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"as soon as the soil can be worked"?  RSS feed

 
raven ranson
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I've been spending the last few nights up late researching planting times for different crops. So many of them say "as soon as the soil can be worked". For those of you lucky enough to have a proper winter, I'm sure this is very obvious. There is snow and frozen ground, then... I don't know, stuff... and you can dig and get the soil ready.

Here, "as soon as the soil can be worked" really equals "as soon as I get over my new years eve hangover", which is usually too early to plant anything but fava beans and garlic.



What other weather phenomena are happening when the soil can be worked. Are you still having hard frosts at night? Or is winter finished just like that? What's the soil temp like? Night time lows? Please assume it's been a while since I saw a proper winter.

At the moment I'm mostly thinking of certain peas, grains and flax. I would love to get them in the ground now, but I know a cold snap will set them back or even kill them.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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As a climate buddy, I have to wonder how many of these 'as soon as the soil can be worked' crops can totally be planted right after the New Year Hangover [or at least after Valentine's Day] with a deep mulch [lets say 3 inches, enough for some serious insulation but low enough that most crops with a sizeable seed should be able to punch through for light.]

Establishing a root system during the winter months while it probes for light seems like it might be a good way to get the growing season off with a bang. [Ducks are highly recommended to control the slugs that are going to want to do some babymaking in your mulch.]

For some of the smaller seeds, I wonder if leaving a fist-sized hole in the mulch above it [allowing light to reach the seedling] and lightly burying it at the end of cloudless days when a freeze is coming would be an option [though one somewhat incompatible with duck slug patrol. But the slugs shouldn't be super active that early in the season anyway...] One should be able to 'bury' a rather sizable bed quite quickly with a rake under such circumstances.

EDIT: now that I've thought through this method I am totally going to experiment with it with whole potatoes. They've got more than enough starch to feed that search for light, and all the sub-surface growth should become tuber-growing territory after it gets some leaves to the sun in April. If the leaves do reach the sky too soon I can always hill it up with more mulch.
 
John Polk
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"As soon as the soil can be worked..." is not about protecting the seed.
It is about protecting the soil.

Early digging destroys damp soil.

 
Kyrt Ryder
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John Polk wrote:Early digging destroys damp soil.

Can you please elaborate on this comment? What precisely is the damage done, and is this damage more based on tillage or is it a reference to any digging [say, for example, a single spade per potato]
 
Jessica Padgham
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I've been wondering the same thing. We have on again off again winter here and the soil freezes inconsistently from year to yearI'm planning on some experiments this year. I do know that peas can sprout and handle quite a bit of cold and snow while they are still small. The last few years I've missed a few pea pods here and there and used the self-sown peas as my signal to plant more. My beds aren't soggy over winter though so I think that is why they don't rot like they are "supposed" to.
Last spring I experimented with planting potatoes earlier than the two weeks before last frost that is recommended. That didn't work too well. Potato leaves are very frost tender and I ended up having to cover my plants a bunch of times and still got enough damage to set them back.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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patrick canidae wrote:Daylight length is a concern if you aren't going to use grow lamps.
Kind of ironic I side-commented 'after valentine's day' when Daylength at my latitude exceeds 10 hours on February 9th.

Dunno exactly where you are Ranson, but Vancouver breaks the 10 hour daylength barrier on February 13th.
 
raven ranson
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Wow, love all these interesting ideas.

I'm still experimenting with mulch, but after the last few year's disasters with mulch loving critters eating my roots, I'm not so thrilled with it. Mulch also keeps our soil colder much later in the spring than the bare soil. I'm a bit off mulch at the moment. For the longest time I thought I was a bad person because I disliked mulch, but after reading The Resilient Gardener, I don't feel so bad anymore. I use mulch in some beds, and not in others.

However, if you do try with the mulch, please let us know how it goes.


I don't know valentine's day off by heart, but today we are just over 9 hours from sunup to sundown. I'm at 48th and a little bit North. That is if I did my math right. Sunrise was just before 8am, set was just after 5pm.


Some crops are daylight sensitive, so it's a good reminder to take light into account. Most of the problem I have in my garden, is that our days are too long in the summer. Haven't noticed problems with too short a days. The plants I know are mostly sensitive for flowering and/or setting seeds, not vegetative growth.

My plants are growing just fine, maybe a touch slower for the kale than summer, but they have to compete with the weeds right now. Everything in the garden seems oblivious to the fact that we have less than 10 hours daytime. It makes me wonder if this daylight restriction is only for some plants and not others. I wonder if there is a correlation between winter hardiness and the ability to grow during the short days.


