Garden Tools: Excel and then some

What's growing
What's growing

This is what happens when you cross a Wall Street junkie with 8 raised garden beds.  I tried.  For nearly two months I resisted the temptation to "organize" my garden, but alas, last week I broke down.  I know, it looks bad, but there is something to be said for having an action plan -- and putting my type A skills to use in the garden isn't the worst plan I've thought up.  This may actually be helpful: It's a map of what's currently in the garden (and the next round), and a diary of when it was planted, what varietal, and how frequently to succession plant.  When I was mastering Excel as an analyst at CSFB many years ago (probably to calculate year-on-year growth in industrial production in Argentina or to simulate the effective exchange rate produced by currency hedging strategies - FUN), I can't say I had the foresight to see its usefulness as a future novice farmer.  A transferable skill- we’re making progress.

The layout
The layout

What inspired this wave of attention to detail? The possibility of fresh Mache and other hardy varietals -- harvested in winter in the Pacific Northwest (as well as throughout the traditional harvest season).  I'm reading a fantastic book that’s probably going to lead to me getting very dirty with only frozen seedlings to show for it-- "Four-Season Harvest" -  by a couple who grow their own food year around on a small plot in Maine.  They were inspired by the growing techniques of French home farmers, who always seemed to have something fresh year around.  They leverage simple, old school techniques like thoughtful siting, composting, succession planting, crop rotation, and the use of cold frames for a year-around harvest.

It got me thinking- could such a plan work here?  Their home garden in Maine is on the 44th parallel, so despite having comparatively harsher winters than we in the San Juan Islands, their hours of daylight and sunshine would be comparable to Southern France.  I make no insinuation that the Northern Northwest is anywhere close to such conditions, but given our greater preponderance of sunshine on the island relative to Seattle and the the general NW mainland, it's worth considering.  Where we are on Orcas Island, is nearly at the 49th latitude (48.66), so we're up there...nearly to Vancouver per the illustration below  For comparison, the latitude of New York City is 40.7.  Seattle and Portland are at latitudes 47.6 and 45.5, respectively.

(Source: http://www.astro-tom.com)
(Source: http://www.astro-tom.com)

Reading about the couple's home garden experience and French anecdotes has me fascinated with the natural conditions that aid (and hurt) the organic farmer, and how simply being aware of the micro-ecosystems on your land can greatly enhance (and extend) your harvest.  Our local organic farm and neighbor- Maple Rock - hosted its annual open house on Saturday, giving us a chance to get local color.  We chatted up Farmer John while munching on his delicious homemade brick oven fired pizzas (mine with local chevre and a smattering of broccoli rabe and fresh pesto), and the consensus was that it's really easy to grow things.  Ha.  Tell that to a New York City balcony tomato farmer.  The caveat was, it's really easy to grow things, once you know your land.  Farmer John grows on 5 separate acres on different parts of the island, and each requires a different set of love and modifications.  What I'm hearing, is that it takes a bit of smarts and organization, but most importantly, awareness.

(Source: http://maplerockfarm.com with Minnow Creek added for illustration)
(Source: http://maplerockfarm.com with Minnow Creek added for illustration)

Awareness -- I don't have it yet, but I'm making progress.  As the dust settles and my mind clears, the senses start to open up, and I find myself noticing things I didn't before.  Simple things, like that the geese show up at the pond early, on sunny mornings, and that the peach trees in the garden area took much longer to bloom than the cherry tree out front.  I feel the soil, crumple it in one hand, and hold a fistful of compost in the other, and I feel the difference.  I see the natural streams carving bends in the land, feeding the pond, which will become summer irrigation for the land and its produce.  The bald eagles circle when it's particularly windy, and nose dive to snag the frogs and snakes I've seen rustling the taller grasses.  I caught a bunny gazing longingly at the sprouts of peas and spinach beyond the wire fencing meant to keep him out of the garden.  It's hard to look at such a creatures as a predator, but it is, a predator to my labor in the garden, and to any chance I have at greens in January.  I rocketed out of bed the first time I heard a 7AM rifle boom from our neighbor's property- the dogs were shaking like the 4th of July.  The neighbor shoots the rabbits.  They live off the land; the only line into their house is a telephone.  They are completely solar powered.  But the rabbits eat the harvest, so he shoots them.  Maybe there's a better way; for me it's good fencing and barking dogs.  But it speaks -- to the circles and cycles we live in that we're often too busy to notice.

A product to one such cycle, and vital to good soil and consequently a good harvest, is compost.  I started half-heartedly composting a month ago, by keeping my vegetarian kitchen scraps in an enclosed container that periodically I'd transfer to a large enclosed container and layer in with garden waste.  Twice, I've dumped the contents of the larger container in a pile behind the barn and attempted to turn it.  This wasn't sustainable and I knew it, so we're now organizing a better system.  I suggested to Gerry that we buy a simple wood compost bin kit online to make our lives easier, but as alluded to in earlier posts, my husband is adapting handsomely to the role of Farmer/Man of the House/Handiman and in true Man of the House fashion insisted on building the frame for a compost bin from scraps from his demolition project in the barn.  It's still awaiting a door to secure it from critters (and the mouths of my ever licking and soil eating dogs), but we'll be in full composting gear shortly.  With some luck with the cycles (=decomposition), in a few months, we'll have some delicious food for the garden that I don't have to have delivered by the truckload.

Let the compost begin!
Let the compost begin!

So here's the goal- greens- not from the market, or a jar of canned summer pesto, in January.  It's a stretch, but worth a shot.  In true trader fashion, I've hedged my bet and purchased a share in Maple Rock's CSA :)

Where I get dirty
Where I get dirty
Where I wander
Where I wander
Where I clean up
Where I clean up