Building in Resilience

First rain–a lot of it at once. Now it’s dry again.

When I raked and shaped the raised beds in my new gardens here, I got a lot of questions about what I was doing and why. And, if I know my western Minnesota well enough by now, for every voiced question, there are ten who drive by and think, “what the heck is she doing?”–but never actually stop and ask.

Based on my own observations about the soil here, as well as my neighbor’s comments about the back lot being poorly drained, this is what I was preparing for:

In the process of raking up these beds, I incorporated a lot of the organic matter into them, and even with the two-inch deluge, there was very little erosion off these mounds. Had the garden been level, the plants would have been sitting in muck, their roots starving for oxygen.

Now that it’s dry out, the plants are still doing well–the clay soil holds water well, and there’s still plenty of moisture deep in the mounds. The tomatoes have really taken off!

Before that series of storms, I planted the lower part of this same garden with a buckwheat cover crop. I thought about trying to build more beds and plant more vegetables, but I’ve been busy enough to know my time limitations for garden work.

Thick-sown, fast-growing buckwheat makes a good weed-suppressing summer cover, and its heart-shaped leaves (and later white blooms) are really pretty! I’ll let it bloom for a bit before I cut it down for mulch–giving bees more reason to hang around the garden while the other crops are blooming.

As I mow the lawn, I’ve been adding more mulch to these gardens. I’m not sure I have my system just right at this point, but I’m laying the fresh clippings in the aisles to dry down and then raking them up on the mounds to help preserve moisture.

The yellow storage onions got weeded and the aisles mulched in the last couple of days as I mowed various areas of the lawn. I’ve been trying to split up the mowing into a rotation–some areas are lusher than others and need more frequent attention, and I also try not to mow down all the clover blossoms at one time in order that the bees stick around.

At some point in the season, I’m hoping to have all the bare ground covered. The natural state of soil is to be covered–so you can take your pick if it’s going to be mulch, plants you want, or weeds you don’t.

The spring-sown cover crop is still going strong in the other garden, and instead of tilling it under, I’m mowing and cutting every couple of weeks–keeping it in a sort of living mulch that is also fixing lots of nitrogen thanks to the vetch and what’s left of the field peas. But I’ve cleared a few small spaces to make room for beans and squashes.

I should probably not jinx myself by saying this, but last year across town, the rabbits took every one of my beans. This year, I haven’t protected these Gold of Bacau plants, but they haven’t been plundered. There is a rabbit living under one of my sheds, but apparently she has different tastes–the only damage I found after a brief getaway last weekend was my shallots had their tops eaten off.

I wonder if that means the rabbit is French, and/or the meat is pre-seasoned? Maybe I should leave a glass of wine out there, too, but I don’t really want to encourage her.

Another hopefully-success this year is that I finally have some decent-looking Fish pepper plants. I have been intrigued by this variety for some time now, but their germination is not always great, and I’ve had many die or never come up. This must be a magical year!

The plants are pretty with their variegated foliage, and the peppers are supposedly stripey as well. This is an heirloom used in crab shacks on the East Coast–their spicy and fruity flavor is reputedly excellent with fish and other seafood. While we’re distant from the ocean, I do have some local fisherman friends who might appreciate these (and might therefore invite me over for fish fry!).

Here’s to a bountiful growing season!

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