Garden Tilling Time

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The sun is finally out! That bright thing in the sky that hurts our eyes and burns my pasty white shoulders after a long winter of darkness and rain. The first 3-4 day stent of sun in the spring means one very important thing for farmers, time to till the garden! It does take a little while, and is kind of a pain in the butt, but it also means we can finally get going on the family fun, food producing vegetable garden!

  I always write these blogs, with kind of the “new farmer’ in mind, or maybe some folks that find the processes and lifestyles interesting but maybe don’t have a life time of knowledge, life lessons, and farming skills that some of us grew up learning from birth. So for those of us who live it every day, it will seem pretty simplistic, and redundant. For those other lovely folks however, Hopefully I can explain things in a simple and basic way that makes sense and kind of gives some insight to the hows and the why’s of farm life. With that being said, let move onto the topic of preparing garden soil.

There are a few basic things you need for a good garden location. First a spot that receives maximum sun exposure throughout the days rotating sun cycle. Once you find a good sunny spot you then need ingredient number 2, just as important, if not more important than the first; Water!

My first year i removed the rocks and boulders, pulled out most of the stumps that were still there from 30 year old logging (still have 1 large one in the middle I still need to dig out and remove), and I tilled up the soild and planted. That first year my garden did terrible, as expected due to lack of nutrients. This was expected, and we knew every year it would get better and better. Every fall the garden is done and all the plants and vines are ripped out (most of which get fed to cows and goats). Once this is done, then I clean out the cattle barn. Manure from 16 head of cattle provides about a 6″ thick layer of steer manure on top of the approx. 80×80 ft garden. During the winter and spring all other manures get thrown on the garden as well from goat sheds, rabbit hutches, chicken and turkey coops, etc. Then comes time like today where it is time to roto-till it all together.

  Tilling accomplishes several things at once. First of all it mixes the manure up with the soil. This eliminates manure on the top and just soil on the bottom. it mixes it very well for about 8 inches deep. This also eliminates “hot spots”, or clumps of say chicken manure that may be a little too hot and high in nitrogen levels that would otherwise burn the plants. Tilling also aerates the soil, and loosens it up to a really fine powdery like loam that plant roots thrive in. During the coarse of the winter snows and rains, the soil becomes very hard pack and not idea for root systems. So tilling basically “fluffs’ it back up, easy for little roots to grow through. oxygen levels regain balance in the soil, and makes the soil a lot more ideal for water and moisture absorption and retention. Nice fluffy soil also makes weeding a dream. Ever try to use a hoe in ground that is packed so hard it resembles concrete? You can work your self to death and still have weeds coming back up cause you never got the roots out. When soil is nice and loose a hoe travels underneath weeds easily, and pops the little suckers out with effortless grace.

  So in a nut shell, i will finish slurping down my black coffee and go fire up the old tractor (nothing better than the smell of a cold diesel engine puking out black smoke in the morning!), and it is officially tilling day!

 

Fruit Tree Pruning

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It’s February now, and in some parts of the country probably still an acceptable time to prune fruit trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it is a little late for pruning. I did all our fruit trees in the first week of January. You want to try to time heavy pruning with tree’s dormancy. This way it will not effect their health or growth near as much. I was looking out side at my pruned trees, now covered in lovely buds which will this year be new growth, and it made me think a little. I had a father who was very good about explaining fruit tree pruning, and every year I was helping him outside in the bitter cold, getting first hand experience when i was growing up. I realized,however, probably not everybody grew up on a farm like i did, and probably did not have all those wonderful years of experience. How can other people learn if people like us never tell them? So, I thought I would write a blog for every one that has ever wondered how to prune fruit trees. 

    This will be like a tree pruning 101. There are so many factors, goals, desires, tricks, and different ways of doing things for pruning that really it mostly depends on a balance of what you know and what you are wanting out of your tree.

    The basic first step in tree pruning is shape. How do you want your tree shaped? Most trees you will want a kind of umbrella shape, for easily obtainable sunlight for the fruit, and also for easier harvesting. If you are starting with a fairly young tree, then you can decide how tall it will be by cutting out the top at the desired height, where new growth will grow a for next year. Determine the height you desire, and the general shape, and general size (circumference), and keep that vision in your head while you prune.

 Next, grab your cutting tools. (shears, loppers, a pruning saw maybe) and start thinning out unwanted growth. If a branch is totally undesirable then cut it off as close to the trees trunk as you can. If most of the branch is ok, or you want to start a new growth into a branch, then you prune the branch into how you want it to grow. Keep the part you want, and cut off the extra. Now here is where it gets kind of tricky. anything unwanted gets totally cut off and removed, but if the branch lets say has potential, but no small fruit bearing areas or “spurs”, then save desired new growth from last year, cut if off about 1/2 to 3/4 inch past a bud. Picking the right bud is the trick. The key is, which ever direction a bud is pointing, that is the direction the new growth will grow this year. For example: a bud on the left of a branch pointing out, will grow to the left and out, a bud pointing up will grow up, a bud pointing down will grow downward, and so on. So just remember when you are shaping a tree, those buds that you leave for the new growth MUST be pointed in the direction that your vision of the tree requires.

    And as i said before, for best results and sun collection I shape my fruit trees like an umbrella. Other trees that are for shade, lumber, etc. are generally shaped in more of a triangle, where a fruit tree is more of an upside down triangle. Remember you are not wanting to grow a 50′ tall apple tree, the fruit would be 30′ above your head and serve you no good.