Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Winter Cover

Every year spring has me wanting to get planting as soon as possible.  After all, it's another couple of months before you're able to eat anything you've planted, right?   Incessant drizzle keeps me from the garden in January and most of February, so by the time I can get outside, it's too late.  Over the winter the beds get choked with chickweed, or buttercup takes over.  So there are hours of weeding to be done just to find the soil.  In the rainy northwest, "sow seed as soon as the ground can be worked" can mean May or even June.  I always push the limits.  The soil is wet, forming huge back-breaking clods that no fragile veggie seedling roots would ever want to penetrate. 

I've tried cover crops.  I have yet to find one that doesn't require a rototiller to work into the soil.  Last time I tried, I had a huge grassy mess with roots that took forever to break down.  And there were still huge clods, and the soil took forever to dry out.

This fall I tried something new.  I knew that the rain was pummeling the soil something fierce.  I could step on it in places and hardly leave a dent.  I figured that if I covered the beds with something, that the covering would take the brunt of the force of the rain.  If I made it of a dark material, hopefully it should keep the weeds down, too. 

I thought about black plastic, but hated the idea of having to dump it in the garbage after a few seasons.  It also has the disadvantage of having to purchase it.  I thought about grass clippings, but didn't like the idea of any grass or weed seeds in my veg beds.

Then I thought about all the leaves from our maples.  Hmmmm.  Free, biodegradable, dark.  Maybe this could work.  So I had DS1 dump all the leaves onto the veg beds instead of the compost pile.  I worried that they might all blow away, but once they were wet, they stayed in place. 

And then this week came the moment of truth.  I really needed to get the peas planted.  I had waited since the weather was so changeable (we had snow last week).  So I pulled back the leaves, just enough for the area I wanted to plant.

And I found the most amazing soil!  The worms had been working it like crazy.  I took a handful, gave it a squeeze, and easily broke apart the ball.  Perfect workable soil in March?  Right after it snowed?  So I grabbed my garden fork.  Normally, I would have to step on the fork with all my (considerable) weight, and I could maybe get the tines three-fourths the way into the soil.

 I could push the garden fork, with my hands alone, two inches past the tops of the tines.

I had stumbled on something amazing!  Hardly any clods, and those very small and easy to break apart.

Best.  Idea.  Ever.

Time to get planting!

Edited to add:

And weeds?  What weeds?  Okay, there were exactly five dandelions in the 16 square feed I cleared out.  One was a full grown monster that the leaves didn't cover.  The other four were pathetic, puny shriveled things.  All came out without the use of tools.  Now I realize that the weeds may come back now that they have light, but at least it's at a time of year that I can deal with them.