Oats, barley, some chickpeas, favas, garlic are all plants I can put in the ground now. I decided to try my Japanese snow peas a month early this year. They are spouting in the unheated, unlighted greenhouse, so I decided to try some outside as well. According to where I bought the original seed, these are one of those "can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked" plants.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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R Ranson wrote:Mulch also keeps our soil colder much later in the spring than the bare soil.
IF it's not actively decomposing. Soil Biology breaking it down produces its own heat.
However, if you do try with the mulch, please let us know how it goes.

You got it.
I don't know valentine's day off by heart, but today we are just over 9 hours from sunup to sundown. I'm at 48th and a little bit North. That is if I did my math right. Sunrise was just before 8am, set was just after 5pm.

Ah, you must be towards the southern tip of Vancouver Island, perhaps not very far from Victoria? [the daylight comment I gave was Vancouver City, which is significantly further north than you.]
Some crops are daylight sensitive, so it's a good reminder to take light into account. Most of the problem I have in my garden, is that our days are too long in the summer. Haven't noticed problems with too short a days. The plants I know are mostly sensitive for flowering and/or setting seeds, not vegetative growth.

My plants are growing just fine, maybe a touch slower for the kale than summer, but they have to compete with the weeds right now. Everything in the garden seems oblivious to the fact that we have less than 10 hours daytime. It makes me wonder if this daylight restriction is only for some plants and not others. I wonder if there is a correlation between winter hardiness and the ability to grow during the short days.

Stands to reason. For example I know Winter Rye keeps growing so long as the air temperature doesn't drop below a certain point [something like ~38 degrees F] until it reaches its mature height or other conditions force early flowering.
Oats, barley, some chickpeas, favas, garlic are all plants I can put in the ground now. I decided to try my Japanese snow peas a month early this year. They are spouting in the unheated, unlighted greenhouse, so I decided to try some outside as well. According to where I bought the original seed, these are one of those "can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked" plants.
Interesting, I might have to give them a try.
 
Ann Torrence
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I don't know what that magical "as soon as" phrase means, but I do this: in the fall, I overseed the garlic bed with spinach. I barely rake it in, just enough to get soil contact. No mulch, it just sits there in the snow or soil depending on the year. It's the first thing that germinates. I figure once I see spinach seedlings, it's safe to put out beets and peas. So maybe you could sacrifice a few seeds now somewhere and see when nature takes its course?
 
Kyrt Ryder
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John Polk wrote:"As soon as the soil can be worked..." is not about protecting the seed.
It is about protecting the soil.

Early digging destroys damp soil.


Just a note, if I couldn't plant when the soil is damp, I'd never get a crop off. I don't GET dry soil until the summer drought.

Unless I was going with raised beds, but those are more irrigation dependent than in-ground beds.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I wondered about this, too. Our soil is also almost always wet (last year being a crazy exception). Since we had such a warm winter, I took a gamble and planted Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas on January 29th last year. The soil was definitely still very soggy. I just poked them in and then filled back in their holes. Some I planted under mulch (Same garden bed: 1-29, 2-5, 2-11), and others I planted without mulch (around apple trees 1-29 & 2-11). Without fail, all the ones planted in mulch got eaten by slugs--either below the mulch or above the mulch. Or, maybe a lot of rotted under there and only a few survivors made it up...only to get devoured by slugs. I don't know. On the other hand, the ones without mulch did fine. And, because I was planting peas so early, I actually got peas last year. A lot of other people planted them when they were "supposed to" or a little later, and their peas all just died in the unseasonably warm heat.

As for ducks protecting the seeds from slugs, it just didn't happen. I had 8 ducks at the time, and I would lure them over to that garden bed, and they would happily explore it, but they barely made a dent in the slug population. They also loved eating my baby plants. Maybe this year will be better, but I'm not gambling on it. I'm actually fencing off my garden beds from the ducks once things start sprouting, so as to reduce the chances of salmonella, etc, as well as my baby veggies getting eaten!

Probably tomorrow, I'm going to poke a few peas into my new (happily composting) lasagna/hugel garden bed, and then a few days later plant some more peas around the rest of the garden and around my fruit trees. Every few days/weeks, I'll plant a few more peas. This way, I'll only lose a few peas if there's something horrible happens. If it keeps being warm, why, I'll be happily be eating peas. It's also easier planting a few peas every few days because I'm doing the gardening with a toddler!

