10/22/13

Eden Garden Update-Year 1 Lessons


In our first year of implementing the Eden Garden program, (See blog post Experimenting with Eden) we experienced some ups and downs.

Successes
Year one's garden produced a humongous harvest. My cucumber yield alone was nearly commercial in scale as I was harvesting 10 pounds of pickling cukes per day. I was able to give hundreds of pounds away in addition to canning 3 cases of dill relish, 6 cases of garlic dill pickles, 2 cases of spicy dill pickles and a case or two of my new invention, "burger stackers". I also had great watermelons, peppers, and tomatillos, and a satisfactory harvest of potatoes and slicing tomatoes. I made several cases of different salsas and tried a great peach, pepper jelly recipe that I'm determined to repeat.


Failures
The corn was a total bust as we got corn smut (didn't know it was a delicacy until after we threw away the infected ears), and we wound up trapping 5 pillaging raccoons, but by then, they had consumed every ear of good corn left. The zucchinis never survived the squash beetle infestation and the monstrous cherry tomato plants turned into habitat for voles, which threatened to take over the rest of the garden. It's hard to tell at this point in the experiment how much of our failure was due to the 80 degree temperatures starting in March and the historic drought conditions, and how much was related to growing pains in the new system. We do know that we definitely made a few mistakes that affected our success rate. This is what we learned.

Mistake #1: Installing the new mulching system in the spring.
While it kept the weeds at bay, the new mulch began composting at the soil surface and robbed the soil of the nitrogen it needed to feed our seeds, thus, most of the seeds we sowed directly did not germinate. In hindsight, we should have plowed our old garden under in the fall and installed the irrigation and mulch then. That way it would have had the entire winter to compost under the snow and perform its necessary nitrogen exchange, leaving the ground fertile by springtime.

Mistake #2: Mulching over the seed.
After sowing our seed, we covered the newly planted seed with the mulch, not even considering that the same mulch layer that inhibits growth of weeds would surely be a barrier to our new vegetable shoots as well. To combat this problem in later plantings, we left rows open until the shoots were above the mulch line, then pushed the mulch around the new greens.

Mistake #3: Over and under-watering.
With the mulch present, it's difficult to tell when the plants need water, because you can't just observe the dry soil. When we planted our starts, many of them shocked right away so we gave them plenty of water. They snapped out of it, but then looked droopy the next day so we watered again. We just kept watering any time one of the plants looked limp and droopy, and ultimately, many died. When we dug the poor plants up, we discovered they were sitting in a pool of water. We finally bought a moisture meter and used it each time we thought we should water. Mostly, we were completely wrong about when the garden needed irrigation and when it didn't. The majority of the plants snapped back when we used science, rather than passive observation to determine if the poor buggers needed water.

End of year one
At the end of the year, we put the garden to bed by pulling the large dead plants, and letting anything that fell off join the mulch to compost naturally over time. That means that frost damaged tomatillos, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, etc, were left on the surface of the soil to decompose throughout the winter, and the plants got pitched over the pasture fence.

Exhausted from an epic year of planting, harvesting, canning and freezing, we sowed just one row of lettuce and spinach in the fall, and built a row cover for the top, but one blasting windstorm ended our row cover, so we just left the poor seeds on their own until spring. Hopefully year two will reveal more success from the Eden Experiment.

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