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Growing things in the ground: Getting Started

posted Aug 9, 2011, 9:43 PM by Summerdog Family   [ updated May 17, 2014, 8:15 AM ]
At the end of 2009 we bought this 1904 house, behind a berm, with a few acres of land.  We aspire to a small farm, with some farm animals and plants.  The aspiring farmers are, without a farm, objectively busy people - we have jobs and school and many interests.  We all agree, however, that we want a farm.  In fact, we moved from a couple of houses in town, where we called a plot of land about 32 square feet "The Farm" and a little house and maybe a 1000 square feet "The Ranch."  That was more than we could keep up with; now we have closer to 200,000 square feet.  Not a lot, but let's say, a different beast altogether. 

We have water.  We don't completely understand our water, and for those of us used to the South and the East, understanding water here is a challenge.  It is a challenge that has to be met.  We have city water that flows from the mountains and treated.  It is good water.  We have a well that is supposed to pump five gallons a minute, and it does for a while.  The water from the well dries and leaves a layer of salt. After a couple of hours, the water pressure can't move a sprinkler.  We have a ditch; we have two shares; we don't have the wherewithal to use this water - yet.  If you are going to be a farmer in the plains of Colorado, then you have to use your ditch.  Here in 2011, we are spending a lot of time looking at how people use their ditch.  To have a chance at farming here, you have to know your water. 

We have land, and it has been a farm before.  It has been plowed.   There is old farm spoor all about.  There is a barn, and on the wall an ancient phone number for the renderer.  On about half the land there is a solid stand of pasture grass.  The soil is, compared with that 1032 square feet in the town, without stones.  Most of the stones that we dig up seem to be relics of old structures.  In 2011 we (finally) got the soil analyzed, and it is good soil.  A surprising amount of nitrogen, alkalinity not so bad. 

Our first year tending the soil was 2010.  We are busy; we moved with the equipment of a 1032 square foot spread.  There is a requirement of tomatoes and pumpkins.  In 2010, we practiced by necessity no till agriculture and made two rows in the middle of the land.  Middle?  The shape of the land is as follows, 200 feet wide and 1000 feet deep.  Judging from a landing airplane, this was a popular size of land at some time in the past century.  In the middle, 4 - 5 hundred feet from the front we put in two rows.  In these rows we planted about 30 tomato plants, 50 pumpkins, string beans and eggplant.  We cut the grass short, dug holes, mixed with peat and compost, and mulched with cardboard and straw.  Things grew after a fashion.  Some other entry will detail that challenges of tomato growth prior to the middle of July, but things did grow.  We watered, originally taking out tubs of water and using watering cans,.  Ultimately we fired up the pump and used the salty water.  We did not know it was so salty in 2010.  

By most standards, 2010 was a failure.  It is correct to say that we got no ripened tomatoes.  On Labor Day weekend there was a moment of frost.  Literally, there were minutes of frost in a very small area that included Summerdog.  On the Tuesday or Wednesday morning after Labor Day, all lay withered in the field, except the green beans.   Checking the trace from one of the Wunderground weather stations, a moment of frost on a spot of land.   We ate fried greened tomatoes and picked the handful of pumpkins that had formed.  We ate green beans with bacon and tomatoes stewed to smoky sweetness.   There were many lessons learned, including that five miles out of town was a far different game than in town.   Bugs, magpies, rabbits, coyotes.  We had built chken-wire houses around the pumpkins that we had gotten.  We learned a little about our water, and we added a moment of frost to the list of things that could happen on a plot of land out here on Memorial Day.