Crunchy walkabout, and a garden experiment

Today, I did something I haven’t done in quite a while; check things out beyond the outer yard. Everything beyond the fence surrounding the outer yard, plus the old hay yard, is rented out, and somewhat less than half of that is used for pasture.

This first photo was actually taken from within the outer yard.

Everything is bone dry and crispy, and you can see the haze of smoke from wildfires that are nowhere near us! Keep in mind that the camera automatically cleans up haze, so the view was actually smokier than this.

This photo was taken at the “gate” by the barn. You can see the renter’s electric fence wire ends here. The only green that shows among the dormant grass is dandelions, and even they are burnt red.

This is facing the areas behind the old barn. By the time the renter rotates his cattle here, this grass is typically 2, almost 3, feet high.

This old pond is typically a source of water for the cattle. I walked to the deepest part, and even there, the ground is bone dry.

Also, we would normally be able to see the neighbour’s tree line in the distance, about a mile away. In the photo, it’s just barely visible as a shadow.

This is the deepest areas of what used to be a gravel pit, but which became another dugout to provide water for the cattle. At the far end is a marshy area that eventually reaches as far as the roadway by the pond.

This is in the deep part of the old gravel pit. Most of the tracks look like they were made by deer, but I think I saw some that looked like there were claw marks. All the tracks are old. There hasn’t even been mud here for some time.

This pit used to be quite a bit deeper. Since it wasn’t being used for gravel anymore, there’s at least a couple of decades of pond sediment, decaying plants and cow manure building up at the bottom. One of these years, I would like to have it, and the pond, excavated again. Since we moved back here, this is the first time I’ve seen the old gravel pit completely dry. Even in last year’s drought conditions, there was still water in the lowest area, making it one of the few sources of water for wildlife in the area.

Here, I’m standing at the “end” of the gravel pit area. Behind me is more marshy area that extends to a “creek” that is part of the municipal drainage system, but tends to have water only with the spring runoff.

Heading back towards the house, I checked out an area that is mostly rocks and broken concrete that is overgrown with hawthorn and other bushes. This is the only thing there that has berries on it, and they’re not doing very well.

The white that you see on the leaves is dust kicked up on the gravel road, every time something drives by.

There has been a lot of road dust this year.

Another view of the pasture area, looking towards the pond.

Walking through all this, not only was everything crispy and crunchy, but ever step I took sent masses of grasshoppers flying. With things this dry, I don’t think even the grasshoppers can eat it!

There is but one area of relatively lush, green growth.

The septic field.

This is out towards the barn. Unlike a gravity field, our system pumps the greywater from the tank by the house, all the way out here. You can see the white pipe that is the outflow. It just sprays out from there. There is an entire low area beyond this that, in a wet year, forms another pond. It had been fenced off to keep the cattle out, since any water there would have septic water in it, too, but those fences have long since fallen down.

After I finished my walkabout, I set up the soaker hose at the squash tunnel, then decided to try an experiment.

Our green peas in particular are pretty much toast. Or should I say, toasted. They are still blooming and trying to grow pods, but between the heat and whatever is eating them, we aren’t going to get a crop from them.

The Dalvay peas are sold by weight, not seed count. Which means we had a LOT of seeds left over. Part of why I wanted to plant so many peas and beans near the corn, and to do it in this far flung area, was for their nitrogen fixing qualities.

So I decided to take the leftover seeds and plant them with the sweet corn.

Interestingly, not long after I started, I realized I was hearing the sound of a small engine vehicle moving around on the property. It turned out I was not the only one who decided to check conditions today. The renter had come over on his utility vehicle and was checking out all the pasture areas.

If he does rotate his cows here, I suspect he’s going to have to provide both food and water for them. Last year, he only had to provide water.

One of the things I’d like to do in the future, if we ever have the money to do it, is get those two water fountains going again. It would mean replacing our pressure tank with a much bigger one, as there had been in the past, and hiring someone to make sure all the pluming and the tanks themselves are in working condition. We don’t have cows of our own, but they would be good for wildlife, as well as the renter’s cows.

That’s something for the dreams list! 🙂

I was almost done planting peas when my daughter came out to set up the sprinkler. Using a sprinkler feels like such a wasteful way to water, but for this area, we simply couldn’t water them as thoroughly as they needed, any other way. The other beds don’t have the same issues. It’s remarkable how different soil can be, even in a short distance. Since we started using the sprinkler, the corn and sunflowers have been doing visibly better.

