How did this happen? Spring flowers, lambs in the paddocks, yet frosts on the ground.
We haven’t been hibernating over the winter, we’ve been like all good creatures, preparing for the Spring and Summer times ahead. One of our “things” is teaching folk how to grow and then preserve food. Anybody can do it, truly. Even if you don’t have a huge place for growing like ours, you can still grow something. Even if your soil is not soil, but sand, you can still grow something.
Over the years of developing our place, we’ve built raised beds, non-raised beds, orchards, food forests and many more, some would say crazy ideas. But, we always have food. Last season though was dreadful in terms of yield. Here in Martinborough we go from one extreme to the other – wet to dry, sometimes in a matter of a few weeks. Last season was very dry, and we don’t have enough water to water our gardens as may urban dwellers can.
We recognise as we get older we have to work smarter, not harder. Because our place is open to the public, on booked tours, we have to keep it tidy. This is a challenge. There are lawns to be mown, beds to be weeded, edges to be cut and lots and lots of weed-eating to do. We decided we were over it. No more we shouted!!!!!!!
This doesn’t mean we are not going to garden any more, far from it, we are going to garden differently. We are going to move most of the hens from the food forest (the Chinese silkies can stay) to the main orchard. Then the entire food forest, half the paddock next door to it, and last year’s market garden area is going to become one large garden area, but with one massive change.
In a move that will keep the weeds down and retain water and develop the soil, we are covering everything with cardboard, and then covering that with a very deep (6 to 8 inches) of wood chip. Not bark chip, but wood chip. Our area is huge, so it will take us some years, but we are starting small, just like you can. Everybody needs to be able to be food secure, so the time to start is now. Actually the time was probably a couple of months ago in autumn, but better late than never is the idea here.
Make a decision to change part of your front lawn or back lawn if you have one into a garden bed for this coming season. To hurry things along, mow an area (even a couple of feet by a couple of feet is a start) as short as you can, then weed eat as short as you can. If you don’t have a weed eater, and if your grass is a good solid mat, you may want to scrape some of it off. If time is on your side, then leave it. We are leaving it in areas we don’t want to plant in this season, and by next spring, 202, it will be perfect, black soil, teeming with microbes and worms and other goodies. Cover the area completely with cardboard and cover that with chips. Don’t use bark chips and don’t, whatever you do, mix the wood chips into the soil. The point of the chips is not to feed the soil but to provide an environment for the worms and fungi to do their thing, and to aid the soil in retaining water.
If you already have garden areas that are more or less weed free (or you can make it so) then just add the wood chips onto the soil, to a depth of at least 6 inches. If the soil is not wet, then water it, as if it were raining :-). If your beds are raised as ours are, you can start planting carrot seeds, beetroot seeds, silver beet seeds, whatever takes your fancy. It is still too early to plant much else out in the garden directly, but things will warm up.
To plant seeds or seedlings, pull the wood chips right back from where you are going to plant, taking care not to mix the chips with the soil underneath. If you are planting seedlings or trees, use a wheelbarrow or a tarpaulin or some newspaper to put the soil out of any holes you dig, so that you don’t mix it with the chips. If you are planting seeds, plant your seeds (only a few at a time, so that you don’t get hundreds of silver beet plants ready at once), and sprinkle lightly with soil. Now the game gets exciting. Wait until those little green shoots come through (the time taken will depend on the temperature of the soil) and then over the next weeks, gradually more the chips back towards to seedlings. If you are planting seedlings, plant them at a depth so that when you replace the chips it will look as if the seedlings are planted in chips.
That’s it! The same method will apply if you are able to plant trees or currants or strawberries or raspberries or everything!
If you don’t have any outside lawn or room for a garden you can apply the same techniques to a pot garden, an old bath, grow bags, hessian bags – just start. You’ll be eating food you grew yourself in no time.