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?
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
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!
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).
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
I should add the soil is fairly well draining sandy clay.
We're about 8 miles back from the beach.
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?
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.
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.”
us with comments, suggestions and questions.