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A soil in need of amendment

July 20, 2010

I seem to move to a new area during their hottest summer/coldest winter/wettest spring on the record books. San Francisco in 2001, it was the coldest winter anyone could remember, and it snowed on Twin Peaks. Me being an “O.C.” (I can’t believe I just called it that) girl, my blood froze, my eyeballs withered, my bones were brittle, and my skin was papery. What the hell had I done.

When I moved back down to L.A… well, it probably wasn’t the hottest summer on the record books, but I think it’s safe to say that every summer there is the hottest summer ever. On the planet. Egypt? No contest. Iraq? Please. You haven’t seen heat until it’s combined with smog. It’s called steaming hot breathable tar. There’s no escape and you’re guaranteed to be miserable, inside and out. Body, mind and home.

Now we arrive in the beautifully green northwestern area of Oregon. Green because of all the rain, I get that. But, really? This year’s spring was awful. Apparently, another record breaking terribly unbearable season my first year in a new place, the wettest May since 1941. Couple this late, wet growing season with our novice (that’s even a generous term) gardening skills… and you have two very disappointed budding farmers. I feel mildly consoled knowing that everyone is having a hard time this year, with the exception of Ryan Palmer who is summoning, in some fashion, is master tetris guru vibes onto his super productive, blasting-apart-with-life-and-edible-foods, mega-garden this year. Everyone aim your evil eye toward Vancouver. Then we add in our soil issue. Little did we know, that the soil in our garden is pretty much completely depleted of all nutrients. I should have suspected something was up when the grass was growing everywhere but there… hindsight:20/20.

My beginner logic was “here’s where there garden was, it must be good.”

Wrong. In several ways.

Yes, the previous owner’s garden had been there. It clearly was a large square of tilled, gardened soil. Was it a well placed, desirable patch of tilled, gardened soil? No. Probably the worst sun exposure on the property. Strike one. Probably the worst soil on the property: clay. Strike two. When I was tilling it for our garden, I was pulling up pumpkin leftovers. I just learned over the weekend that squashes sap the soil of everything. Strike three. Not that I need another strike, but we just weren’t aware of the idea of soil amendment. So we fertilized. Good enough right? Strike four. It was thick clay, poorly draining and lacking any nutrients.

The good news is that we are getting a few things out of it: lettuce, sweet peas, bush beans, carrots, potatoes, onions… the bad news is, that it will probably stop there. And soon.

The second round of good news is that we have a really great 10,000 square foot patch of field that we’re going to plant. Word on the street is that much space can grow enough to feed 25 families for a year. Celebrate! It will take some work, and we’re going to do it right.

Step one: We mow and till the field. Take soil samples and send them off.

Step two: The soil sample usually takes 3 weeks to process. When you get the report back it tells you exactly what you need to add to the soil. So, we follow the recommendations from the report and till the new goodies into the soil.

Step three: Three weeks later, till again. And plant!

We’d like to get this done in time for a fall garden. We’ll see. That means mowing and tilling with in the next week or so. Time to kick it into high gear.


Disappointed Yet Hopeful Farmer D.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 9:34 am

    Unsolicited advice:

    Before you go too far with your new plot planning, I strongly suggest reading Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. It gives some great insight as to the problems of this region. We have had a bad season too… but you should take heart in knowing that a fresh plot on old pasture is often the best garden condition you can hope for. We take his lead in adding lime, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate (bonemeal if you prefer), and kelp meal.

    You may also wish to start much much smaller until you have your sea legs. 10,000 square feet is a whole lot of weeding; and no matter how carefully you till, there is going to be a lot of weeding. It starts off easy and kind of fun, but when the Green Wave hits in June, you will be overwhelmed. You might start with something just to feed yourselves for a year or two.

  2. July 21, 2010 9:50 pm

    Good call and thanks for the advice. We are big on biting off more than we can chew and tend to fall into ‘well, we’re already doing x, so why not xyzabc.. pattern.’ We’ll plant as much as we can after doing as much research as we can and if things get out of control at least it’s weeds AND veggies and not just weeds. Thanks for the tip on the book! Stoked to read it.

  3. Amy Bates permalink
    July 26, 2010 10:22 am

    Have you read about the “food forest” concept in farming? There’s an article in a magazine called the Bohemian that circulates around here – I’ll try to find it for you.

  4. Amy Bates permalink
    July 26, 2010 10:28 am

    Check this out… Reading it almost had Bates moving to Sebastopol, he was so fascinated.

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