This a personal diary of how we’re taken a nearly wasted piece of property and turned it into a productive Certified Organic produce operation.
We bought our home with 9.62 acres in August 2005. It took two years to clean the property of junk that was strewn about. Only after that were we able to think about gardening.
We played around planting what we thought would grow on what would become our main garden plot. First it was about 20 by 40, growing to nearly 40 by 50 and finally under two hoop houses each measuring 20 by 52 with a 2ft path between them.
In 2011, we decided to become serious about gardening, applying for an NRCS EQIP grant in the Certified Organic division for two hoop houses. While we didn’t get it in 2012, we did win the competitive grant in 2013. Of course, there were a few strings attached. We must be and must keep our Certified Organic status through 2017. We also must attend Master Gardener School this winter, and that’s a good thing, too.
Now, about that soil that is highly alkaline and nearly sodic.
We tested our soil in 2011 (see Soil Test 2011 pg 1). The short version is that the pH was 7.7. Soluble salts were .93 with the Lime at 3.7 (high) and organic material at 1.5%. The NPK was 64-130-1791.
When we retested in 2013 (see Soil Test 2013 pg 1, the results were quite different. Again the short version is pH 7.6. Soluble salts now .58 with the Lime at 5.3 and organic material at 3.2%. the NPK is 24-110-1295.
What we did between 2011 and 2013 was to add 4cu ft peat moss per 1000 sq ft as well as about 12 cu ft of horse and sheep manure/spoiled alfalfa. In 2012, we also added 50# of humate per 1000 sq ft. After testing this year, we added humate at 50# per 1000 sq ft again, as well as elemental sulfur at about 18 lbs per 1000 sq ft.
We will test again in 2014.
Many of the changes in the soil have to do with unlocking nutrients so the plants can access them. Our soil texture is sandy loam. We do have to be careful about adding too much of our own farmyard manure, as our feed source is local, and can also be high in salts. You can see that, by comparing the two tests. Look at the Cation Exchange Capacity – CEC (pronounced cat-eye-on). Overall, it increased by 1 going from 9 to 10. That’s considered low. What happens is a lot of the nutrients leach deeply into the subsoil, becoming unavailable to the growing plants.
I’ve thrown a lot of technical data at you. What follows are pictures of our garden over the years. For us, the bottom line is yield, are we getting more produce for our efforts. Do we have fewer or more critters, as they can be an indication of problems. Have we noticed any disease?
We have conceded that some crops may not grow in our soil, but that doesn’t keep us from trying.
In hoop house #1, which has the most amended soil, we are growing beautiful greens, and root crops. Our tomatoes are blooming, and setting fruit. The sugar snap peas are starting to blossom, after having climbed nearly four feet.
In hoop house #2, which is an average of 10 degrees hotter in the daytime, and 10 degrees cooler at night than #1, things are quite different. Aside from some persistent burrowing Townsend ground squirrels and mice, the broccoli is doing well. The Tomatoes are coming along, but not as fast as in #1. The chard is lagging, but the radishes are doing well.
We may have two tests done as we’re seeing considerable differences between the houses.
Things we’ve found that we can do include adding compost (both what we make and what we can purchase), farmyard manure within reason (more in #2 than in #1) as that adds considerable organic matter. This winter, we’ll be planting cover crops of hairy vetch, as part of the NRCS contract. I chose the vetch as it is a legume, and will help fix the nitrogen in the soil. It will also help provide organic material.
We will put the vetch down in #2 first and leave it there for 6 weeks, beginning in late September. Once that vetch has been tilled under, we’ll put vetch down in #1 for six weeks. We plan to replant as quickly as soil temps reach 50 degrees under low tunnels within the high tunnel hoop houses.
By gaining control of our desert soil, and extending the warmer soil temps with both high and low tunnels, we expect to produce veggies from late March through November. Currently, our outdoor growing season begins June 1 and extends maybe into early September. We could have frost any month of the year.Pin It