Monday, March 29, 2010

Having Trouble Getting It Up?


Are you tired of the same old thing day in and day out?  Year after year nothing changing, well it may be time to mix it up and reignite that old flame and boy have I got the answer for you...  
As discussed in our March 2nd post on amending a soil bed, broadforking helps aerate and decompact the soil before reseeding a bed.  This is an efficient technique, but after a few years of consistent broadforking, sometimes the soil will need an extra jolt to get your plants reaching for the sky as they once were.  As you can see in the picture above, this soil bed looks pilly and hard because it has been seeded and watered so many times.  Over time, with the addition of water, the soil compresses down on itself leaving only the rocks to eventually rise to the top.

The broadfork only moves the top layers of the soil, but once this rockiness starts to occur the plants may have trouble growing.  It may be time to dig a little deeper and how do we do that?  Well with a rototiller of course (What the hell is a rototiller?  Yea, that's what we asked too.)  So we all climbed into the Kubota and learned all about it.

Just like the electric tiller we used a few weeks ago, this bigger, tougher version will help cycle the nutrients throughout the soil, remove any moss and help improve the soil's structure, which had become so unfriendly. Since this tiller is so much more powerful, you run the risk of bringing old weed seeds to the surface, but that is a risk worth taking since the current top layer of soil was not providing a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth.

In this particular case, the bed had been planted with root vegetables which utilize a lot of nutrients in the soil over a longer period of time.  Another good reason to constantly rotate your crops in each bed, to get the most out of your soil.  Even if you do that, after a few years you will still need to mix in those untapped materials from the deeper layers, which did not have a chance to strut their stuff since the broadfork only goes so deep.  Just look at how smooth, dark and rich this newly tilled soil bed looks.  You can feel the difference too, it's much silkier and fine.

The next step was to test out this theory and replant one of the beds that had been struggling for so long.  

Sara had Matt mark up the bed so we would know how much space was needed between each plant.

These lettuce plants were seeded in soil blocks a few weeks earlier and now were ready to grow to their full potential in this bed.  

We planted three different types of lettuce in this bed:
Sara chose to start with the Breen, which had a darker green color with a hint of red.  We planted in a 4-3 spacing which means we planted at each of the four intersections and the three square spaces in-between, but first we had to stretch.

I wish this was a joke, but we've both woken up with some serious post-farm soreness when we don't stretch.  Your body gets twisted in some pretty awkward ways when your bending down for hours trying not to step on the surrounding beds.
Spacing is key because you do not want the plants to be on top of each other fighting for root space or nutrients and in a greenhouse especially, with limited capacity, you want to make sure you are always maximizing your efficiency.
Using a planting sword, you want to dig a hole big enough to fit your soil block.  You want it to be deep enough that it can't come out of the ground, but not too deep that the cotyledons struggle to breathe.  Pack the soil right up to the level of the cotyledons.

Then using your fingers, you want to press gently around the stem to ensure it is secure.  
We found it easier to place each block in its potential home instead of running back and forth to the trays.  This helped us visualize the final product and save time.

So we went from an idea...

To a final product
It was a lot of meticulous work, but together the three of us did this in no time at all.  

The next step was to water these newbies.  The greenhouse is set up with an overhead sprinkler system, which is controlled manually from a few central locations.
The sprinklers are directly above the beds and spaced a few feet apart all the way down in a row.
Wait...what is this?!?!?!! One of the blocks wasn't planted and is just sitting on top of the bed getting soaked with no home?  What are we going to do?  Leave no soldier behind, that's for damn sure.
Quick on his toes, Matt dives right back into the torrential downpour with no regard.  He has his mind focused on one thing, find that lettuce a home ASAP.

Success!  The lettuce is safe and secure and in March 2010 a new hero is born.  Ladies and gentlemen, lettuce, carrots and radishes, I'm proud to call this danger-seeking bastard my friend and I'll tell you one thing, I'm glad he's on our side.

2 Weeks later
In just 2 weeks look at the progress all three lettuces have made, they're HUGE!

Look at this fallen soldier that Matt saved.  After all that, besides for the broken left arm/leaf, he is stronger than ever.


Post a Comment