Originally Posted on March 29, 2013
Spring is Upon Us!
Something beautiful happened to our area in the past two-weeks. The seeds we started in newspaper pots have germinated. Flowers have been bursting open, bees are buzzing, and a hummingbird has started to build a nest nearby. The hummingbird has selected a short section of string lights that wrap around a beam under the covered patio. This nest will be the third one built on those lights. One year a hummingbird raised several fledglings out of the first nest, before moving down the line to build a new nest. Now a new little bird is busy creating a new nest out of spider webs, lichen, catkins, and other various materials. She’s even pulling material from one of the old nests—talk about cradle-to-cradle construction!
Our photo is of the hummingbird in her in-progress nest. It looks to be about one-third finished, when compared to prior nests we’ve seen. We figure the special feature that is attracting the hummingbirds is the great biodiversity in the garden, and a protected spot to build a nest, away from prying eyes of predatory birds (like our Western Scrub Jays). Attract hummingbirds to your garden by planting flowering plants they’ll love to visit. Salvia flowers are especially attractive to hummingbirds, as are honeysuckle, penstemon, and hollyhock flowers. Diversity of blooms attracts diversity of pollinators, including the hummingbirds. We love watching the whole process of nest building to the day of fledging.
Using Dynamic Mineral Accumulators to Enrich your Soil
Biodiversity of plants can help with a wide range of problems in the garden. Say you want to get more calcium into the soil so your tomatoes don’t get blossom end rot. What many farmers and gardeners might choose is to add some lime, or, perhaps on a smaller scale, eggshells. Another option is to plant a dynamic mineral accumulator such as comfrey, dandelion, or nasturtium, all of which draw calcium from the soil.
Dynamic mineral accumulators are plants that draw various micronutrients, macronutrients, or minerals from the soil through their roots and store them in their leaves. Using dynamic mineral accumulators is a long-term, sustainable approach to mineralizing soil.
Comfrey (photo at right) takes to being cut or mowed frequently, which is great since the leaves will release the calcium into the soil when they decompose in the compost pile, or as mulch. Along with calcium, comfrey also accumulates nitrogen, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Dandelion is another powerful accumulator. The deep roots draw a wide range of minerals, including sodium, cobalt, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, silicon, and potassium. It is like getting the plants to mine the soil, rather than importing mined and shipped minerals from off site. This lowers the carbon footprint of mineralizing the soil, all the while bringing biodiversity to the farm and garden, and adding organic matter to the soil.
Our Valley Oak Tool Co. chicken keeper allows a certain amount of cleavers aka Velcro plant (Galium aparine) to grow in her yard. It is a calcium accumulator, which laying hens need for good egg production. The chickens will attack a patch of the young cleavers plants until nothing remains. If the plants are allowed to grow to maturity, the chickens will eat the dried seeds right off the dead plants. It makes beneficial use of what is generally disparaged as a weed.
Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, a book by Robert Kourik, has an excellent section on dynamic accumulators and cover crops. If you are a student of the soil food web, or just want to grow healthier plants for the soil or your livestock, while lowering your carbon footprint and using fewer inputs, the book is a must for your library.
Fencing Chickens In or Out?
Our Valley Oak Tool Co. chicken keeper gives her flock the run of her whole back yard. At first the chickens kept to eating weeds, yet eventually devoured all the available chard, collards, lettuces, arugula, parsley, and everything else edible. This led to a deficiency in the easy vegetable consumption of the humans in the household. Rather than trying to keep the chickens in a penned area, she chose instead to fence off some space in which to grow those things that the she would like to eat.
The Valley Oak Tool Co. shop had an excess of culled broadfork handles. Why so many culls? Well each handle we receive in the shop is inspected to ensure the handle is strong enough and will not break during normal broadfork use. The rejects go into a bin at the shop. Some of those rejects became the posts for the fenced area. The fence panels are 2ft x 6ft metal grid shelving that came with the shelving units in our shipping room. The metal grid was not the best material to hold our tools, before they get packaged and shipped to our customers. We appreciate being able to re-purpose materials into something useful.
She marked out the area with stakes, and broadforked the whole space, getting rid of the weeds as she went. This was the first time she’d used a broadfork in the garden (she's new around here). And she’d been worried about being able to work the soil and not bother her recently injured back. “The Valley Oak Broadfork is great.” She said. “I never thought I'd be able to work soil very well after I hurt my back. The broadfork makes it very easy to work the soil quickly.”
The chicken flock came along to help clear out any snails and slugs, and any grubs hiding in the soil. The chickens also lightly fertilized the soil, and helped spread some straw around (picking out any seeds they might have found). Then the fence went up, setting one section atop the next to make an almost 4’ tall fence, and to form a small, protected garden space, which will be set up as a keyhole garden, as described in Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.
Keyhole gardens, according to Hemenway, have the best path-to-bed ratio around. It so happens that the fenced area is roughly a pentagon, and so will suit the keyhole format well. Several different basils, tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, dill, and some hot peppers will go in the space. Hmmm, sounds like summer eating! We’ll keep you up to date with the goings on in the keyhole garden.
Using our Wheel Hoe to Prepare Land Recently in Pasture
When using our Wheel Hoe on land recently in pasture we suggest mowing or grazing the pasture close to the ground prior to broadforking, rototilling, or discing. When David Grau was farming, he would mow the cover crop or pasture as closely as possible, and then disc the field, and then broadfork prior to planting. Even in his backyard, he wheel hoed poa annua and groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and then raked the vegetation off prior to making beds. “It was a bit of a mess,” he said, “and I have a compost bin full of soil with a few rotting weeds, but it was a fast solution on a small scale.”
So if you are going to turn pasture to row crops we suggest the method above lest the wheel hoe clog excessively. This can be reduced somewhat by sharpening the blade with a mill bastard file, and touching it up frequently. View our video below showing the recommended sharpening technique.
We ship new blade assemblies to customers with a dull edge so that nobody grabs a blade and gets a bloody hand. If you sharpen the blade yourself, you know it is sharp. In soil without a lot of weeds, the dull blade can be an asset, since by pulling the weed stem a bit you are tearing the soil off the roots, and therefore increasing the kill rate on the weeds. Some of our growers sharpen frequently while others never sharpen. You’ll find out what works for you.
Did you know?
The Valley Oak Wheel Hoe ships 80% assembled! We also use stainless steel 3/8” nuts, so they won’t rust. That’s right, your wheel hoe box comes with most of the parts already put together. We want your work to be out in the garden, not fussing with instructions and a box of parts.
Valley Oak Tool Co. wishes you a great growing season!