Saturday, April 19, 2014

Farming on "New Ground"

The term new ground refers to an area that has not been previously cultivated or has not been cultivated in several years. New ground can be former pasture, brush land, timberland, or even non chemically treated lawn. New ground had major benefits as well as some serious challenges. We will cover both.

If you talk to any old timers they may tell you about new ground that has been in cultivation for years. What they really mean is it is the newest ground they have.

Benefits of New Ground

Most of the time new ground has not been contaminated by chemicals. As I said before this may not be true if turning a section of lawn into garden space. The chemicals approved for use on lawns are way more harsh than most approved for food production.

Most times new ground will be extremely fertile. Leaves or grass clippings are often left to decompose wherever they fall. This of course increases the organic content in the soil, which invites earthworms and a whole host of beneficial microbes.

New ground can be very mellow. It may not have ever been impacted by tillers or heavy equipment. Mellow ground is easily worked, holds water well (needs less irrigation), and is just easier for your plants' roots to get around in.

New ground has most likely not been contaminated with diseases. New ground normally has a wide range of biodiversity which inhibits many vegetable diseases and helps control many pests.

Challenges of New Ground

New ground is very labor and time intensive. Getting my area to the point is is now has taken me 10 months. This has been me working on it a little at a time, an hour here and 6 hours there. All but about 5 hours were done completely by hand. A buddy of mine brought his tractor over for half a day. Everything else was done by hand.

Weeding new ground in the first year is a beast. It does not matter what the ground was before, there are bound to be hundreds of seeds and roots waiting to grow in the middle of your vegetable patch. This can be a constant fight, and can turn into a battle of the bramble if you will.

When you have wonderful, fertile new ground, you will want to at least keep it as healthy as it was and hopefully make it healthier. Direct sunlight to soil can kill the top levels of beneficial insects and microbes. Many plants take nutrients from the soil. The answers are simple mulching, composting, rotational planting, and if needed organic fertilizers. I will provide links for each of these topics, as this is beyond the scope of this post.

My New Ground

My new ground started out covered in privet and honey suckle. It took me nearly a year to get it to the point where I could plant anything in it at all. I cut even with the ground anything I couldn't pull up. Burned all of the brush that was too large to go through my chipper. Raked everything I could and am constantly pulling what feels like thousands of honey suckle and wild blackberry roots.

I am out in the garden everyday hoeing to stop any weeds from getting too far. As the plants I want get bigger I will be putting down cardboard and mulching with a mixture of pine shavings, wheat straw that was at the bottom of the chicken brooder area, and compost. This will go a long way to stopping the weed invasion, will prevent moisture loss, and will breakdown and actually improve the soil.

By taking in this new ground I increased my food production area by a little over 3 times. I am hoping to provide updates in the months to come.

For more information related to this topic you can read the following articles.
The Lowdown on Compost
Chinese Privet Homestead Hero or Villain
My Experiments with Hugelkultur and No Till
Lasagna Gardening
Instant Garden

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