Looking through my garden journal, the peas planted on January 29th sprouted up on February 20th. Those got eaten by slugs, but the peas planted on February 11th produced it's first pea on May 23rd. I don't know if that's good or not, as I'm rather new to gardening, but that's what I have recorded. From what I gather, the peas planted in cold soil will just sit there until it gets warm enough to germinate.
 
Nicole Alderman
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R Ranson wrote:Wow, love all these interesting ideas.

I'm still experimenting with mulch, but after the last few year's disasters with mulch loving critters eating my roots, I'm not so thrilled with it. Mulch also keeps our soil colder much later in the spring than the bare soil. I'm a bit off mulch at the moment. For the longest time I thought I was a bad person because I disliked mulch, but after reading The Resilient Gardener, I don't feel so bad anymore. I use mulch in some beds, and not in others.


I'm also becoming rather disillusioned with mulch, even though I have ducks that love slugs. I use it around my perennials, but I don't think I will be using much around my annuals (though I have noticed that unfinished duck bedding seems to keep them away better than other mulches, but that carries the risk of salmonella, etc). How do you keep/make your soil fluffy, and keep erosion from happening? I really don't want to till, and most of the places I plant (hugel beds) aren't really good places to try to till anyway.
 
Scott Strough
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
R Ranson wrote:Wow, love all these interesting ideas.

I'm still experimenting with mulch, but after the last few year's disasters with mulch loving critters eating my roots, I'm not so thrilled with it. Mulch also keeps our soil colder much later in the spring than the bare soil. I'm a bit off mulch at the moment. For the longest time I thought I was a bad person because I disliked mulch, but after reading The Resilient Gardener, I don't feel so bad anymore. I use mulch in some beds, and not in others.


I'm also becoming rather disillusioned with mulch, even though I have ducks that love slugs. I use it around my perennials, but I don't think I will be using much around my annuals (though I have noticed that unfinished duck bedding seems to keep them away better than other mulches, but that carries the risk of salmonella, etc). How do you keep/make your soil fluffy, and keep erosion from happening? I really don't want to till, and most of the places I plant (hugel beds) aren't really good places to try to till anyway.


There is something else you can experiment with. Chickens love slugs too. Also a living sod contains habitat for a wider biodiversity of species, including predators. So here is my crazy idea. Feel free to laugh if you must.

Think of your rows as zones. There are crops zones or beds and between the row zones where you leave grass sod growing. Kinda like raised beds but all pretty much flat or following the natural grade/keyline design.

A chicken tractor can be pulled first through the rows to be mulched and where the crops will be grown. Just need a chicken tractor the right width. The chickens will eat both the slugs and the slug eggs and they will do a pretty thorough job of it. They also scratch up the surface of the soil, no tillage required. Also, the high nitrogen manure will heat up the soil biology and turn a cold mulched bed into a hot mulched bed that generates its own heat. The mulch insulating the warmth in, not out.

Between the rows is sod that we only need mow. Later in the year when we need pest control or a bit of extra manure in the system, drag the chicken tractor through there relatively rapidly, not allowing the chickens to kill the sod.

Enjoy the eggs produced from chickens eating all those nasty slugs, grass and weeds.

Now to be honest I haven't tried this yet. It is just a theory as Oklahoma doesn't have a slug problem. We have our own unique pest problems. But I have grown in your zone before. (Florida, Indiana, Washington State, Idaho, Oklahoma) And while the mulch/sod system I am developing was "invented" here in Oklahoma, I see no reason why it couldn't work in that area too. (With some adjustments) So maybe try it in a small section first to work out the bugs. (pun intended )
 
Peter Ellis
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:
John Polk wrote:"As soon as the soil can be worked..." is not about protecting the seed.
It is about protecting the soil.

Early digging destroys damp soil.


Just a note, if I couldn't plant when the soil is damp, I'd never get a crop off. I don't GET dry soil until the summer drought.

Unless I was going with raised beds, but those are more irrigation dependent than in-ground beds.


I wonder to what extent "worked" equals "plowed"? Putting a trowel in the ground to insert a seed or seedling is an entirely different thing than tilling or plowing. I suspect that the phrase "as soon as the soil can be worked" is just archaic and inappropriate language for people practicing no till and/or permaculture growing techniques.

As for "damp soil" there are obviously degrees of damp and degrees of digging. Soil with higher moisture content compacts more readily. There's a point where you cannot take a tractor out in the field because it will bog down - obviously too wet to work with machinery, but you could broadcast seed by hand. At a point when the tractor will not get stuck, it can still be too wet for driving on because it is compacting too much, but you could dig a hole and plant a tree without having to be too concerned.