There were so many peas left in the package, I was able to plant one pea for every corn in the block-and-a-bit visible in the photo. In these, I had planted a couple of seeds of corn a foot apart, then thinned them later. In the last block, I just planted a corn seed every six inches. Most of them germinated, so there wasn’t the space to plant one for every corn plant, so I planted one every 1 – 1 1/2 feet, depending on the spacing.

I still had enough seeds to plant more among the surviving Dorinny corn. Then I still had enough to plant with the Montana Morado corn (which seems to have been replaced at Baker Creek with Mountain Morado corn). And I STILL had seeds left over! Only about a dozen or so, but wow, was Veseys ever generous with their quantities!

Now, these seeds had been left behind in a storage bin we keep by the rain barrel next to the pea trellises. Which means that they’ve been out in this heat all this time. It’s entirely possible they won’t germinate. Or only a few will germinate.

Though planting peas for a fall crop this time of year, to get a fall harvest, is something that can be done in our zone, this year is so hot, we might still have the same problem as with the ones I planted in the spring, even if they do germinate. However, that’s not what I’m planting them for. I’m planting them for their nitrogen fixing qualities. Corn are nitrogen hungry plants, and our soil is nitrogen depleted. Yes, we can use a high nitrogen fertilizer, but having a plant that will do that job is preferable. Plus, if they do germinate, the corn plants will provide shade for them, while also providing a natural trellis for the peas to grow on, as with beans in Three Sisters plantings. We only have bush beans, though, so they won’t climb the corn. People had been talking about the Three Sisters method of planting in some of my gardening groups. Some people found it worked well. Some found that the squash made getting at the corn difficult, or that there was just too much competition for nutrients, and some found peas worked better for them than beans.

So we shall see how this turns out.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, all of these far flung beds are temporary. We’re basically breaking and amending the soil in perpetration for future plans. With what we are learning this year, we are already adjusting some of those plants. We were talking about planting a nut orchard and fruit trees, which we’re going to have to do soon, because those can take years, in some cases a decade, before they start producing.

We’re going to be adding a step.

My daughters and I have been going through the Whiffletree catalog, repeatedly. With the soil conditions we have, we’re now thinking to start by adding hedges. There are several options available for zones 2 and 3 that not only produce edible fruit and do well in poor soil, but also help fix nitrogen in the soil. If they’re still available next year, we’ve decided on three different ones. Silver Buffaloberry, which is a zone 2 bush, Autumn Olives (also called Autumn Silverberry), which is a zone 3 bush that is semi-fertile, and Sea Buckthorn, which is a zone 3 bush that requires 1 male variety for every 5-9 females varieties. On top of producing edible berries, being able to grow in poor soil conditions, and acting as nitrogen fixers, these will also form a barrier that will not only give us a privacy screen from our peeping vandal, they are dense enough to form a barrier that deer can’t get through. Plus, they will be dense enough to act as dust barriers. We’ve worked out the areas we can plant in, leaving a gap over where we thing the buried telephone wires are. We never did hear back from the Call Before You Dig people, but I figured out an easy way to do it. My brother’s property is right across the road, and the lines run though his place, too. He has a gap in his spruce grove, over the phone lines. All we have to do is line up our gap with his! 😀 Anyhow, after we start with these nitrogen fixing, berry producing bushes, we will then start adding fruit and nut trees in what is currently a big void in the old garden area. Little by little, year after year, we will be adding more food trees, strategically placing each of them, so serve multiple purposes. At least, that’s the plan right now! 😀

Meanwhile, by the time I was done with all the pea planting, the smoke in the air had gotten to the point that there was a haze in the yard. As I write this, I can see the live feed from the garage security camera, and I can see smoke in our driveway. We’re still getting rain in our forecast, but in millimeters. Some areas did get rain today, which I am happy to hear about, but none of it is reaching us. I would actually be okay with that, if we could at least get rain over those northern fires.

The Re-Farmer

5 thoughts on “Crunchy walkabout, and a garden experiment

  1. I had a converastion with a bloke this morning about growing veggies and it was interesting as we both agreed that the cold snap we have experienced has retarded the growth of our patches.
    At the end of it we agreed that this was a usual season and last seaon was unusual.
    Such is the way of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True enough. Though I’ve reached a point where I start to wonder just what is “usual” in the first place. Like the running joke, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. Every year seems to be different. “Normal” weather is just averages, anyhow.


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