This post is about all the preparations we made to get ready for the growing season. We had to get our work done in stages through the week and the post is divided into parts based on those stages. Most of my planting is based on theories I've read about which I'm implementing now to see how well they work. Now that I'm settled in my shack on the land, I had time and energy to focus towards what we're going to grow.
I. Making Use of Old Logs
When we first acquired our land the only thing growing on it were Eucalyptus trees. They're an invasive species that also deplete the water table, so we cut them down so we could plant other beneficial crop. How invasive you ask? Every tree in the picture below is either Eucalyptus or a type of Acasia known as Black Wattle.
Over the years some of the logs have been damaged and haven't weathered well. We've made use of some of the sturdier logs to build makeshift bridges but the worst affected ones are lying useless. I'd read about hugelkutur before and thought we could use our logs at the base of raised beds created from the mud excavated from upcoming swales. The benefit of the logs being inside a raised bed is that the slow decay of wood will provide extra nutrients to plants for years. Throughout the week I've been helped by two workers who carried and placed the logs at the desired location on our beds.
Swales are earthworks designed to trap and store rainwater in the ground. They're usually dug on contours of a specific land as that allows gravity to slowly drain water into the ground. They're important to organic gardening as the swales store water in the ground itself and the need for irrigation and pumps are minimized. As we've been getting decent rainfall over the week I thought this was the best time to dig our swales. As our land is terraced, we dug ours at the base of every terrace wall instead of a contour line. Over the week we managed to dig two swales on two separate beds as we're doing them by hand and it takes a lot of time to cover the length of our beds.
Below is an example of how our partially dug swale caught rainwater after a heavy shower that then slowly seeps into the land.
III. Preparing the Beds
After our swales were dug we had to prepare the beds for planting. We used a modified tilling method known as double digging to prepare the beds. The principle is that after the ground is tilled along a line, we use a crowbar to loosen the soil. This provides aeration to the soil and allows plant roots to grow deeper. We then add a layer of cow dung as fertilizer and use the mud produced by tilling the next line to cover the cow dung. We proceed like this linearly until the ground is covered. We also marked pathways to ensure all areas within a bed are accessible from the paths. This ensures no one steps on the bed itself which can compact all the aeration we just created.
If you're wondering what we did with all the weeds on the beds, we didn't waste them. We stacked them in alternating layers of browns and greens to make a compost pile. This is the second compost pile we've made with the first around two weeks away from completion. We currently need to wait for our crops to germinate, but once they do these weeds will also be used as mulch material for our beds to retain water and provide an environment for fungus and other beneficial microorganisms.
V. The Moon Cycle
A lot of farmers swear by planting crops at specific times of the lunar calendar. Just as the moon controls the tide, the moon affects ground water in subtle ways and thus certain crop fair better at certain times. The moon cycle to plant by occurs in 4 stages.
In this phase the moon's gravity pull water upwards and the light increases in increments. This makes it an ideal time for new seeds and equal leaf and root growth. This time is best for crops that produce harvest above ground like lettuce according to old tradition.
In this phase the gravitational pull is less and the moon light is strong providing the best time to grow crops that have seed inside fruits like beans.
In this phase the gravitational pull is strong and the moonlight decreases which promotes root growth and is thus suitable for below ground crops like carrots.
In this phase both moonlight and gravitational pull are decreased and is thus considered a time for rest. This is the best time for transplanting crops or doing maintenance like pruning.
VI. Planting by the Moon Cycle
The logic made sense to me and so I thought instead of planting all my seeds at once, I'd follow the moon cycle to plant specific seeds at specific times. May 15th was the New Moon, so since then until the 22nd is the New Moon phase. I collected the seeds I currently have and narrowed down a few based on what was appropriate for this phase.
I selected two kinds of Methi, Kale and Swiss Chard to plant on one bed saving the Celery and Sage for different beds which I'll plant next month. Methi is the Hindi word for Fenugreek which is also a nitrogen fixer. I figured I'd use companion planting to plan my crops so that the nitrogen fixers are in between other crops. As our raised beds are packed with extra nutrients I planted the Kale and Swiss Chard on it and marked their locations with sticks so I'd know where to plant my nitrogen fixing beans next week. The Methi was planted in our double dug beds adjacent to where our carrots will be planted. I chose to plant directly as our makeshift nursery was taken apart as we needed the material for my shack. In the future I'll have to work on my timing so I'll have batches of plants ready to go into the soil as previous ones are harvested.
VI. The Plan
This is how I plan on planting the rest of this bed by the moon cycle and the seeds I have. In between planting we'll be kept busy with preparing our other beds in a similar fashion and I'll have to get more seeds of different varieties of herbs and vegetables as well as set up a nursery for the more delicate plants.
Hopefully the nitrogen fixers are beneficial to their neighbours and we get a beautiful harvest from this bed down the road.