In other words, I'm not clear on what the authors of the phrase mean by it, but I question its relevance for the kinds of farming and gardening practiced by people visiting permies. Data such as soil temperature and day length would be much clearer indicators.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I agree with those who say "worked" means "tilled." I think if the soil isn't frozen and you can put seeds on the surface of a bed and cover with soil or compost, then seeds can be planted. I plant during all but the coldest months here - I tend to avoid planting in January and February because it's too cold for much growth.
 
Hans Quistorff
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I agree "as soon as the soil can be worked" refers to modern agriculture practice and has little relevance to permaculture. This thread was started by those living around the Salish Sea and last frost date is unpredictable it could be the middle of January or the end of March or later. Microclimate and whether day length and soil and or air temperature sensitivity affect production or growth.

How I work my soil. I cover the planting aria with grass from my field then cover that with carpet. I let the critters living under there work the soil. I have three types of soil, flat clay flood plain, slightly sloped loam, sandy hill side. Planting preparation consists of pulling the carpet back and rearranging the mulch. If it needs to warm and dry rake it back and let the sun shine on it. With the sand I usually put strips of carpet right back between rows or transplants with a few slg granules in case the snakes did not get the slugs before they laid eggs. The carpet seems to last 3 to 7 years depending on how it is constructed. It needs to be rolled up or turned over, dried out and dirt shook out once or twice a year to prevent weeds growing in or rooting through it.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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In my little world "as soon as the soil can be worked" means the end of February. I don't till but I do broad fork.
In the conventional world (about a mile from where I am), the saying means as soon as the big tractor can pull the harrow through the field without getting bogged down to the axles.
For some of the folks around me it means when they can use their tiller in the garden bed without it bogging down or just making mud.

In my area (zone 7-b/ 8-a) we can plant the cool weather lovers at about mid march without row covers or we can use row covers and start the planting at the beginning of march.
If we use cold frames, we can start plants about mid February under the glass and move them out mid-March.
Tubers go into the ground in April and warm weather only plants go in ground first of May.
The summer crops go in ground the first of June, after that it is to late because of the heat/ humidity.
fall crops are started in September otherwise you might be short on growing days. However, 2015 was a long Indian summer for us, it went all the way through December.
We planted broccoli around the end of October and got to harvest it as nice plump heads in December, Two plants are still growing nicely.

With the global warming changing the "normal" weather patterns all over the planet, we now have to use best guess technology for planting dates.
We have had one snow event just last week here and it has already gone and the temperatures are heading back up to the mid to high 60's.
No longer can we bank on the really cold weather being here January and February like it used to.
I have to wait until the end of February now to see if we will still get our seasonal rains that used to occur March thru April.
We had a new seasonal rainy period last year that started in November and went all the way through December.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:We have had one snow event just last week here and it has already gone and the temperatures are heading back up to the mid to high 60's.

The difference of latitude with the same hardiness zone is astounding. We're getting upper mid 50's here and it's being called record-breaking.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:
Bryant RedHawk wrote:We have had one snow event just last week here and it has already gone and the temperatures are heading back up to the mid to high 60's.

The difference of latitude with the same hardiness zone is astounding. We're getting upper mid 50's here and it's being called record-breaking.


Yes it is. We used to be in a solid Zone 7, two years ago the USDA made us 7-b/ 8-a.
Arkansas has had a 5 degree change in "average" temperatures for all months.
Interestingly, the cooler months have seen a rise while the summer months have seen a decrease.
I've been keeping up with monthly averages for the last 40 years, quite interesting data and I have enough now to be able to make fairly accurate predictions for planting times and when I'll have to water the gardens.
I also started tracking game animal and predator animal movements, which have seen a change in time of day activity.
Now I don't have to get up at the crack of doom to make sure I get a deer, wasn't like that even 5 years ago.
The coyotes now start their hunts about an hour later than before and they are extending their range and don't head to the den until right at daylight, a few years ago they were on the hunt at dusk and denned up an hour before sunrise.
 
John Polk
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In my first post, I probably should have said "WET", rather than "MOIST".

Working the soil when it is wet causes structural damage to the soil.
Compaction, clotting, etc. Air and water pockets are squeezed out of the soil. Bad for soil and soil life.
This can be from a shovel/trowel, but is much more severe with a heavy tractor pulling heavy steel implements.

If you pick up a hand full of soil and squeeze it, if water runs out between your fingers, it is probably still too wet. If a few drops come out, it is probably OK.
 
