It’s Spring, dig it?

The changing of the season is always an exciting time for me.  I know, I know, northerners don’t think much of our “seasons,” but being a Texas girl, this is what I know.  This year, Spring was a little late.  We had several hardish freezes that inspired me to delay setting out peppers, tomatoes and other tender spring and summer plants.  So, if you notice me walking around with crossed fingers saying little prayers to myself, don’t be frightened; I’m just trying to stack the metaphysical deck for a long and mild Spring.  Last year by this time, the lettuce was already bitter and bolting from hot temperatures.  Tomatoes and peppers take time to put on and they typically won’t set fruit when the temperatures get above 95…which, you know, could be any day now.

Spring also means digging in the fallow bed from winter.  This bed is where most of my healthy spent plants are laid to rest in this bed.  In addition to that, I’ve added a good bit of good quality compost and cover cropped with peas.  But, now it’s time to get this baby into service.  It took a solid, long day of focused dirt working to call it finished, but here’s the process…

Fallow Bed's First Turning

Fallow Bed’s First Turning

First, I pulled out all the henbit that had grown up.  There was no photo of this step; you’ll just have to take my word on it.  There were a few gems growing, including a couple of poppy plants and some cilantro.  I left these and worked around them as much as possible.

Once the weeding was done, I dug a trench of approximately 8″ to 12″ deep right down the middle of the row.  This is my favorite configuration because I can compost in this trench even when the row is active.  It’s pareticulary helpful in the summer to trench compost, because you don’t need near as much water.   As you can see, you really don’t have to be fussy with where your dirt goes in this step.  The hardest part, for me, is always making the trench straight.  If it’s crooked, though, don’t worry too much about it.  You can fix it (or not).  Plants just do not care how orderly they look; that’s just me and my OCD.

Second Pass

Second Pass: Shaping

Once the quick and dirty trench is dug, I work the dirt.  This means breaking up large clods and neatening up the mess I just made.  This bed has now been around since last February and I’m happy with the texture and ample life I see in the dirt.  When I dug it the first time, it was extrmemely tight clay with limestone rocks interspersed.  But now…look at all the WORMS!  WORMWORMWORMS!  You know you want to say it, too.  Nobody’s looking…say it.  WOOOOORMS.   WORMSWORMSWOOOORMS!

Worms!

Worms!

Once the second pass hand tilling and shaping is finished, the rest seems like cake.  I added in some compost; this time I’m using Revitalizer compost from the Natural Gardener.  I can fit a half yard in the back of my pick up and it SO much cheaper than buying it bagged.  I try to put on several inches and work it in with the final shaping.  I use a regular garden rake (the stiff kind) and smooth the top of the row, then I go back and use my hands to get a really nice little valley in the top; nothing dramatic, but enough to act as a bit of a water trough.

Final shaping and amendment

Final shaping and amendment

Here, I missed taking a photo of the addition of irrigation, so I cheated and took a photo of the adjacent row.  It all looks the same, essentially.  I use reclaimed soaker hose and attach it to reclaimed solid hose.  People leave this stuff out on the curb all the time and it’s easy to splice it together with hose menders (available at most hardware stores) to make whatever size you need and to fix holes.  The holes are easy to find when I turn the water on becasue water shoots unceremoniously into some, usually slightly distructive direction.  All this is attached to a simple 4-zone timer.  I check all of these components frequently, as irrigation can cause one hell of a headache (and heartache).  It’s important to make sure that nothing is water starved or water logged and of course, that nothing wasted.  Most of this is just a question of observation, and for this reaon, I leave all my irrigation on top of the soil.  Some people opt for burying it, and there are good reasons for it, but it’s not my preference, as I find it difficult to detect problems before something terrible comes to pass.

Irrigation on the cheap

Irrigation on the cheap

And, finally, once all the irrigation issues have been addressed, I cover everything up with pine mulch and fill in the trench with hardwood mulch that I get periodically from the City of Austin.  My source for pine mulch is  my secret, though.  HINT: I used goodle maps to detect large groups of pine trees.  And, then I went there. With a rake.  It’s an adventure.  Like treasure hunting.

After the row looks pretty, in go the little seedlings.  This row gets peppers (my FAVorite!).

Pretty row of pretty pepper seedlings

Pretty row of pretty pepper seedlings

This is the season that I’ve historically had serious issues with cut worms.  It’s a heartbreaking thing…I just skip out to the garden to coddle my newly planted baby seedlings and find formerly gloroius specimens lying over like felled timber.  My approach to this problem is to cut a drinking straw and wrap it around the stem and push it just a bit below the soil.  It works really well.  Unfortunately, I skipped a few of the larger plants this year and regretted it.  RIP purple tomatillo and Red sweet pepper.  Your sacrifice has probably saved your comrades.

Pepper with cut worm collar

Pepper with cut worm collar

That’s it for now!  Look for peppers in the Yard to Market Online Store and our farmstand at HOPE Farmers’ Market.  You can say you saw their baby pictures!