Why did it take so long? I'll show you. Here's the start of the process shown back on February 14. I sowed most of the bed with a cover crop blend from Renee's Garden. The bed had to be covered with lightweight Remay fabric to protect the seedlings from the birds.
When I got home from vacation on March 25 here's what I found. The greens has grown enough to push the fabric off of most of the bed, thank goodness it didn't happen before it got large enough to withstand the voracious munchings of the birds.
On March 29 I cut all the greens down. I didn't use a weed whacker as Renee's Garden Seed recommends for one of their methods, instead I took advantage of the height of the bed to simply use some manual hedge shears. I also didn't bother to cover the greens with black plastic as Renee's suggests, I simply let them sit on the surface and wilt.
A few days later I turned the greens into the soil. This was when I finished that task on April 2. Then I waited.
I forgot to take a photo of the bed before I scattered the additional amendments, but well before yesterday when this photo was taken all sign of any green on the surface of the soil had disappeared. Last week when I dug into the soil to see how well the greens had decomposed I couldn't find any sign of them so I knew I could finish preparing the bed. This is one of the amendments that I added to the bed, crushed egg shells. I save all my egg shells through the year and then when it's time to prepare the solanum bed I used my VitaMix blender to pulverize them. (Beware, if you want to keep the blender container looking pristine don't crush eggshells in it, it will make it look a bit cloudy.)
I ended up with over 5 pounds of crushed shells, about 3 of which I scattered over the surface of the soil before turning it over one more time. I don't understand the practice of adding eggshells or other calcium amendments to the planting hole when planting tomatoes. By the time the plant needs the calcium to prevent blossom end rot the plant roots have grown far beyond the planting hole so I turn the calcium through the soil so the roots can find it when they need it. I also spread some crab meal and sulfate of potash. The crab meal is a good slow release source of nitrogen and phosphorus but doesn't provide potassium (3-4-0) so I add the sulfate of potash (0-0-50) to provide potassium. I mix these two together in a bucket in a ratio of 5 pounds of crab meal to 1/2 pound of potash. Sulfate of Potash sounds like a nasty chemical but it's actually mined potassium and approved for use by organic growers. One batch of that mixture will fertilize a couple of my large beds and I like to keep a bucketful around so that I can amend various parts of the beds as I rotate crops through them. It's actually pretty rare that I prepare a full bed as I've done here.
The drip lines are set out in this bed in three sections with a main 1/2-inch line running along the length of the bed and then branching off in three lines across the bed. The drip lines (1/4-inch tubing with embedded emitters) are connected directly to the branching main lines. It's easiest to dig the bed by pulling the drip lines up and away from the area to be dug. I started at one end of the bed and turned over the first section. I simply turn the soil once to the depth of my little spade, about 12 inches. Then I pulled the lines from the second section over the first and starting digging there, and then on to the third section.
My garden always seems to offer up some surprise, here's the big one I found when turning over the soil in this bed, it is full of red worms, there are hundreds of them in there. I'm learning something new today. At first I thought these were the type of red worms that are used in worm bins, Eisenia fetida. But it didn't make sense because they are living in the soil in this bed. When I did a bit of research I found out that there is a red earth worm, Lumbricus rubellus, which seems to be a much more likely candidate. Anyway, they have done a fabulous job of breaking down the cover crop, there was nary a leaf to be seen.
|Red Earth Worms, Lumbricus rubellus?|
After turning the soil over I use my old 4 pronged hoe to break up the surface clods and smooth out the surface. I walk through the beds as I turn the soil, but the rest of the work is done from the perimeter of the bed. I like my little old hoe because it is light and it's easy to wield over the middle of the bed from the side. I work back through the sections, raking out one section and relaying the drip lines, then the next section, and then the last one.
Here's the first photo of the finished bed once again for reference, you can see how I've laid the lines out, they are 10 inches apart and each line has emitters spaced every 6 inches. That gives me very good coverage in the very loose soil. I've decided to try mulching the tomatoes with newspaper this year because of the severe drought that we are going through. It's easier for me to use full sheets of paper rather than shredding it first. We don't get rain here in the summer, I rely entirely on irrigation water supplied by the drip lines that run under the paper so it's not necessary that the mulch be water permeable. I'll also lay newspaper down once I've set out my peppers and eggplant, but that's still a few weeks off.
I'll be posting again when it's time to plant out the solanum bed, I've got another trick to share then. In the meantime my little seedlings still have some growing to do before I plant them out.