William Clark
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From what I can tell in my research, "As Soon As The Soil Can Be Worked" is specifically referring to the moisture content of the soil where you are placing the seed, weather its 1/2in deep or 14in deep.
According to "Building Soils for Better Crops" by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es this magical moisture content is the point when if you were to grab some soil and roll it into a ball it will just start to crumble apart and not stay in the ball shape. (it's called "the ball test" conveniently enough)
In the book they are referring to the use of equipment and its influence on the amount of compaction the soil has, however in my heavy clay soil I can do an awfully large amount of damage with just my feet in the beds unless its dry enough.

--William Clark
 
Kyrt Ryder
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As much of a hassle as the 'excessive drainage' of my sandy loam is for annual crops, I'm gradually growing to love it for what it is.
 
Raven Sutherland
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i use the word tilth....

that's when the soil will flow and can be sculpted into the shaped beds you desire

my personal preference is to make a raised bed that will hold water when irrigated
so that rainfall stays where it lands...

i use a long straight flat board and a level to accomplish this but certainly wait
until the soil moves in a certain way flowing indicating the right TILTH...

meaning it isn't to wet or dry and is just perfect to move it around

i recommend using row covers that gives you protection down to 6 degrees.
 
Su Ba
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Based upon the comments I've read so far, "as soon as the soil can be worked" can be different from grower to grower depending upon soil type, weather, and growing technique (no till, broadforking, light tilling, deep tilling, plowing). I find this interesting because I never gave it much thought before.

When I lived in NJ, "as soon as the soil can be worked" meant about two weeks after the ground thawed in the spring. This allowed the excess water to drain from the sandy soil. Prior to that I avoided walking on, digging, or tilling the garden beds because it would result in compacted soil that, once summer arrived, would turn into concrete like ground.

Where I am now, "as soon as the soil can be worked" means waiting for excess rain to drain away after a heavy rain period. That could be one day or a couple of weeks depending upon the rest of the weather. Wind is the major soil drying factor here. Walking or digging when it is too wet appears to drive the air out if it, ending up with hard compacted soil when it dries. I avoid walking on my soils when overly wet.
 
John Polk
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I can do an awfully large amount of damage with just my feet in the beds ..

This is precisely why sepp holzer designs his huglekulters so steep...
...so you cannot walk on them.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Update on Planting Early:

I planted Oregon Snow Pod II peas in my new garden bed and around an apple tree on January 27th, and noticed the first sprouts coming up February 14th, coming up in the garden bed (which has manure in some parts of it, but not where the peas are, so it should be warmer than normal ground temp). A pea sprouted up around my apple tree today (February 16th). So far, so good! Neither seed has multch over it, because slugs love mulch, and I have lots of slugs...

I also planted Daikon Radish (Tillage Radish, from Territorial Seeds) on February 5th (when the seeds arrived in the mail, lol!) in the same garden bed as the peas and noticed they pretty much have all sprouted up today, only 10 days later!

Now, if we have a hard frost, I'm sure these plants will be quite sad. But, we haven't had a frost in probably a month this year, so I'm hoping for some early radishes and peas!

Edit: I realized I wrote down the wrong radish seeds.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Well, I don't think I'll be planting peas on January 27th this year--it's still frozen solid out there! This winter is VERY different from last winter!
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Well, I don't think I'll be planting peas on January 27th this year--it's still frozen solid out there! This winter is VERY different from last winter!

I hear that. It's been 2 weeks or more since it snowed and our ground is still speckled with thin remnants of snow.

I still intend to plant a few tougher things in early to mid feb though.
 
Casie Becker
garden master
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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It's warm here, but that's deceptive. Last year my Iris started blooming in early Jan. No signs of blooms yet, this year. Sad thing is I expect to lose the first half of the blooms because there's usually a sudden cold snap right after they start blooming.
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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chicken goat rabbit solar tiny house wofati
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I mowed the last of my standing wild flax for mulch today. The clay soil there was flooded and too soft to walk on but the low sun angle put it in the shade so it is frozen 6 inches deep and I had a nice smooth surface for the scythe to run on.  I can still work some of the soil in the high tunnel. The high/low thermometer in the greenhouse has been registering like 27/82 lettuce is fine but lost the tops on my early potatoes. I did not get into the high tunnel to check the few peas that I planted too late but decided to just hang around and wait for spring.

So the chickens and I are just doing minimal till for a few more weeks.
 
What could go wrong in a swell place like "The Evil Eye"? Or with this tiny ad?
paul's latest kickstarter
https://permies.com/t/65247/permaculture-design/permaculture-design-alternative-technology-live
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