Monday, May 07, 2012

My Empire of Dirt

Today, I sent off a couple soil samples from my "patch" of land that I plan to "farm." The quotes are necessary when you are surrounded by massive squares of industrialized farmland. It's really more like 'extreme gardening' than anything else.

About a pint of "black gold" in each bag.
Still, going from a 5'x5' square patch in our community garden to a 30'x72' patch is going to be, um, interesting. Flagging the garden space out last month, it struck me just how steep the learning curve will be. I may have to buy some climbing equipment at REI just to scale it properly.

Times like this, I stop and wonder, 'Just what makes me think I can do this, anyway?' Sheer naivete, I'm sure.

Flags in foreground mark the size I'm used to gardening. See those distant flags? They mark the space I'll be using this summer.
Selecting the patch played out like a Goldilocks story. Initially, Brent, the guy who now farms our land (and grew up there) and I had different ideas about what it would look like. I was going to start out farming about a MUCH bigger patch out at the Fife Place, down the road a bit. (This is a specific corner that everyone knows and the fact that nobody alive today can ever remember anyone named Fife actually farming the land is not important.) So, my vision originally included this:

I must have been crazy.

After a useful consult with my brother, Rob, I opted to move my operation back down to "the yard" - the land where everybody once lived, where barns and rotting buildings now reside, and the same place where I would be squatting. That way, I could wake up in my one-room palace and walk straight out into my green-brown office without leaving the property.

Such decisions cannot be made from a distance so this was the main reason for the recent road trip. Initially, Brent steered me to a side section of regularly farmed land that he had in mind.

"Has this land been growing treated seed or been sprayed in the last three years?" I asked.
"Um, yes," he said.
"Then it's not going to work." 
"Ah, okay. I see." 
"How about this space over here?" I said, walking him over to a giant green patch between a big red barn and the edge of the farmed land.

"Well, see now that's going to be a problem because this is where we drive the tractors through after coming in from the field. Also, it's awfully close to crops that are likely to be sprayed. You have to consider the wind."

He was right. I learned about buffer zones at the organic farming conference. Plus, I absolutely did not want to disrupt the normal day-to-day workings of the farm or be in the way at all. So, we kept looking around for a spot.

"How about over here, behind the grain bins?"  he offered. We surveyed a spot that was wild, uneven and spotty with grass and dirt. It looked unkempt, ragged and forgotten. It was perfect.

Brent, planting flags in my field of dreams.
From his childhood, Brent remembers the patch as being mostly cow pasture. Also, there is a section of the land where they would "bury the corn waste" - husks, failed seeds, stalks and such. To his knowledge, it has never been farmed and certainly has never been sprayed or touched by chemicals. Already, my garden patch was brimming with potential.

However, the patch is almost entirely covered in quackgrass, one of the more stubborn grasses in existence - my first known enemy. Other than cultivating (digging) the hell out of it over and over again, I don't know what else I can do since I will not be using any sprays or chemicals to combat the q-grass. I'm destined to learn a few things in that battle.

Meanwhile, I sent off two batches of the most gorgeous so-black-it's-almost-blue dirt you might ever see in your life. It looks not unlike the chopped up chocolate I use for making homemade Mint Chip ice cream:

I brought my precious soil home from North Dakota in two tupperware tubs. Whenever somebody came into the house, I'd offer, "Wanna smell my dirt?" I never waited for an actual answer, mind you, before exposing them to the wondrous aroma of fertile land. Yup, sexy, exciting times over here.

The turnaround time is pretty quick and I should get the results back in a week or so. Already, I know that it won't need much amending, like the sandy-clay soil here in Colorado. (Hence, my compost obsession.) But I want to have as much knowledge as possible before planting.

Oh yeah, I need to order more seeds too. 
And buy a camper trailer.
And pack up all my worldly goods and move.
And pick up a new speed habit, so I can get everything done...


Fang Bastardson said...

I am the land, and working me will make you Hurt.

Heather Clisby said...

Good catch! That was just for you, my dear.