Notes from Windward: #63

April Update

Tara and Gina working on layout plans
for the kitchen garden.
     Still not a lot happening garden-wise. We're at 2000' elevation, so our soil is slow to warm up even with a southern exposure. While it's too early to put seeds in the ground, there's still a number of things going on as we get ready for this year's season.

     One way to warm up the soil involves spreading black plastic on the ground, a trick which also prevents the weeds from getting a head start. Another option involves using really big tires to create raised beds. The black rubber traps the sun's heat and provides and the center hole provides great drainage. Each year the soil in the tire settles and needs to be "topped off," but the sheep pens provide plenty of manure rich material.

     Since we keep the sheep in the main garden for much of the winter, most of the new crop of manure is already in place and ready for the rototiller. One of the key building blocks of sustainability is economy of effort; things that require a lot of work often just don't get done. By feeding and keeping the sheep in the garden area, the most tedious garden task, hauling manure, is no chore at all.

the holes for the blueberry plants
     In time, much of the area south of the dining hall will become one big garden, but for now it's divided up into various specialty areas. Just south of the kitchen garden, which is where we grow fresh salad greens and flowers for the table, we've created our "berry patch." Last year, we planted raspberries and bush cherries, and this year we're adding blueberries.

     Windward is about learning, and nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Accordingly, we've learned to take small steps and pay attention before rushing headlong into a planting project. The purpose of the "berry patch" is to enable us to learn about the particular characteristics and needs of these plants, and to then use them to propagate more of what works for us.

     Arguably the number one reason for plantings to fail involves not taking the time to prepare a proper bed for the plant. If you bring home a container plant from the store, dig a hole to fit the new plant, and just stick it into the ground, you probably would have been better off spending your money on a lottery ticket.

Last year's raspberries
getting an early start this year
     Instead, you need to dig up an area as large as the root area of the mature plant, and mix in whatever it takes, i.e. compost, sand, pH modifiers, etc., to create the plant's optimum growing conditions. This provides the added benefit of opening up the soil to let water and oxygen in, something which is a problem for us given the clay content of our soil.

     One nifty part of community life involves access to labor saving equipment. In this case, we just took down a fence panel and brought in the backhoe to quickly dig a dozen holes for the new blueberry plants. In no time at all, we had twelve good sized holes ready for compost, aluminum sulphate and blueberry plants.

     Last year we planted raspberries and bush cherries, and are delighted to see last year's raspberry canes in full leaf, and new canes coming up on their own. The bush cherries are covered with buds, and given the blossoms decorating the river (some 1,200' lower in elevation), we should be seeing flowers before the end of the month.

     Another gardening project underway involves getting Heather's wildflower patch ready to plant. Heather's specialty is making works of art and one of a kind cards using hand made paper and natural materials such as lichens, feathers and wildflowers. The plan is to use the area below her greenhouse porch to grow the various wildflowers that she uses in her craft business.

     Before seeding the wildflowers, we used the backhoe to dig out some old oak stumps (they take many years to rot away). Once the stumps are all out and burned, we'll use the drag box to smooth out the area. One day, we'll want to think about terracing this area, but this will do for now.

ripping out stumps
from the wildflower garden
     At this point in Windward's growth, gardening is not a way to put the bulk of our food on our table. No doubt the day will come when we get into gardening in earnest, but for now, while our primary focus is on construction, we're content to see the gardens as a pleasant pastime which enriches us all by providing fresh garden greens for our salads, fresh fruit for our ceral, flowers for our table and materials for our marketable crafts. We see that as a pretty good start.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 63