Observations Toward the End of Winter

The first of the seeds are started here at my yet-unnamed urban farm. Besides a farm name, which will come in time, I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate the “wink” when I call my new, slowly-developing market and home gardens in a town of 450 residents an “urban farm.”

But, naming issues aside, I’ve got yellow storage onions, red Italian bottle onions, and leeks started so far, as well as a number of perennial and biennial herbs and flowers. At Flying Tomato Farms, most of the annual vegetables and herbs were at the farmstead (along with perennial berries, horseradish, rhubarb, and asparagus), while the perennial herbs and flowers resided at my postage-stamp place in town. Here in Clinton, they’ll come together in a more biodiverse mix better designed to draw beneficials and to keep the neighbors happy.

Aside from starting a few perennials from seed, I’ll have my eyes open for plant division possibilities. There’s a lot of space here, and not a huge need for lawn. Here in Clinton’s “urban core,” the kids play in the street or in the open grassy spaces and parks. We have sidewalks, but except for the main drag, we mostly just walk in the wide streets. It’s pretty fantastic, actually.

Yesterday afternoon we hit 57 degrees according to the Clinton State Bank clock, and today promises more of the same. Whatever of our paltry snow cover makes it through this day will almost certainly be melted by tomorrow’s projected rain. Tuesday, we’ll approach 70!

As the snow melts, I can continue the process of observation that guides the development of the two lots I’m on. Last fall, when my friends Joelie and Rob helped me lift and move the raised bed frames from behind the burned-out house across town, I set them in this great little configuration behind the house and along the south side of the shop.

It seemed perfect–close to the house and with reflected heat from the shop wall for early seedings of roots and greens, with eventual shade from the deciduous trees to extend their season into summer. Now that I’ve seen what happens with what little snow we did get this year (and half of what we got is already melted in the below image), I’m reconsidering that siting.

Had it been last year with the many, many feet of snow we got, I wouldn’t have seen those raised beds again ’til late April or May. So much for early seeding!

I guess the snow issue should’ve figured in my mind initially, but while weighing several other factors, I simply didn’t think about the trajectory of the snow off that roof. And because the two beds that are in the main part of the snow trajectory aren’t filled with soil yet, I can still easily move them (OK–I can move them in a couple of days when the snow melts!).

Instead of the two raised beds there, I’m planning a wide in-ground bed/border along the shed with plants that can take advantage of the reflected warmth, but be resilient enough to survive getting buried in the winter. Instead of guttering the shed and storing the water that comes off the roof, I’ll store that water in the soil instead–building up the organic matter and mulching the bed thickly so the soil doesn’t get pounded along the eaves-line.

From what I can tell now, about a third of the shop wall towards the house will remain comparatively cool though still full-sunny–evaporation won’t be as quick there (judging from the moss growing on the ground), so plants that like their feet cool and moist will thrive in that location. Growing things that like it hotter and dryer can be located along the 2/3 of the wall that is unshaded except for the early morning hours.

There is a lot that can be determined about a growing location, even having only observed for part of the year. But it’s hard to get everything “right” just looking at a place over a month or two–so many factors to take into consideration (and yeah, roof avalanches are a big one). It seems like a lot of people go at landscape and garden designing wanting a certain “look” on their property without taking into account the specific needs of the land itself.

Doing landscaping without the land’s input–without the process of observation and interaction–can lead to a lot of extra work and expense down the line. It’s true that the process of “developing” a landscape for living things is in itself work, and more so if the land hasn’t been well-managed in the past.

But, over time the workload can be made lighter by moving mindfully and considering the many elements, both human-made and naturally-occurring, that give each place its own unique character.

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