Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sustainable Veggie Garden

We are so excited to say that our garden efforts in the spring are paying off. If you read our previous post Busy with Early Summer Tasks, then you know we harvested these: peas, kale, spinach, cucumbers, dill, cilantro, and collards.

Since then, we also harvested potatoes, green beans, yellow and red onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and black-eyed peas. Yummy! And we've also harvested some of our  perennial herbs like rosemary, thyme, and green onions.

So let me tell you a little bit about our veggie garden. This is not your conventional garden; this one is sustainable and based on permaculture concepts.
  • First off, it's huge - approximately a half acre (bigger than our whole lot was back in Houston).
  • The garden is situated in a valley, where it has collected the fertile topsoil from the neighboring hills for centuries. 
  • It also had the added benefit of years of cattle grazing and natural composting.  Grazing was halted for two years before the garden was built.
  • Additionally, we hauled our own compost from Houston to this very spot for the last 5 years. 
  • We rented a chipper and shredded branches and shrubs that were cleared and dried.  The chips were left in piles to use in the garden and orchard.
  • After doing some prescribed burning of brush, we harvested charcoal to add nutrients and hold water in the garden soil.
  • A trencher was used to break ground, turn over the soil, and cut in the rows. The rows are on contour, so they collect and store water in the ground. 
  • The trenches were filled with compost and rich garden soil. A variety of organic amendments were added to the soil.  
  • The weeds were not pulled, but rather were left to be cut and dropped as mulches throughout the year. 
  • Each row is wide enough to hold more than a single row of plants, which means there are half as many walking paths.  This makes good use of the space.
  • Half the garden was planted with seasonal vegetables and the other half was planted with cover crops, mostly nitrogen-fixing legumes. 
  • In one corner, we're making our own compost with kitchen scraps, garden clippings, soiled bedding from the goat stalls, and shredded paper products.
  • And finally, our free range chickens are allowed to run through parts of the garden, eating pests, scratching through cover crops, mulches, and compost, and they leave organic manure behind.
  • Well, one more thing that makes this garden awesome... in the midst of a multi-year drought here in Texas, this garden is watered exclusively with collected rainwater. The system is gravity fed, so no electricity is used and no harsh chemicals are applied. (see our post from 2010, Collecting Rainwater)
Even though I haven't spent enough time in the garden to grow all the produce we wanted this summer, and I didn't even get around to planting all the seeds I bought, I would say that that garden is a huge success. The sustainable solutions, mentioned above, that we applied to this project have all worked out as expected.  

The coolest thing about sustainable gardening, especially here in Texas, where we can grow crops almost year-around, is that there is no beginning and end, it's an ongoing cycle.  As we get into the hottest part of the year, we'll continue to harvest more heat loving beans and others. In mid-late August, we'll sow some fall crops. We'll turn the compost pile and start a new pile with the soiled bedding from the goat stalls.  We'll cut down more cover crop/green manures to feed the chickens and goats and to compost in place.  And on and on...  a veritable food producing machine.

I hope your summer is as exciting as ours.


Oh, and on a different topic, in case you haven't seen it yet, here's our latest video of the livestock guardian dogs.  Oh they are growing!  They love to run through the mud, chase bouncing balls, and chasing each other.