We've been super busy, but we've finally managed to get all of our summer crops in! We've also had a very strange spring here in Oregon, with freezing temps at the beginning of May to 85F hot weather the next couple weeks! It was during this hot dry period that I became anxious that we would have very little spring rain and that we needed to get the crops into the field quickly, as large cracks were already forming in the soil. Because we practice dryland farming, timing is essential and if you miss the window for planting, there won't be enough water to sustain the crops throughout summer. This often means planting in May, watching for late frosts, and waiting for the soil to dry out enough to get into it. Luckily, we've recently got a really nice rain!
I ended up planting most of the crops during this drier period, when we were able to get into and prepare the beds, and the night temps rose above 45F. Throughout the winter, some of our beds were uncovered, and then some were covered with black tarps and some with clear plastic. I used my wheel hoe to break up the weeds that had grown in the uncovered beds. The black plastic worked like a charm to smother all of the weeds and break down some of the mulch and coffee grounds that I had applied. Unfortunately, the clear plastic worked as a greenhouse and the weeds grew into a veritable jungle (though, during the hot weather I observed the weeds beginning to die off). I learned that this type of solarization is only effective over the summer, which is basically useless to me if most of my crops are summer crops. Thus, we borrowed a tiller from a friend to break up the weedy jungle. Although we are working hard to be tillage free (it can be destructive to soil), I saved my back and Thorin got to play with the big machine; we tilled approximately 30% of our beds.
Here is a the layout of our current vegetable plot. We have 36 beds that are 100 sq. ft. (5x20').
We added our home-made compost to each deep planting hole with a bit of fish emulsion and worm juice. Then, each plant was surrounded with bark mulch. The plants will receive no more water for the rest of the season. (Good luck baby plants!)
Some of the more interesting experimental beds we are testing this year include a perennial bed of artichokes (with some annual flowers like cosmos and sunflowers), a three sisters bed (including watermelons, sweet corn, and scarlet runner beans), and garlic I planted in late October. I've also planted three rows of non-summer vegetables including kale, broccoli, mizuna, bok choi, mustard, and chard. The bok choi and half of the mustard already bolted (flowered), so I'm kind of glad these crops failed early and I could replace them. The kale and mizuna look great though! We will see how these experimental beds do as summer approaches and the soil dries out a lot more.
We are also continuing to work with OSU to obtain data for several dryland farming research programs. Similar to last year, we are doing another trial with the moisture meters (and also taking soil temperature readings) with Dr. Alex Stone. This trial also includes the tomato variety Early Girl and winter squash North Georgia Candy Roaster. These were fantastic last year and we are very happy to be growing them again. Additionally, we are working with Dr. Lucas Nerbert to examine the effects of commercial inoculants on specific crops. These fungal inoculants have been demonstrated to confer drought resistance and other beneficial qualities to plants. We are using the MycoApply mycorrhizal inoculant on our dent corn this year, which makes the seeds look positively magical! We are also doing alternate spacing plots, as planting density plays an important role in crop yield and quality.
Here's to hoping for a fantastic 2019 season! We look forward to seeing everybody at the new Monroe Farmers Market (starts Tues. June 4) as well as our farm stand as soon as we're done building it!