10/30/13

Eden Garden Update-Year 2


Lettuce and spinach reseeded itself among the broccoli
 It's been two full seasons since we completely converted our garden plot in the fashion described by a movie called Back to Eden. (See blog post Experimenting with Eden.) We have learned a lot since we started (See blog posts First Eden Experiment Update and Eden Garden Update-Year 1 Lessons), and we can now count the project as mostly a success.

As soon as the snow melted this spring, we began seeing signs that the lettuce and spinach seeds that we sowed in Fall and believed to be long gone were not only still viable, but had indeed germinated! This was our first positive sign from our previously unimpressive mulch bed.

I got a slow start on planting the rest of the garden due to a death in the family and a catastrophic knee injury that resulted in a 3 month lay up and surgery. It was all I could do to crutch through Home Depot to pick out vegetable starts in late May, and if Home Depot didn't have it, well, it didn't get planted this year.

I coerced the Hubby into putting my store-bought starts in the ground, and I laid, with icepack on my elevated knee, staring out my bedroom window at the rising tide of bindweed spilling into the garden from the pasture. I emailed friends and acquaintances my desperate pleas for help pulling weeds in exchange for harvest rights, at least until I could sit in a chair and pull them myself.

Summer came, temperatures rose, and I finally ditched the crutches. Other than the spring greens, which had by this time bolted and gone to seed, the only thing that was doing really well was the bindweed. "Physical therapy" became a euphemism for weeding the garden, and was actually pretty effective from a mobility and muscle development standpoint, and my surgeon was rightly impressed with my muscle tone by my 3-month post-operative visit.

By July, I'd removed at least 1000 pounds of bindweed from in and around my vegetables. I was ready to burn the entire garden to the ground because my paltry vegetable plantings were failing to provide food in proportion to the amount of work I was putting into keeping them happy and weed-free. I decided I'd pull out the remaining bindweed and then rake the mulch down to the dirt to rip any tiny shoots that may be running undetected beneath the ground cover. Then we got a good rain.

About a week later, I went out to evaluate the effectiveness of my bindweed destruction plot and discovered something very interesting. Volunteers. Dozens of baby tomato plants were thriving in the part of the garden I'd abandoned because of last year's vole infestation. And the lettuces and spinach that I let go to seed after they bolted, had re-seeded themselves everywhere. I even found them in my pasture where I'd pitched the dead plants when I replanted the row. Of course, some mulch made its way to the other side of the fence as well, along with the dead piles of bindweed.
Tomato volunteers
I now believe that all of those viable seeds were trapped somewhere in the mulch beneath the bindweed, and that by vigorously raking the mulch, I reunited the seed with the soil, and aerated the entire environment at the same time. This caused a flurry of growth in a way I hadn't seen to date in the garden.
Lettuce in the pasture
I discovered that last year's less-than-impressive mulch bed is now practically a living, breathing organism all on its own. Colonies of pill bugs are evident, along with all of the beneficial companion bugs that help compost and break down soil. Worms are abundant and healthy and the soil just an inch down is moist and dark black with organic matter. What a marvel!
Pill bug colony (I think)
Later research revealed that my nemesis bindweed is actually renowned for restoring fertility to an area. The website Home Remedies For You claims:
"Bindweed finds other uses in restoring the fertility of agricultural land that has been subject to the extensive use of chemicals and pesticides. It is researched and believed to eradicate chromium, copper, and cadmium from the soil.Bindweed also exhibits properties similar to that of nitrogen fixing plants. The presence of calystegins in the roots of bindweed act as a source of carbon and nitrogen to the rhizobacteria that is responsible for nitrogen fixation. Thus, the fertility of the soil is enhanced for agricultural use."
So to recap, the Eden Experiment does not work as advertised. It is not a solution to the problem of weeding, at least not in parts of the country where bindweed grows. It is, however, an excellent way to return fertility to your soil, create an optimal environment for plants to grow, and minimize water usage throughout the season.

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