sheet-composted bed over heavy clay soil that grew potatoes last year for its first crop. They seemed to have leached all that organic material out of the soil and it's back to heavy clay. So last fall, being the sort of irregular gardener that I am, and noticing that the bark mulch in the pathway next to the bed had decomposed significantly and the chickens were finding lots of protein snacks in it, decided to top mulch the bed with fall leaves held down by the decomposing bark mulch, which I just shoveled off the pathway and onto the bed. I covered the beds with weed cloth and carpet remnants, mostly to keep the free-ranging chickens out. I really wasn't sure how this might work.
But about mid-February, as deep winter broke and the days started to warm into the 50s more often than not, I put some PVC pipes over some 2' rebar stakes and stretched some 6 mil plastic over the bed to warm things up. In early February's first quarter moon, I'd planted some carrot seeds in a flat, as I'd read somewhere that you could transplant very young carrot seedlings (typically, root crops can't be transplanted. But when I get antsy in late winter, I'm willing to try anything to get a jump on gardening.) And while an earlier planting of carrot seeds in January hadn't germinated, this batch emerged into a glorious green carpet of carrot seedlings in less than 2 weeks.
So about a week ago, I transplanted them into the bed. Knowing they didn't want their roots disturbed, I carefully lifted chunks of potting medium and seedlings out with a butter knife and immersed them in a bowl of warm water (warm mostly to keep my hands from freezing, but maybe the carrots liked it too) and tickled and teased the roots apart. Then I pulled open holes in the mulch/soil (on this end of the bed it was slightly more soil-y) and tamped them in. I'm surprised and thrilled to say that it looks like 95+ percent have made it so far.
Edited to add: I have since read that transplanting carrots causes their roots to fork, and that's exactly what happened with these. While plenty of carrot root was produced, each plant looked like a strange sea creature with many tentacles and many were so hard to clean the dirt out of they weren't worth the effort. I won't try transplanting them again.
|Intrepid carrot seedling|
I open the bed up on sunny days, and keep it covered on snowy days and at night, when it's still dropping into the 20s and teens.
Once I realized that the carrots had survived, I decided to test out some bok choi and spinach. The left half of the bed, where the potatoes were grown, has less-decomposed leaf-litter and bark mulch, which may be problematic. When you have active composting going on in a bed, the nitrogen in the compost is temporarily occupied in reaction with the carbon in the compost and isn't available to any plants. But I thought I'd give it a shot. These seedlings had grown a bit too long in their first flat and had some pretty tangled root systems. With more warm water bathing and teasing apart of roots (which makes the planting process rather time consuming and is not something the average farmer is going to do), I planted the spinach and bok choi, taking care to pull open holes in the soil/mulch deep enough for the roots to stretch down straight. After patting everything in, I watered with warm faucet water (too cold to have the outside hoses running yet) in hopes this would warm up the deeper regions of the bed a bit, and finished with a watering can or two of decomposed fish soup (warm water with a few tablespoons of fish emulsion in it). My hope was that the nitrogen in the fish emulsion would offset any loss of nitrogen in the still decomposing mulch.)
Uncovering the beds this morning, it looks like almost all the spinach and bok choi made it through the night.