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SUMMARY: if you want the real quick version.
if i repeat myself, it's been a long day and
i'm not going to edit this any more.
RATIONALE, HISTORY & DESCRIPTION:
started in solid clay as a project to see how
clay can be improved. it has been some kind of
tree farm, left bare or roughly planted and
weeded, but not formally kept after much at all.
the area is roughly rectangular and about 7m x
20m. it gets full sun most of the day. the
north and east edges are bordered by some bushes
and ditches that run all year.
as a garden/field it provides: snake, frog and
toad habitat, bee and butterfly food, worm food for
the bins, green manure for the gardens and overall
decorative appeal from the flowers and greens. the
icing is erosion control (i snuck that in there :) ).
it is now about the end of the first year since
it was replanted.
it was planted with alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil
in a spiral pattern. the width of the stripes was
about 50cm (more on this later) and a pathway was
to prepare the area i first knocked it back
with glyphosate. there was a lot of sow thistle
running through it and i also wanted the grasses
out of there. i took advantage of having the
whole area back to bare dirt to also level it out
and eliminate a gully that was forming. i did
till it, but it was so dry the soil was like a
brick and the worms were either dead or down deep.
i haven't used any more glyphosate on this patch
since then (even though i wanted to at one point
this spring when it looked to be getting overrun
by mouse-eared chickweed -- i'm glad i didn't it
looks beautiful now :) ). instead i spent a fair
amount of time going through the west and south
edges by hand pulling up the chickweed. the spiral
pathway became the place to pile the weeds. i
wanted to be able to scrape or dig up anything
that grew again without damaging the rest of the
garden, that aspect worked out ok. as the patch
gets nicer and i have to weed less the pathway
is filling in with plants from the seeds that are
being dropped. there will be a lot more sprouts
from some weed seeds i'll have to keep after
in the pathway, but i'll take that work in trade
for the hundreds of pounds of weeds that were
piled there. i'm hoping a lot of the weed seeds
were eaten by worms, but as of yet i have not found
any literature or studies on the topic (i haven't
had much time to look yet either, that's likely
to be a winter item).
ok, so back to today, finally i could get out there
and do some nosing about and see how the soil was
changing. in areas like the pathway (where i was
stacking weeds to dry and rot for the worms) the soil
was doing very well. the top few cm were showing signs
of improvement. it was darker and easier to get a rake
through and there were even worms about (we've had rain
in other spots that were more bare it was hard to
get the rake in the soil at all. i broke the surface a
little with the rake and reseeded with trefoil to get
them covered again. one nice thing about working
in clay and plants that have a good tap root is that
you can rake it pretty deeply to get a lot of the
small weeds and sprouts and still leave the desireable
plants in place.
a few weeks ago i'd chopped the whole patch back to
simulate it being grazed and scattered most of the
trimmings back on the surface. queen anne's lace was
getting ready to set seed and Ma had done me a favor
by pulling many of the seed bearing mustards. the
alfalfa had just ripened enough that there was viable
seed in the pods. out came the hedge trimmers (i
mooed a few times too). it looked pretty nice but
barren in comparison to the edge of trefoil i'd managed
to weed all along.
the trimmings are now reduced to mostly dried stems.
the worms probably feasted. the alfalfa has rapidly
bounced back -- over 25cm high and looking nice. the
queen anne's lace and some of the other tap rooted plants
are much easier to pull. the roots are shrunken and some
show rot. this is a good thing as i've pulled thousands
of queen anne's lace over the years and most of them are
tough cookies to get out (waiting until after a good
soaking rain also helps a lot). hollyhocks also, by
the thousands (we have a lot of hollyhocks here).
both the alfalfa and trefoil have deep tap roots. in
hard packed clay within the first year the roots have gone
down between 40 - 60cm (for those i've been pulling). they
are between between 4-12mm in diameter. i.e. don't let
these plants go if you want to pull them later. :)
glyphosate resistant alfalfa will be a horrible weed of the
the trefoil within the spiral was mostly crowded out by
the chickweed and other weeds, i was sidetracked by another
project before i could finish weeding the whole garden.
today i reseeded the larger bare spots and hope that will
do and if it doesn't i can transplant some smaller plants
and they'll fill it in. a single plant can cover about a
quarter of a square meter and i like to keep them smaller
by trimming. these plants will also grow in a lawn. let
them grow a little long once in a while and you'll get
plenty of flowers all season (for this you want a lower
growing variety than the common viking agriculural kind.
