Getting to the Root of the Problem

September 18, 2010
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Uncle Pasto and I are in the process of trying to get the garden rearranged for fall and winter. This is kind of … well, it’s complicated, because neither of us are experienced with turning over the garden for a new season. So it’s all kind of an experiment. Right now, we’re still getting plenty of veggies out of the three 4×8′ boxes that we have, though it’s slowed down from the massive summer bounty we were getting for a while. So it’s kind of hard to justify ripping things out to plant new things, even though we probably should. I’ve taken out some of the things that are done, like the melons, and a couple of the tomatoes that weren’t doing so well, and some of the bush beans, but pretty much everything else is still growing and providing.

The problem as I see it with using the square-foot-garden method (aside from the fact that things grow WAY BIGGER than Mel claims) is that the box isn’t all done at once. This makes it trickier to add sufficient compost and replace the mulch and theoretically add row covers if needed — which I’m expecting will be likely for the root-and-leaf crops of winter.

So for now, we’re adding another small box, to get some of our winter stuff started, and we’ll be able to turn over the other boxes a bit more at our leisure, I hope. Uncle Pasto spent most of today getting that put together. We just made this one a 4×4′, because the other side of our yard is a little more cramped, and we wanted to keep it easier to navigate.

.4x4 Kitchen Box

While he was building, I did the digging and leveling, and continued on my ongoing mission to Rid My Yard Of The Plastic. The previous homeowners designed the backyard to be very low-maintenance and low-water-usage. We’ll get to that water bit later, but in terms of the low-maintenance, they basically covered the entire yard with plastic except for a double-handful of junipers and two carrotwood trees, and then dumped a couple loads of decorative rock on it.

This would be OK if they actually used landscape cloth, but they didn’t. As far as I can tell, they used whatever plastic bags they had at hand. This means that I’m finding trash bags, landscape bags, grocery bags, and even the bags those loads of rocks came in. This also means that the ground underneath those exceptionally non-porous bags has been smothered for about thirty years, and the minimal compost our land has managed to generate is all mixed in with the decorative rock and isn’t getting into the rest of our minerally-rich but dense and heavy clay soil.

So today I moved a big pile of rocks and ripped out more plastic. It’s taking a while, because there’s a lot of rock to move. We have plastic bits sticking up here and there in our yard in the spots I haven’t gotten to yet.

The other thing I did today was remove more tree roots. We had the carrotwood trees removed last year. Remember I said it was a low-water-use yard? Well, let’s put it this way: there were no sprinklers in the backyard until we installed them. In other parts of the country, this is no big deal, but in southern California, it basically means that only very well-adapted stuff will grow well.

Carrotwood trees survive without water, but they have the same problem any other tree typically has in that case: thick, aggressive surface roots. We had the trees removed last year because the roots were cracking our patio, and threatening to get under our house and crack the concrete slab. No bueno. But just because you’ve gotten rid of the trees doesn’t mean that the roots stop growing. Carrotwood trees can and do regrow from the roots. I know, ’cause I spent today taking out a pile of roots with fresh green sprouts on them.

The pile of roots

Our hatchet is included for size comparison’s sake. That thick root in the upper-right corner is as thick as my upper arm.

There are some things I was not able to take out. Like this:

Part of the stump

I’m pretty sure this is attached to what was the tree stump before they ground it out — you can see a huge thick flat edge in there to the right of the hatchet. It’s really thick, and really dense. I’m not going to be getting it out any time soon, so I chopped up the top a bit and left it exposed to the weather. I’m likely to go in there with the drill at a slightly later date and drill holes in it to get it to decay faster. Just didn’t get that far today.

This, I think, is a more graphical way to show off just how much I dragged out of our dirt:

Can o' roots

I’ve got a long way to go.

This is what the current veggie boxes look like. We’re definitely going to try a different method of staking next year.

Garden Today

Everything’s getting a little tired … soon it will be time to turn things over. (:

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