Rule Breaking Gardening


Sheryl CampbellWe didn’t know what we didn’t know when my husband and I moved to our five acres of dreams in the countryside.  One of those dreams was to raise much of our own food.  We started with vegetables.  We got to know our neighbors, the local farmers who were already growing food with traditional methods.  They knew the way to go about getting good crops – just the way it had always been done.  But I have a minor character flaw:  I struggle with rules.

Since the rule was to raise one crop in each spot, I wanted to raise two or three; the rule said to tear up the soil each spring, so I wanted to leave it in place.  When I was told to plant in single straight lines, I broadcast seed; faced with scientific ways of composting I just built big piles in place in the garden. 

There was already a small garden plot on our property filled with rocks, an ancient fire pit, and broken beer bottles.  Clean up came first.  Then we used straw bales to enclose compost piles down the grassy areas on each side of the space.  Each year we’d fill one, turn it into the next pile and the next every few months, and so marched gradually around our garden, eventually tripling our space.  As each pile drenched the ground below it with compost tea the grass died off, happy earthworms abounded, and the ground became ready for planting.

We tried many ways of growing our food.  Being essentially lazy we ended up with a no-till approach simply top dressing the permanent rows with our own compost on a regular basis.  Using straw and grass clippings as a ground cover eliminated the most onerous of the hoeing chores.  Don’t you find weeding and hoeing the least pleasant of garden tasks?  Me too!  Follow me on future blog posts to learn more about the Lazy Farmer’s approach to the rural life.

Our garden grew, the vegetables and edible flowers flowed into the kitchen and onto our table, and we successfully grew multiple crops in each space throughout the year.  We intercropped, companion planted, grew trap crops (on accident!), and succession planted.  We were ready to take things to the next level.  So back we went to the local experts.

When we shared our dream to grow ten months of vegetables in each plot without row covers or greenhouses, we were told it couldn’t be done here in zone 6b.  With knowing smiles and pats on our little city heads, the local conventional farmers told us to go ahead and give it a try though.  Since they didn’t say that this was a rule, we did just that.  And it worked!  For the past several years we’ve harvested a wide variety of vegetables for ten months each year using intensively intercropped raised beds, covered by straw, never tilled, without benefit of cover.  I love it when impossible dreams come true.  And sometimes it helps not to know what you don’t know.  What do you dream about in your garden?

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