Friday, June 29, 2012

Garden envy

What a difference a half-mile makes!

Here in microclimate land, I live in one of the more micro climates. Hence this blog title -- our yard behaves like Zone 3 even though we live, according to the map, in Zone 4. It's all because of one hill and a curve in the road.

Two of my neighbors are my gardening buddies. We get together in late winter and swap seeds, discuss crop successes and failures, and arrange who will start what for whom. Then we plant about the same time in May, each of us varying each year in what sort of early-season and pest protection gizmos we employ. We live approximately a half-mile apart, with me at one end of the road and them across the way from each other at the opposite end.

Regardless of timing and fertilizing and protection variables, by this time each season the difference in our private landscapes becomes obvious. My transplants are always smaller; I get lower rates of seed germination; and everything in general is less fecund. Originally I believed this reflected my inadequacies, but now I realize it's all about sunlight and soil.

I amend the soil; they amend the soil; though who's to say which combo is better. I fertilize; they fertilize; but who's to say which fertilizer and frequency has what effect.

The bottom line is: They have tons of sun and I don't. Even though my new garden location gets tons of sun since we cut down the pine trees, it's still not as much as they get. In fact, they have environmental problems I don't: wind in one case, overheating in another. I get a little of both but to a lesser degree, because our end of the road gets clouds more often. That extra 10-30 feet of altitude, combined with the hill, combined with directional orientation (they have open southern exposures), makes a huge difference.

The hill (aptly called Hateful Hill) trips clouds and drops moisture more than on the other end of the road. There are many days when the weather radar shows perfectly clear skies throughout the region, yet it's either cloudy or precipitating at our place. One neighbor and I both have rain gauges; after each rain, we measure different amounts, with usually more at my place. Could be a calibration difference -- neither of us has Official Weather Stations -- but the trend is consistent.

I envy my neighbors' burgeoning crops, and am glad I don't rely upon my garden to feed us. How anyone who lived here in the 1800s and had to live off the land survived, I can't imagine. Well, there was a large evacuation when the midwest opened up, with its unrestricted light and rich, dark soil . . .

Whatever. The upside is: Every year my garden produces food, no matter the sun, rain, insect, predator, pest problems. The perennials that have survived here are decades old. It's a wonder that bedazzles me every year.

But there's no mystery why I don't plant a bigger vegetable garden and can/freeze/pickle for the larder every fall!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wishing well

One of the not-so-quaint features that came with our old farmhouse is a surface well (a.k.a. spring well), which comprises a wooden frame about the size of a casket sunk into the mud around a spring, and capped with a plywood lid. It lies a few feet from the road in the low point of our dooryard.

The spring is reliable and the water good, but the well case gets silty so we’ve had to install two fabric filters for dirt plus one UV filter for germs, all of which must be changed multiple times a year—or multiple times a month during heavy spring runoffs.

The time has come to rebuild the casket and cover for this well, but before investing the effort and materials, we decided to see if we could find a better location. Drilling is not an option; ergo, we must dig the old-fashioned way.

The backyard has two subterranean streams running through it that ooze up to the surface during periods of high water. If we could trace one of those streams to where it emerges from bedrock, and thus sink a collector uphill of the silty spring, then we’d be way ahead of the game in terms of water cleanliness and pressure.

So hubby made himself some dowsing rods and crisscrossed the backyard. At the appropriate spots, he revved up his backhoe and commenced digging. Before long, the backyard looked like a landmine had exploded!

Yes, we found lots of water. We also found the deconstruction debris from when the barn was torn down in the 1970s and the ell of our house built onto its footprint. One of those holes exposed a vigorous water source, but between the debris and the fact we’d have to mow around the casing, we let that option slide.

As well, we found an interesting and diverse combination of strata: muck, sand, topsoil, clay. Few rocks, and as yet no bedrock. The goal is to find a water source below the clay, but to date we’ve only found water running on top of it. One source was vigorous enough to undermine the clay bands as we watched.

Exploration stopped when one heavy load of clay bent the tractor bucket, thereby postponing other yard projects until that can be repaired.

So we’re still wishing for a well, and haven’t decided whether to keep digging until we hit the sweet spot or just head to the lumberyard and buy materials to rebuild the existing well case. Meanwhile, we’ve inadvertently created more sinkholes, since the water we disrupted a few feet down has sucked in the dirt, so that what was dug out no longer refills the hole(s) to the top. In fact, one almost consumed our plow truck as hubby attempted to shove the dirt piles back into place. Later, it grabbed a trailer being relocated in the yard.

The backyard has always been a bumpy place to ride a lawnmower, usually needing a visit to the chiropractor after a full mowing session. Now it’s a veritable obstacle course, with not much to show for the effort. But . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we’ll probably press on until a solution presents itself.