On April 4th we enjoyed the relative calm and warmth of the new caterpillar tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure homemade from PVC, rebar, rope, and greenhouse plastic. A cold rain was falling and a brisk wind blowing outside, and we prepared a 100-foot long bed for an upcoming early planting of kale and beets.
This was our first experience working a bed following the cover crop established there in the fall, and the effectiveness was exciting news to me. Adding to that the fact that this is the very first bed we worked on, including before we owned the farm, I wanted to describe the life of this one bed. There are so many cycles around here, including the many transformations of a single bed.
October 26, 2017
The field is full of rye and tillage radish, and Nick is at the farm for the home inspection over a week before closing. Our friend Liz joins, and they broadfork the very first bed and plant garlic cloves!
February 7, 2018
In early December, we were able to mulch the garlic bed with straw just before the first snow and hard freeze. By February, the bed is covered in snow and temperatures are low. I dig out some of the snow so that we can receive a compost delivery at the edge of the field.
March & April, 2018
At the end of March, snow begins to melt, the mulch becoming visible. In late April, after a big spring snowfall, most snow has melted, but garlic shoots haven’t made it through the mulch yet.
Garlic is growing through the mulch. It was the only crop planted over the winter, so its emergence was very exciting that first year. Once it is established, we add some compost and organic fertilizer to the bed, then lightly disturb the mulch and water it all in.
July 24, 2018
I skipped the harvesting of scapes, which are the shoots at the top of a garlic plant containing seed pods at their tops. Scapes are delicious and fun to harvest, but we didn’t get any photos of this in 2018! Garlic bulbs were harvested in late July, also a fun task, and we carted them away for curing in the very solid cart my father built for us.
Since we planted a small amount of garlic, it was only used for (1) personal use, which we are still taking advantage of; and (2) seed for the 2019 crop (individual cloves get planted in the fall).
July 30, 2018
To avoid this bed becoming a weedy/compacted mess, and since I was mowing the surrounding field by hand to create straw, we covered it in a thick straw mulch to keep the soil healthy. (Hey, I’m in one of the photos!)
September 5, 2018
In August I finally get my act together and order organic cover crop seed. We are curious to see how hand-scale cover cropping works, and we also do not have enough mulch for all of the beds! In August I sow oats and lentils in this bed after raking the surface, and by early September it has grown to be a very nice stand! This mixture should be ideal because it will be killed over the winter, leaving soil covered by mulch in the spring.
It’s late winter! To get the season rolling, we work on the homemade caterpillar tunnel that will enclose the bed of interest, plus 2 others. The cat. tunnel is so named because viewed from the side, it is segmented and resembled a caterpillar’s shape. Fortunately, some of the rebar was pounded into the ground in December. But not all.
Our friends Nathan and Emily come over on a Sunday and the three of us lay the plastic and secure it with bailing twine. Of course we celebrate.
April 4, 2019
We finally get into the tunnel and view the thawed ground! It only takes an hour to pull out dead cover crop and weeds from the 100-foot bed to reveal gorgeous soil that is ready to go without even a broadfork or hoe to break anything up. Just below is a before and after comparison.
Nicholas in action.
Now to decide what bed or process shall be the subject of the next story!
Thanks for reading!
We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.