Scraping a Living from the Land

By , April 17, 2015

When we began gardening here I already had a fair amount of experience gardening in a cool climate. I grew up gardening in the back yard under an apple tree in western Washington state and more recently in the backyard of our suburban home in Juneau, Alaska. However, I didn’t have experience with the moss and tree roots we battle constantly here on the “homestead”.

Over the years we have worked to improve and expand the garden. In a recent phone conversation with my parents I mentioned that I was building some new garden beds and they responded, “you say that every year!” I guess that’s true.

The garden in 2007 (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The garden in 2007 (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

We planted our first homestead garden in 2007. We used the previous owners’ garden as we found it with fair success considering it hadn’t been planted in a couple years. Moss covered half the garden beds.

We framed the beds with boards found on the property and logs from the beach to raise them up and provide some drainage, a vital thing in rain country. Occasionally I would dig down and sever tree roots that invaded the beds. Spring and fall I used row covers to extend the season or even to warm things midsummer if the temperatures dropped below 60°.

The expanded garden area about 2010 (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

The expanded garden area about 2010 (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

We cut trees during the winter to let more light in and reduce the competition. This also gave us a row of rooted fence posts to move the fence line back. We built the fence “wonky” to keep it loose at the top so porcupines will fall off instead of climbing over. It doesn’t really keep anything else out. Moose just step over (see Moose Mischief). One needs fences about eight feet tall to keep them out and they mostly are around in the winter.

Last year I began a very ambitious project to replace the old raised beds with new lumber. I wanted uniform sized beds to make crop rotation simpler. This involved removing all the dirt from each area down to the old beach surface. Isostatic rebound, raises the land here nearly an inch per year so the beach has risen above the ocean surface and the forest absorbs it. Our garden falls in the margin between the new beach and the forest.

The first of the new lumber beds 2014 (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

The first of the new lumber beds 2014 (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

I scraped away the dirt and tree roots down between old beach boulders to the most level space I could find. I then built 4 x 8′ beds using 2 x 12″ boards and refilled them with the soil screened with our sifter (see Our Home-Built Archaeology-Style Shaker Sifter), compost and seaweed. I built two beds before planting time last year.

In the fall I began dismantling some other beds. We had a very mild winter with the soil only freezing for a few weeks. I could dig in the garden some each month. I currently have space for five new beds where there were four before. The soil is nearly all removed. I’ve leveled space for two beds. Mark broke up a few boulders that were too large to roll away (see Stone Breaker). I have one bed framed and partially filled. In the next couple weeks I’ll prep the remaining space and install four more beds so I can plant by the end of April.

The newest grow box (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

The newest grow box (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Our traditional last frost date falls around May 5th. This year I think it came mid March (but don’t tell Jack Frost, or he’ll come around in June.) So I’m anxious to get this project done soon.

One Response to “Scraping a Living from the Land”

  1. Cinnamon says:

    Very nice work! It will be well worth your investment of effort, I’m sure.

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