Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

When sowing fine seeds that need only 1/8- to 1/4-inch soil cover, how do I ensure that a heavy rain does not wash my seeds away before they have a chance to germinate? Would mulch bury the seeds too deep to germinate?

Thank you
Andy
Delaware

 

DEAR ANDY:

One technique that works on a home-garden scale is to make a shallow trough with a pencil and cover them lightly with a mixture of garden soil and sand. Garden professional Shep Ogden, founder of Cook's Garden Seeds, suggests floating row covers.

NF

 

DEAR NEW FARM:

Thank you. I will try a sand soil mix and floating row covers. Sand is not hard to come by since we live at the beach here in southern Delaware!

Andy

 

DEAR ANDY:

Don't use beach sand, as the salt will burn your seed. If you live near the beach, your soil is probably pretty sandy already. You should be able to broadcast your seed, work it in to a depth of about 1/8 inch with a garden weasel, water thoroughly and cover with shade cloth (but keep it moist--watering twice a day if you don't get rain--until the seeds germinate).

NF

 

DEAR NEW FARM:

Thank you. I had another question. I am about to till a new field for the first time (5 years pasture grass and weeds). I propose to use a walk-behind tractor with a chisel plough attachment. The field will be used for intensive market garden vegetables, herbs and some berry fruits. I plan to utilize some raised beds and some in-ground beds. Do you think I am using the correct till method? My aim is to loosen up the soil and turn over the grass. After this initial till, there will only be light bed prep and compost enhancement—no further tilling.

I should add the soil is fairly well draining sandy clay. We're about 8 miles back from the beach.

Andy

 

DEAR ANDY:

Please realize that you don't go from 5 years of weeds to intensive vegetables with only light tillage and bed forming. What other equipment is at your disposal. What is your proposed date of tilling and planting?

NF

 

DEAR NEW FARM:

I'm not expecting a one-time till and voila friable dark soil. I just needed some help on the best kind of initial till. I fully expect several years of organic amendments to achieve optimal results. Thanks for your help. I'm guessing a rototiller or chisel plough doesn't make much difference since the soil build will come later.

The planting date will be next spring. My objective now--tilling in the next 2 weeks-- is to break up the grass and turn so I can mix in compost and let it sit for the winter. I will be renting a rototiller or walk-behind tractor with plough attachment. Does it really make much difference for the initial breakup? I wanted some advice on how deep I go and whether I need to turn the grass over. Honestly, I do not have the experience, so I welcome the advice.

Andy

 

DEAR ANDY:

You’re in luck because the aforementioned Shep Ogden recently turned a grassy backyard in southeastern Pennsylvania into a 1,500-square-foot mixed veggie oasis (Martha Stewart’s film crew even stopped by for a visit recently). Here’s how he did it:

“I rented the largest rototiller I could (the chisel plow will not turn sod and a moldboard on a walk-behind will leave it too uneven) and thoroughly tilled it in both directions up to the time I had on the rental. Back and forth, back and forth, until I ached. Then I covered the whole area in black plastic and weighted it down with bricks (it is heavy clay and we were coming off a year with 300 percent the normal rain, and I didn't want it soggy in the spring). I waited for spring.

“In the spring I built the beds, which are permanent raised beds (clay, remember) without sides. For 1,500 square feet, I added 2 cubic yards of compost and 3 cubic yards of “mushroom soil.” I made two central paths that were boxed with 2 x 6s and with landscape fabric and bark mulch, from which the beds orient perpendicular. I did this in stages, leaving plastic over the areas still to be done.

“Then I spread spent hay/straw in the paths between the beds, and once the grass started to grow in my yard, I have been augmenting that with grass clippings. So far I have probably added 6-8 inches (dry) of grass clippings over the entire surface, which has packed down to almost nothing. I have almost zero weeds. Except for one area that was weird at first, the garden has done exceptionally well.

“This fall, as any bed is retired, I will shovel the spent mulch onto the bed and then (having cut up the black plastic) put individual black plastic covers over each bed, held down with earth staples. The paths will be left to weather, or whatever mulching material happens along for free (or next to it). Next year I anticipate needing nothing but a yard of compost and a continued diet of grass clippings.”

Good luck!
NF

 

 

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