Sunday, March 31, 2013

The red-winged blackbirds and the sandhill cranes call from the fields around the house, and a pair of woodpeckers are building a nest in a hollow tree on the creek. It seems a little early for true spring here in the wild Montana mountains, but we're eager for it none the less. This weekend, we finally had time to start work on the gardens. Since moving here last year, we've discovered the heavy, alkaline, clay soil (along with a 30-100 day growing season) really isn't very good for raising our food. But if our ancestors were able to make it work, surely we will too. The existing garden, although lovely in its planning, was full of totally depleted soil. We built retaining walls last fall, but the snow caught us before we were able to replace the soil. On Friday, I pulled off the leaf mulch and we piled on load after load of well-aged horse manure. The new beds are 10" deep and look fantastic! That garden will hold our important storage crops like onions, parsnips, and potatoes, as well as cucumber, yellow wax beans, and zucchini. In the middle sits a stone bed of herbs, and the east edge is full of raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries (struggling in our alkaline soil), gooseberries and currants. The gooseberries and currants didn't produce last year-- I have no familiarity with them, and I read that some varieties take three years to become established before producing. We'll see what happens this year! With some major additions of wood ash and pine needle mulch, I hope to help the blueberries pull through... but everything I read tells me it's unlikely they'll survive. Our house garden consists of a bunch of 35-gallon cattle mineral tubs. Less work than digging a new bed, and hopefully warmer (thanks to the black plastic), they were a cinch to drill full of drainage holes and fill with well-composted manure this weekend. While I muscled those into place, Levi built six beautiful seed-starting boxes of scrap lumber and florescent light fixtures, insulated with foil-backed foam. They are going to be ideal for giving seedlings a strong start, and I'm looking forward to having a dining room full of plants! The vegetable garden preparations went so smoothly I had time to wire up a new compost bin and fill it half full of scraps, leaves, and moldy hay, and lay out my new "sundial" garden at a corner of the courtyard area behind our house. Now instead of seeing a propane tank from our bedroom window, I'll have a lovely flower garden in bloom all summer.

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