Friday, February 12, 2016

February in the Garden and the "Second Life"

February is a strange month for weather here in Texas. Most years it is cold and dreary (at least in my memory) with the occasional warm day fluke. This year has been so very mild that I've got some serious gardening fever, but I know better. So, what do you do in the February garden?

In the greenhouse you can start: Basil, Swiss Chard, Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash. Of course you need to tend to the little seedlings you've already sprouted. Oddly enough I've been more concerned with avoiding cooking the little babies than keeping them warm (which is what you would expect from February). 

Outside, you better have your potato and onion beds prepped and ready, because they go in the ground on Valentine's Day....that is unless it is pouring rain or we are getting some deep freeze that day. With that said, I don't know that I've ever missed my Valentine's Day planting. That is just when you do it. 

The other thing you can do in February (especially when you are having fabulous weather) is to build new beds which brings me to the idea of the "Second Life." Now our farm is pretty productive and we tend to have plenty of milk, cheese, and yogurt. We also have plenty of veggies and even some fruits, but the thing we produce the most of...."waste" and compost. 

Let's just start with that lovely milk I just get milk we feed bagged feed (from the lovely folks at Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill). The feed comes in 50 lb. bags that are made entirely of paper (Yay, Coyote Creek!). We go through around 80 bags of feed a year...that's 80 empty bags. This time of year we hoard some to use as clean pads for obey-gooey just-borned kids, but that still leaves a lot of bags. We don't like waste around here so we've found a second life for those bags.

Coyote Creek Feed Bags heading to the garden.
 We do most of our gardening in raised beds and every year we have to grow a little. We use those paper feed sacks to line the bottoms of the raised bed frames. This serves to kill the grass underneath without adding anything nasty to our growing space.
We also find ourselves with lots of little piles of deadfall in the winter. Some of that makes its way into the house for kindling, some gets left in a pile awaiting the yearly renting of the chipper which turns it into mulch, but some of it goes into the bottoms of the raised beds for drainage and for slow composting. (Look up Hugelkultur).

Pecan Tree Deadfall
For whatever reason, I find the using of all the "waste" materials very gratifying. I love it that I am using something that would otherwise have to be disposed of. I'm not one of those Zero Waste Fanatics and although I just called them fanatics I do respect them...It cannot be easy to live that lifestyle. I'm a little more realistic, because I'm pretty sure I can't run this farm without creating some waste...okay, a LOT of waste. My job then is to use it up, turn something into nothing, redefine my waste and I'm getting pretty good at it.

Raised bed lined with cardboard boxes.
Rather than cart our "waste" to the recycling center (which is a pain in the ass) we try to use as much of it as we can. The above bed is lined with plain cardboard with all the labels and tape pulled off. Remember it's job is just to kill the grass below and this works great too.
Hugelkultur style: feed sacks on bottom, sticks next.
Once the sticks are in the bottom I clean the stalls in the barn and bring out load after load after load of "waste"...both hay and poop. That lovely milk comes from some very messy and subsequently wasteful goats. They drop half of every mouthful of hay on the floor and then (thank goodness) they don't eat it off the floor. Sometimes folks with animals complain about the wasted hay or the volume of poop, but I would never complain about either of's just mulch and compost to me. Those whiners just need to start gardening and give their "waste" a Second Life.
Sacks, Sticks, Hay and Poop

Once I've filled all the beds, I then begin spreading the hay/poop from the barn in beds that are not raised using what I now know is the Ruth Stout Method. For me, "it was the holy shit (no pun intended) there is too much of this...what do I do now?" method. You might say this method is for lazy people, but I'm definitely not lazy. Mostly I'm desperate...desperate to clean the barn and not just make piles of composting materials that will have to be moved again and again. I figured out this deep mulch method after a couple of years of moving the same compost two, three, maybe even four times. Now, I dump it where I would eventually like to plant. It is a slow process, but it yields beautiful results.
Jen's Lazy Method
The picture above was mulched last year. In the picture, I'm just beginning to add another layer of mulch because what you see mid-photo is soil, weedless, lovely soil ready for planting and I. DID. NOTHING. Nothing at all except dump my "waste" and spread it out a bit.

A couple of days ago I cleaned the milkers' barn and moved about 25 loads of beautiful future compost, thus giving their "waste" a Second Life. It helps me to define it as a Second Life. It reminds me that we and the gardens and the animals are connected in inextricable ways. I care for the goats, whose milk nourishes me, whose "waste" nourishes our gardens and feeds us and them. This farm is one big lovely circle and we try to keep all the elements in the loop. 

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