get away with it.  It also helps that it has been unseasonably warm this year.  All told, I got Alaskan peas, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries and cabbage in the ground today.

Close up of the tomatoes

Close up of strawberries

We got rain today, which has made working in the garden a very muddy affair.  One big upside to that, however, is that it made dealing with the heavy clay soil much easier.  I had been tilling the soil to help with the weeds that have been coming up in the garden plot for a few weeks now, but the soil has been drying out horribly in the process.  The rain has made it workable again.  I hope to have a few days where it remains that way.  I will probably end up spending a great deal of time and effort over the nxt few years amending the soil with compost to make it easier to work with and more fertile.

Peach fruit set

All of the flowers on the peach tree have finished their bloom and the fruit is setting very nicely.  I don’t know how long it will be before I need to thin the fruits so that I get nice sized peaches at harvest time.  Also, the apple and cherry trees and the grape vines have all started to set fruit as well.

In the greenhouse, I have another set of cabbage and tomato seedlings in reserve in case the ones I’ve planted don’t make it.  Also, I have started some pinto beans I got from a local whole foods store.  Supposedly, I have some mint and thyme started as well, but they are taking their sweet time to germinate.

Pinto beans sprang up over the past two days.

One thing I have realized is that the larger the seed, the bigger the seedling.  I suppose that makes sense, as larger seeds would have a bigger energy supply to pull from when germinating, but it caught me off guard.

I still have a few more plants that I haven’t started yet.  I have some lavender and chamomile seeds I need to start fairly soon and I will be able to now that I have several plastic pots to use from the seedlings I just transplanted into the garden.  I have a bit of mostly dry soil stashed away in the greenhouse that I can use to fill the pots, but I will probably end up waiting a while for the ground to dry out a bit so that I can get more soil from the garden plot.