In April, our Eastern plots looked like this (see above). We got the stubble from last year's crops removed or mowed down and prepared for the new year. We had permanent green strips/paths every 60 feet running East/West and green strips around the entire eastern area. We have an older bushline in the west (established in 2005) and a newer bushline in the east and north (established 2015 and still in progress).
Obviously the first problem has been excessive rains. Even if there weren't puddles on the ground, the water table was high. This often caused problems with the roots, which is particularly bad if it is a root crop. For some reason, we don't like it when our carrots rot off or potatoes go bad because they are in water. We have had situations where we have watched a bean crop rot just prior to a harvest and our ability to cultivate fields to keep weed down is severely limited.
Other issues included the amount of 'turning around' we had to do when using an implement on the tractor. If we spin our beds to the north/south orientation, we can have longer beds and rows - which means less turn-around time. This wasn't as big a deal when we first set this up because the bushes we had on the ends of the rows were much smaller. Now that they are well-established in the west and getting there in the east I have to be much more deliberate getting turned around for another pass.
We'll get into some of the other problems some other time.
|The first swale in the East fields.|
We rented a small backhoe and Rob spent a day digging away. He then used a blade on the tractor to bevel things out on the edges. The result is one 500 foot + long swale in the east and another 200 foot swale in the fields just south of Valhalla.
|Swale south of Valhalla|
The model for this would happen to be Valhalla, the high tunnel you see at the left of the photo above. We dug out two ditches parallel to the building and put the dirt into the growing area to raise it up further. The ditches work great at taking the water off the building and keeping it out of the growing area inside. But, the steep drop to the ditch makes work in that area a bit more perilous. We are always careful with equipment, but a bit more forethought is worth a great deal. If these swales work, I would not be surprised if we tried to make the drop on the ditches by the high tunnel less steep as well.
The long-term plan is to have four or five of these in the East and two in the area by Valhalla. We will probably select a couple of these to have a more diverse plant population and they will be slated for mowing only to control weeds and encourage the native perennial plants we hope to establish. The rest will serve just as the prior paths did. They will have clover, grass and other hardy plants that can be mowed. Such paths have served us well in the past and they provide great opportunities for perennial clovers to bloom and provide food for our pollinators.
And, who knows, maybe we'll even be able to handle excess rains better after this.