As I sit to write this, we are having a brief break from the garden work: everything is planted, weeded, thinned and protected from expected pests. The lawns are all mowed and the grass clippings have been used for mulch and as a green addition to the compost pile. It’s a great feeling to be caught up after the rush of work that comes with the change of seasons.
That change has been a bit odd this spring, which has been cool and rainy, but punctuated now and then by days of high heat. Mostly, this has been a blessing. It has been the perfect weather for transplanting our many seedlings from the nursery in the farmhouse basement to their permanent positions in the garden. We have tiny tomatoes and peppers already setting, though our eggplants not looking happy so far. Squash and beans that we started inside as an experiment, in an effort to beat whatever it was that was eating them when they germinated in the garden, are all doing well. However, the cucumbers we put out were eaten and we had to buy replacement plants. This is a yearly problem for us, so it needs more thought.
Although it has been cool and rainy all along, we have not had a killing frost since the beginning of April. This allowed us a more leisurely planting schedule and the seedlings went out earlier than usual. In the abnormally warm two weeks in the middle of April, I actually planted potatoes that were sprouting and headed for the compost. There was nothing to lose, and they are doing very well right now. We will have a small crop of early potatoes from that bed. Lettuce and greens also went in early, as did the peas.
In order to prevent pest invasions, we have covered all the susceptible crops with agricultural fabrics. While this is effective, it is not pretty and makes it difficult for us to easily see what is going on in the beds. We have come up with the idea of slowly replacing this system with netting tents and are researching our options. In the meantime, we have spinach, chard and beets without leaf miner damage, as well as kale and broccoli without cabbage worm damage. The thought of covering 150 feet of potatoes is a bit daunting, but then, so is the thought of picking out potato beetles and larva.
This season, I am very fortunate to have the help of a volunteer 4 hours each day. Nicholas has a background in organic farming and permaculture. Because of his help, we have been able to greatly improve our soil which will be a continuing project for us. We have an unlimited source of well-rotted horse manure from a farm on the other side of Barre. We have made many trips this spring in Scott’s truck, with an odd assortment of garbage cans and buckets to be filled. Some goes directly into the garden and the rest goes in layers in the compost heaps.
The compost is one of Nicholas’ specialties. We have four bins: fresh contributions go into the first bin, which gets turned in to the second, the third and then the fourth, and is then ready to be put on the garden. It is dark and rich and beautiful and a great addition to our soil. This spring, we had our soil tested to determine what minerals we needed, and Nicholas added them in in layers to the first bin. Each year, we expect to improve the health of our soil and the quality of our vegetables. To this end, along with the compost and manure, we are also experimenting with some cover crops. We have a large section of dried beans which will add nitrogen to the soil, and we will be planting oilseed radishes and oats on beds whose crops finish early.
Each year, we try to save more of our own seed. This year, we will have seed from both the dried beans and the green beans, plus a special heritage variety of green peppers that was given to us by a friend. Different varieties of peppers have to be grown more than 500 feet apart in order to keep the plants from cross-pollinating. We have accomplished this by adding a small garden to the south of the Farmhouse, which has flowers as well as the peppers.
For the past two years, we have been saving the garden donations so generously given to us with two major projects in mind. The first is to create an alternative water supply instead of using town water for the garden– which is both costly and full of chemicals. Scott has now dug a new well in the woods behind the dharma hall and we are installing a water storage tank that will pump fresh water up to the garden. I had hoped to collect water from the roof of the Dharma Hall as well, but we are concerned about contamination from the asphalt shingles. In the meantime, we have had so much rain this spring that irrigation has not been a pressing problem.
Our second big dream is to eventually raise the funds to build a greenhouse, which would greatly extend our growing season, especially for salad and cooking greens. We’ve been doing initial research into the project by checking out the farmhouses at Sweetwater Farm down the road, and Evan Henritze is exploring the possibility of defraying costs with greenhouse-related subsidies from the state of Massachusetts.
So, as you can tell, it has been a full spring – lots of dreams and the manifestations of dreams. Our upcoming Dharma and Arts retreat will be eating some of our salad greens and herbs. Flowers are coming in steadily, providing bouquets for the alter and the Farmhouse. I hope you will all come to enjoy the bounties of this garden and all that BCBS has to offer you.
Thank you for your continued support of the garden.