often you can find them growing along the side of the road.
the seeds are fairly large (about the same size as alfalfa
seeds) and brown in contrast to the alfalfa seeds (which
are yellow -- funny how the dark flowered alfalfa has the
lighter seed color).
the frogs and toads are doing better this season. Ma and
i were just talking about this as she mowed and noticed plenty
of them hopping around -- appearing in numbers we haven't seen
in a long-long time. i'm quite surprised since it has been so
dry. they use the spiral garden as a jumping off point from
the Drain (where they get a chance to breed). i've not seen
many snakes out there, but i likely wouldn't. they are much
more visible in the fenced garden pathways (we have a lot
of large rocks in various places and piles, they like those).
i haven't seen a turtle around in a long time, but we don't
have any large puddles/ponds within a few hundred yards of
us. the turtles would have to survive a long open field
journey and then cross the Drain to get where we would
see them. if we had sandier soil along the ditch i'd expect
to see more of them as then they could have a nesting
site. still, with more frogs and toads i'm hoping that
turtles might wander through more often too.
deer and bunnies are not raiding the garden yet, but a
tough winter and that could change. the bunnies i try
to discourage. the deer in the winter it won't matter
what i do short of going out there and standing there as
when they are hungry and they know food is here they will
keep coming back. this past fall the hunters must have
finally taken out the ring leaders who knew our place as
a food source because we had no tree damage for the first
time in a long time. we hope they continue this trend
for next year. it's nice to have the bottoms of the
cedars covered again. i'm hoping if they do come back
they'll eat the alfalfa and trefoil and leave the trees
alone... we'll see what happens.
the garlic i had mixed in was mostly overgrown. while
i was hoping it would turn out as well as any other garlic
it was about half sized. with the dry spell we had and
the soil being solid clay i wasn't hugely surprised by
this result. i did not have enough garlic growing in the
trefoil (grows shorter) to do an accurate comparison.
that will have to be the test of another season. in the
meantime i'm going to have a lot of garlic to weed out
there this fall and next spring. :) yum yum.
i'll continue to harvest some of the greens until
the frosts knock it back. the trefoil is nicer if
kept more compact. i like the alfalfa to get taller
(in contrast) and it would actually be tough to keep
them the same height. alfalfa grows faster once it
is established. the woody stems of both are looking
to be a good longer term material to break down,
taking months to years before they are gone. the
leaves are digested quickly after they hit the ground.
the more i can let the plants grow before chopping it
back the more layers of stems i might be able to pile on
top of the clay and that will start setting up an even
nicer soil habitat for the worms and other soil creatures.
it is an interesting tradeoff. i doubt most farmers of
alfalfa even care as they grow it for cattle feed and
not for worm food or soil amending (and i never see
trefoil grown for cattle in anyplace other than a pasture
since it supplies less nitrogen and grows lower than
alfalfa -- i like that it grows differently and flowers
the soil is gradually improving. the garden is gradually
looking nicer as i can get back to weeding it and filling in
the bare spots. frogs and toads are coming back. the flowers
are getting a lot of attention from the bees and butterflies.
the worms are there when it is wet enough. i'm still harvesting
greens and weeds from the garden to feed to the worms out there
and also the worm bins here inside (eventually this gets
digested and is being returned to various gardens). erosion
control seems to be going well too as the hard rains we've had
are not forming the gully again. i think i have the drainage
back there finally able to capture most of the water from the
rains so it can soak in. the overflow is set up so that it
is broad enough that no channels are being formed. garlic
grown was heavily crowded by weeds, so it was smaller. i
could not do a good comparison between the alfalfa and trefoil.
alfalfa and trefoil grown as a green manure or soil amendment
show some promise for adding woody stem type materials in
layers on top of the soil. this would be a big help to
many creatures that we are interested in that do greatly
improve the soil and perhaps even create a new habitat
(for the redworm/compost worm the organic dwelling worm that
doesn't need dirt to live). eventually i'll hope to see
more signs that night crawlers are returning and increasing
too out there, but as of yet i'm not seeing signs of their
burrows. it's tough to be a worm when the top of your
world is as hard as a brick and there's not much food.