Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bee Log 35: May 5, 2010

It is time to write about gardening. The last few years have been frustrating for me as a gardener. First of all, each year I have not known whether I would be around for the harvest. My husband is a frustrated farmer planted in the city. We have been shopping for a farm for about 10 years and each time we have almost purchased a farm, something has gone wrong. One farm was in probate. In Washington that means that, until the judge's gavel drops, someone can come along with a higher bid and scoop the property away. We lost out just before the judge's gavel dropped to a bid too high for us to top. Last summer, our house was on the market, we had an offer on a farm contingent on selling our house, our house sold and then it unsold. Another summer, we had the highest bid on a farm near Duvall that had multiple offers only to have the owner decide that he wanted to sell to his nephew to keep the property in the family (his prerogative). One farm did not have a well. They collected surface water for their needs. There is no way to get the loan we needed (that we could find) without an approved water system. The owner tried twice to dig a well and came up with too low a flow to count as a well. One farm suffered a record flood event just as we were about to make an offer. Every square inch of the farmland was underwater. The first floor of the house was above the flood by about 6 inches. We felt unprepared for such a disaster. There were more near misses.

The second problem with gardening has been my recent inability to get seeds to grow. I have never figured out exactly what is happening. I don't know if I have some sort of sprout killing fungus in the garden or bad cut worms or rampant slugs. We have had chickens all along that do a pretty good job on the slugs. Not even zinnias and nasturtiums have grown in the last two years. I have tried seeds each year and finally in desperation, gone out and purchased starts for the garden. Paper collars around the seeds have allowed some lettuce to grow so the chief suspect is cut worms.

The third problem I have been having is lowered futility of the soil. Last year, in an effort to remedy this problem, I brought home two pick-up truck loads of horse manure-uncomposted. I understand now that this was not a good thing. Something about the bacteria that break down the manure taking the available nitrogen for themselves and leaving none for the garden. I am currently reading a soils textbook as a result of my errors. I am learning about things that I should have known like limiting reagents or in this case limited futility due to not enough of some key soil ingredients.

Our first gardening task this year was to purchase 6 cubic yards of booster blend compost from Cedar Grove Compost. This is the cities chopped up yard waste composted with dairy manure. The dump truck that delivered the manure deposited it right where I wanted it in the driveway between my house and the neighbors. I did not anticipate the smell. Sorry neighbors. (I gave them some of the offensive substance as a compensation!) Well, you can't have good anaerobic bacteria without smell. I should have known! We have put the compost all over the yard and are seeing amazing results in greener grass and bigger weeds. Most of the compost went on the garden. We are busy mixing it in with the soil. We wanted to build raised beds out of concrete blocks but that was too expensive for this year so we shaped raised beds as best we could without side supports.

I have not planted seeds yet. That is next. I will buy tomato and pepper plants as I did not start any early myself.

For the present, we have decided to be urban farmers. We have a large lot and deep, almost rock free top soil. The bees and chickens are legal in Seattle in limited numbers. (Small goats are legal too but I have had experience with billy goats and have no desire to get a goat.) We have nice raspberries and grapes that are well established. We have a great walkable neighborhood and great neighbors. Our church, family connections and friends are all centered in Seattle.

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