How to turn a hay field into a garden

| by | garden, greenhouse, vegetables | 4 comments:

After we got the wood boiler installed and part of the house rehabbed (the upstairs needed a new kitchen and the downstairs was transformed from one huge open space into an apartment style living quarters with a utility room) the next step was to make the garden. Our property has three large hay fields so we took a section of one field and planned our garden area. Deciding on the space was pretty easy. One hay field is too far from the house and another field has our septic system underneath it. The remaining hay field turned out to be the perfect place for a garden; it was flat with a gentle slope for drainage, across from the fresh water springs, next to the chicken coop and also viewable from my kitchen window.

We decided to section off a 7,500 sq ft area for the garden and start tilling it with the tractor a couple times over. We quickly found out two things; 1) the soil is full of clay and rock which isn’t the best for a garden but 2) it’s great for hay and hay loves to spread seed. Lots and lots of seed. So needless to say, our biggest uphill battle was fighting the hayseeds and creating good gardening soil. We didn’t want to use herbicide to kill the hay, so after tilling, Nemo used the front loader on the tractor to scrape off the top 6 to 8 inches of loose tilled top soil (which contained the many of the shallower hay roots) into a big pile at the edge of the garden.  We killed two birds with one stone and later used that soil to build up the hill we needed around the greenhouse. Next, we had to deal with the issue of our kinda shitty rocky clay soil. We decided that we could spend money over many years and slowly build up the proper soil or we could spend money up front and start off with a good soil base. So we went balls to the wall and got 3 dump truck loads of “black gold.” Black Gold is a 50/50 mix of gardening soil and compost. We compost out at the farm but not nearly enough to fill a garden of that size. More on composting in a future post.

The garden plot after it was tilled. That big pile of dirt is what we scraped off to eventually make the hill for the greenhouse.
The garden plot after it was tilled. That big pile of dirt is what we scraped off to eventually make the hill for the greenhouse.
We struck black gold!
We struck black gold!
The garden after the black gold was tilled in.
The garden after the black gold was tilled in.

After the dirt was scraped off and and the black gold was tilled in came the fun part, the vegetable planning part! We came up with our garden plan, knowing full well it would be our “trial and error” garden since it was our first year. We came up with three rows of beds with 2 tractor paths in between each row. We measured everything out and made string plots of all the beds. To section off the garden from the rest of the field, we installed a T-post fence around the garden area to include the vegetable garden plot, the future greenhouse and a small berry patch and perennial beds as well as room for expansion. We used wedge-lock anchors for the corners and wedge-lock gate hangers to hang the gate. This way, we would not have to put in permanent corner or gate posts since we will probably have to move the fence when we expand the garden later.

Planning the garden.
Planning the garden.
Zach, Turkey and Dave string plotting the beds.
Zach, Turkey and Dave string plotting the beds.
Fencing in the garden. Check out how nice those beds are looking!
Fencing in the garden. Check out how nice those beds are looking!

Oh yeah… water. You need lots of water for a garden. Surprisingly. At first we had like, five hoses running from the spigot by our well, across the driveway and down into the garden. Dave built a temporary sprinkler watering system out of a bunch of random stuff we found around the farm and about $100 in parts from Home Depot (mostly hose fittings and cheap sprinklers). We knew that eventually we would put in a badass permanent drip irrigation system, however, we also knew our garden plan would definitely change after our test year so we needed to wait.

Note the jerry rigged watering system.
Note the jerry rigged watering system. Kind of sloppy but it got the job done.

Dave’s jerry rigged sprinkler system put water on all the plants faster than we could by hand watering. However, it was still pretty labor intensive and Dave wound up having to tweak it almost weekly and get all wet and cranky.  Also the hose running across the driveway was also starting to get kinda fucked up. So again it was time for another great adventure in trenching. This time, Dave decided that we probably shouldn’t do it by hand and do the smart thing and rent a ditch witch. Good thinking. We already had planned on renting the trencher to dig from the house, well housing and boiler to the greenhouse pad for the radiant heated floor and the greenhouse water, power. So we figured “Why the hell not run another trench, off that trench, that tees over to the garden for a spigot there too. The drip irrigation will eventually attach to this spigot. So we invited a bunch of our friends over from the Cassilly Crew, had a work party, and got to trenching. We crossed our fingers and hoped that we wouldn’t hit any of the many other underground lines that were marked or any big rocks. And that, my friends, is how our front yard ended up like a large underground plate of spaghetti. (One trench from the boiler to the house. Another 3 from the boiler, well, and house that come  together and go to the greenhouse.  Then the  one that tees off the greenhouse trench to the garden spigot. Plus all of the existing underground power lines for the well pump and out buildings, home water lines from the well to the house, and the buried phone lines…Shit).

Our good friend, Chris, running the trencher.
Our good friend, Chris, running the trencher.

Didn’t hit any lines, but guess what….rocks. Lots of big ass rocks! We wound up having to borrow a mini excavator from a friend to get through it. Which Dave really wanted to avoid, because it would totally wreck the yard with its treads, plus the 2 foot wide bucked is a WAY wider trench then we needed.  The bad news is, the yard got wrecked. The good news is all the lines are in and I got to learn to opperate a mini excavator!

Oh, and I learned how to operate this thing (a mini excavator).
Oh, and I learned how to operate this thing (a mini excavator).

So after that trenching hell was over with, we had a garden plot with great soil and water! We fought some nasty weed problems throughout the season and because of that, we weren’t able to plant all of the garden. Actually, probably 2/3 of it. But the part that we did use was filled with tomatoes, okra, peppers so hot it would turn your face inside out, bush beans, snap peas, watermelon, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, carrots and lettuce. We learned a lot in the first year. As we prepare our garden for next spring, we’ll be able to better explain the progress of setting up and running the garden as we grow, rather than explain 6 months of growing in one blog post. We experienced some lows (the horrible aphid infestation, the worst midwest drought since the dust bowl and varmints) but also some great highs. We learned a lot about sustainable gardening and organic practices that Zach researched and implemented, such as organic amendments vs chemical amendments. We were able to harvest pounds and pounds of food, in fact, at one point we had so much tomatoes, we didn’t know what we were going to do with them all! Now we’re in the planning stages of our 2013 garden and looking forward to next season!

Another view of our 2012 garden.
A view of our 2012 garden.
Another view of the garden
Another view of the garden
One of our harvests from the summer.
One of our harvests from the summer.
Holy tomatoes!!
Holy tomatoes!!

4 Responses

  1. whyknocht
    February 1, 2013
    Reply

    I assume the “Black Gold came from St. Louis Composting. Great place. Also, Lorine has a recipe for green tomato pie. Tastes like apple pie. You could probably find one online. Looks like all the endeavors at Such and Such are bad ass!

  2. March 14, 2013
    Reply

    […] ties secure, we had to fill the bed up with dirt. We just so happened to have a massive pile of black gold (a 50/50 blend of garden soil and compost) that we’re adding to our vegetable garden this […]

  3. April 29, 2013
    Reply

    […] the black gold on top of the plowed […]

  4. June 14, 2013
    Reply

    […] that have been following us (you rule!) you know we didn’t use to have any crop land, we just had a hay field.  We’ll be trying a slightly different method this year to turn a section of our hay […]

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