Woodchip heaven – organic material for the garden

A glorious pile of chipped forest!

I just scored a truckload of chipped branches from a road crew trimming the area around the phone and power lines on our road.

They were happy not to have to cart it back to Halifax, where the truck was headed, so I suppose I saved the contractor a bit of money in diesel.

But I feel like the real winner. I was thrilled to get this much steaming organic matter, a nice mix of “browns and greens” (branches and leaves) which avid composters know to be the ingredients of the slow fire in the middle of a compost heap that produces all that nice gardener’s gold that makes gardens grow.

I’m spreading it over future garden beds. First, I covered the sod with overlapping layers of corrugated cardboard (from behind a grocery store) to smother grass and weeds. Under the cardboard are oak leaves that someone was throwing away. (More free organic matter!) The woodchips go on top of the cardboard in a thick layer. Later I’ll add some manure (which I’ll have to pay for).

In a year or two, the beds will be ready for annual vegetables. The soil will be deeper and contain more organic matter, which it sorely needs. I get out of breaking sod, which is the physically hardest part of gardening. The worms will do the work for me.

Spreading woodchips on future garden beds.

The soil here is sandy and poor – not like the rich drumlin soil of the LaHave River Valley nearby. It needs lots of organic material to become productive for gardening.

Fortunately, Nova Scotia is a leader in “waste” management. Even if I had not intercepted this truckload of material which is so valuable to me, it would have been composted, not buried in a landfill.

Brush Walls at Windhorse Farm

Yesterday I went on a tour of Windhorse Farm, a sustainable farming and forestry operation located up the LaHave River from Bridgewater.

Brush wall at Windhorse Farm
Brush wall and fence at Windhorse Farm

I was most curious to see their brush walls. When I first heard about Windhorse’s brush walls last winter, a light went on in my head. Here was the answer to several of my problems, including the strong north wind chilling the garden, and large amounts of brush available.

Windhorse’s brush walls are piles held in place by stakes 6 feet apart, making a thick wall. As the brush gradually breaks down, more is piled on top. Vines such as squashes and grapes are encouraged to climb over the brush, and in summer, the brush walls can be completely hidden by vegetation.

My picture also shows a higher brush fence that has been woven around taller stakes. In fact, it’s about 7-8  feet high, high enough to keep out deer.

The brush walls contribute greatly to the success of Windhorse’s garden. They enclose and shelter it, holding in heat. The decomposing brush adds to the fertility of the soil. And very importantly, the brush walls provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including the friendly critters that help control garden pests.

Click here for a description and a rather old low-res video about Windhorse’s brush walls.

I started building a brush wall last spring and will continue to develop it.

Deer fence challenged by squash

Spaghetti squash shoots and deer fence netting
Spaghetti squash shoots and leaves deform themselves trying to get to the other side of the deer fence

A little more on the deer fence around my vegetable garden:

It’s really working very well, as far as the deer are concerned.  The biggest challenge to it right now is the squash, which will go to any length to get through to the other side of the fence.  There has been some damage to the netting, so I’ve either pruned the shoots that were trying to get through or directed them under the fence to the open lawn beyond.

The potatoes are planted

garden partly planted
4 rows of potatoes in the foreground half of the garden

The Victoria Day weekend is coming up, traditionally the time you can expect it to be safe to get your garden planted – though I wouldn’t put out the tomatoes just yet.  But the potatoes are now happily buried in the new part of my growing vegetable garden.

This area of so-called lawn (“so-called” because there was no grass growing there, only weeds and wild strawberries) was forest a decade ago. The previous owner cleared it and apparently got gypped on the topsoil – there isn’t any, really. A lot of rocks, though. Last year I covered another section with seaweed, manure, about 10 layers of newspaper and 2 layers of black plastic, held down with big rocks dug up in the older part of the garden. This year I removed the plastic and rototilled it with my grandfather’s old tiller, picking out rocks as I went. Lots of rocks. They made the tiller kick like a wild horse. I’m still recovering.

I don’t expect a lot from this new section of the garden this year. I’ve put in potatoes and will add bush beans between the rows when it warms up, as they are good companion plants for potatoes.  All the digging and redigging, and the opportunities to remove more stones, will get the soil in better shape for future years.

Here is the tool I desire: the Lee Valley rock rake. (I wish they had an affiliate program so I could make enough money from that link to buy one!)

Oh Deer!

A bold group of white-tailed deer outside Mahone Bay
A bold group of white-tailed deer outside Mahone Bay

There is a neighbourhood outside the Town of Mahone Bay, on the road to Lunenburg, that is quite overrun with deer.  We drove past it today and saw this group on a lawn.  We were actually able to turn around and drive back to take pictures without them shying away.

Deer with hosta

Cute, you think? Only if you aren’t a gardener.  Deer will eat  tulips, blueberry bushes, the tops of potato plants and many other things one might like to grow – including roses.

Local nurseries will advise you on what is safe.  Deer won’t eat daffodils, and don’t usually eat hosta, which is what the beleaguered owner of the garden in the second photo appears to be growing.

If you want to grow a serious vegetable garden, a tall fence is compulsory.

Deer ticks are endemic to the area, and they carry Lyme disease.

But what beautiful tails they have!