The chickens have been covering new ground lately. Their fence was opened and suddenly their range has multiplied in size- namely into the new garden area. Without hesitation they went for the farthest reaches and scratched away happily.
There’s still machine work going on: areas of ground are being leveled so that we can install irrigation systems. A new pond has been dug and still requires finishing. And a central driving lane is part of the plan also: occasionally it’s important to be able to bring in a larger vehicle to offload compost, manure or other supplies.
Well the machine work means just more grub to the chickens. They closely follow the scoop and every time a bit of earth is scratched by this big tool, they’re there picking up the bounty.
The ground in our area is full of rocks- about the size of potatoes. (Just north of here is the rural community by the name of “Cobble Hill”) On top just a very thin layer of topsoil with some grass. So the first order of action is soil building. In a presentation I heard this weekend I learned that our top soil is being depleted at a frightening rate- much faster than it can be built up or recovered.
Of course without soil there’s no growth, without growth no product- or produce- or FOOD!
What does it take to build soil? Lots of compost, management of erosion, composting toilets, cover crops, crop rotation and probably a few more strategies. Remember I’m not a gardener!
Somewhere along my learning path I have heard about potatoes as first crop in a garden. So I was not surprised to see ground being prepared for potatoes here. Mike, a volunteer from Ireland, has taken it upon himself to plant an area with a method that he learned at home. So today, on this Equinox Sunday, I joined him in the field to see what he was doing. Its a simple strategy: Lay out the line with a string, cut a line with the spade and then dig once to one side turning over the grass and once more to the other side , thus creating between the dug trenches a bed of turned soil on top of the grass layer. This is where the potatoes will be planted- but that’s part of the next installation of this blog. Back to today: I showed up ready with my own spade and stepped on the edge- and hit a rock! And that is how it is here- digging is a struggle of wedging your shovel in between rocks, sometimes hand picking . Slow, hard work. Of course -you might have guessed- the chickens are right there at the end of the spade each time it turns a bit of soil: ready to find some yummy grub. Earthwork can be done in different ways- by spade and pick or by machinery. While I acknowledge that the spade is the more gentle way for the land, I do believe that a machine can become the extension of our arms and with its power move so much more soil in a day that then frees up the gardener to get on with the other tasks: composting, preparing beds and planting seeds.
On this First Sunday in the Spring of 2010 the air has that sweet smell of flowers, the song of birds and the nights now echo with the calling of the frogs. Blessings of the season to all!

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