Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gardening the Hard Way, Part Two: Fish Guts, Cow Poop, and Seeds

     The water trickled out of the hose. Bruce stood there, looking down at this meager offering. Wait a minute--when the valve on the bottom of the water catchment barrel--yes, one of our expensive water catchment barrels--is opened up, water flows out like a geyser. Happy days, we have free water! Yet, when a hose is hooked up to actually make use of that water, apparently the geyser-like velocity peters out as it travels the length of the hose, eventually coming out at the other end slower than an old drinking fountain. What gives??? How will we get this sad excuse of the "elixer of life" to irrigate our garden? Did we just waste $X,XXX.xx on these stupid rain barrels? After working all afternoon transferring our soil mix wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load and filling only one of our six beds, Bruce couldn't even bring himself to think about this turn of events.

Refusing to think about the
water barrel issue
     And that's how I found him when I came home from work this past Friday. Stabbing his shovel into the piles of dirt, plainly pissed off. Uh oh. We talk a bit, he vents, I listen, and he then starts thinking of a solution. Which involves more money, of course. Pumps. Pretty expensive pumps. All for "free" water.

    But I digress. We haven't done anything about getting pumps yet, so that ending will have to wait. The point of this entry is to use Bruce's great mood that Friday to segue into the dirt he was moving into our beds. Our dirt is certainly a creative mixture. Knowing we need ALOT of dirt, Bruce wanted to get one thing relatively inexpensively, since just about every other aspect of this garden was costing mucho bucks. Right now, we calculated that each bean, each peapod, and each cherry tomato probably cost us about $60.00. 
Newspaper shielding the manure
from growing weeds

      The dirt, however, was a combination of ingenuity and knowing the right people. First, we have a friend who owns cows, and therefore has a cow manure supply. Perhaps not the best fertilizer, could be weedy, but Bruce found out from some resource that if you put manure down first and cover it with newspapers, it helps on the weed front.

Separating rocks from the fish-gut soil

     The next pile of dirt came from our local fish hatchery. Dirt from hatchery runs, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of fish swimming in an enclosure, will have fish parts and fish excrement embedded within. Yum. A couple truckloads should do it. It's quite rocky, so Bruce had to create a sifter.

     Next came the mulch, to hold in moisture in our dry, dry climate. Our mulch came from a pile of residue from a business who accepts yard waste and chips it into, well, mulch. It's very black. Since alot of it is comprised of pine needles, some blood meal is added to neutralize the soil and enhance nitrogen fixation. So a layer of cow poop is followed by a layer of newspapers, and then about 14 wheelbarrow trips of fish soil and mulch mixed together for each raised bed.

    Filling the beds took much longer than we anticipated. It's just a long process. One long half-day filled two beds, and pretty much all day Saturday was needed to fill the remaining four. Finally, at the end of the day this past Saturday, we have raised beds ready to plant:

    We wanted to plant some seeds (for cooler-season plants like lettuce, spinach; maybe our carrots) the next day. However, the weather report said there was a cold system moving in for the next several days; high winds, below-freezing temps, and even snow was predicted. Great. Typical May in the White Mountains. So, planting will start this weekend. In the meantime, we have seedlings that are popping up and looking pretty good:

On the left: pole beans. On the right: snap peas.
About 50 seedlings of each.
      I spent the afternoon moving the pole beans into larger cups to give them more room to grow roots. I used a kitchen tool that looks like a miniature spatula with a curved end (I think it's often used for scooping out avocado from its skin) to scoop out each pole bean while not hurting the new, tender roots. I thought that was pretty brilliant, thinking of that little spatula. Then, with the pole beans gone, we started another round of seeds: zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, and cucumbers--the seeds that didn't germinate well in the other tray.

    Next: Sowing what we will hopefully reap. Here's hoping for some warm weather, finally. We need it.


  1. Well, if there is anyone anywhere more expert in this topic than my sister Sue, I'll eat my hat. When it comes to shoveling the fish poop, she is tops. I don't know why I even let her on to my blog, where you will read of tropical beaches instead of cow poop. Harummpphh. R.

  2. You are a smartie-pants. Let's see what you write about when you get home and back to your real life!!!