"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Dirty December Garden

I cannot remember the last time, if ever, I've had the good fortune of being able to work in the garden in December, December 20th at that. What an absolute treat for me to not have any snow this time of year. Last year we had a historical record of snow for this month (60'), starting December 16th I believe. So yesterday I was out and about in the garden prepping the soil for next season by adding composted chicken manure mixed with bean pods and straw to our rows. The ground had thawed and with the days rain had become a mucky muddy mess but I will take that over numerous feet of snow that make any gardening impossible. Perhaps we will enjoy an El Nino after all.

Row mulched with manured bean pods under which are the remains of our parsnip bed

I am once again focused on enriching our soil through a form of sheet mulching. Before winter I pulled up all of the remaining plant materials, broke them up a bit, and distributed amongst the garden rows. According to Emilia Hazelip, whose superb gardening video I have recently listed under a picture on my side bar, plants synthesize from light and only receive a small portion of their mass from the soil. The rest comes from air and light and if left in the garden to decompose will give back much more to the soil then they take out.

Is this true? I'm not sure but it certainly worked for us this past season and is a method that fits nicely into our garden scheme. Will leaving the plants remains in our garden cause a carry over of disease? I don't know, but I do know that so far we have never had any disease issues in the garden. Bugs yes, disease never. We usually follow this procedure by adding compost in the spring but I am more then happy to use this snow free Christmas present to get started a little early giving the bean pods and straw extra time to break down in the soil.

In this section we had corn that was diced up and left. It will eventually be covered with compost that will aid in its decomposition.

The below rows were home to cole crops. We chopped up and left any bad leaves and roots behind and have begun to cover with a straw chicken manure mulch.


Scott said...

Hi Mike,

I couldn't find any contact info for you so I had to leave a comment. Love your site!!! I originally found it doing a search on soapmaking with soapwort - Great Post!!! The main reason for this message is I recently found a website that I felt you might like to add to your sidebar of sites. It has an amazing wealth of info on DIY passive solar.


I have bookmarked your site and will be visiting often. Thanks for all of the useful information.


The Root Family

el said...

I could send you some snow if you're really missing it.

Doesn't it feel really great to actually mulch things up? So much less work later...and things look so tidy.

Silke said...

Hi Mike,

You must be so thrilled to be able to already do some soil prep for next year! And so much better even after the great year you had!!

Our garden is still producing poblano peppers and our kumquats are starting to turn orange. Plus, our hydrangeas have gotten a few new flowers AND are losing their leaves for the winter at the same time. Weird climate here in the South...

Glad you are still without snow, although I do miss a little snow around Christmas. I'm sure snow will still be coming your way and almost certain we wont' be seeing any!

Enjoy the Holiday season!! :) SIlke

LynnS said...

How nice that you've gotten 'ahead' for next year's garden. We got your snow. Thanks. ;-)

Can't say I've seen the video you posted but I'll have a look. Most of our garden debris is left in situ, except for tomato and potato vines. We always clear off all of the vines but seem to always miss a few dropped tomatoes here and there since they show up the following year as seedlings.

For mulch, we mostly use composted manures and leaves. Most of our trees are oak so we test our soil every couple of years, watching acidity, etc.

Your cleared garden shows all of your efforts so nicely. I'll bet you're already anxious for next year.

Merry Christmas!

GetSoiled said...

Hi Mr H!

I look at your pics and I drool with jealousy at the large area you have to plant whatever you please!

I started eyeing the neighbor's yard dreaming of making another raised bed in their property :-)

Enjoy your snow-less weather!

GetSoiled said...

I just read the comment Scott left on this post...I'll have to look up your soapworth posting.

I planted some seeds about six weeks ago and I am hoping the very few survivors will give us soap for at least a few months. First time growing this plant and super excited about it...might email you with questions later in the Spring if you don't mind.

Later :)

Steve and Paula said...

Sure wish we could do that.
We are buried in sow and deep freeze.
I should be able to add the chicken manure in early May.
I am purposly not cleaning out the hen house this winter, and am adding hay for them to work in to the layers.
Seems to be working so far.

Mr. H. said...


I'm glad you stopped by to say hi and am happy to hear you enjoyed the soapwort article. I took a good look at the solar sight and agree that it is full of useful information. I was very intrigued with the solar water heating section, very interesting. I also saw a great article from my favorite "Back Woods Home" magazine on solar refrigerators that made me wish I had one.:)

Thanks so much for the informational link and I look forward to reading some more. I may indeed have to add a link to my blog.

Mr. H. said...


Please keep your snow, I will pass as I'm sure we will be getting some soon enough. Even with all the mud and some rain I was able to get a lot done, things that normally would have been put off until spring. I hope it does not stay this way to long as I might become spoiled and the next thing you know I will be entertaining ideas of migrating to a more moderate climate...

Mr. H. said...


It really is nice to be doing something outside in the winter besides shoveling snow and hauling firewood. Although we do a lot of hiking in the mountains this time of year as well and do enjoy the snowy aspect of that. It must be neat for you, who have experienced such diverse climates. I can't quite fathom growing peppers in late December, but it does sound nice.

Mr. H. said...


Sorry about the snow, I thought perhaps your granddaughter would like to have some for Christmas...and boy did she luck out. I can't believe how much you got, I hope your not in for a record year.

Even though the picture quality is bad I love the way Emilia gardens. I was so surprised when I first saw the video because it so closely resembles the way we try to garden and I found her thoughts and ideas to be very thought provoking. If she had written a book, and I can't find that she has, I would certainly hunt down a copy for my collection.

She does have an old VHS video out there called "Synergistic Garden" that I assume is the same as the YouTube video but is no longer available as near as I can tell. Yes, I am most anxious for next year! Merry Christmas

Mr. H. said...


Our garden gets a little bigger every year but somehow we still manage to run out of room...I'm not sure how that happens.

I would be curious to see what you think of your soapwort. The first year we grew it we mostly used the leaves and stems and the second year we were able to harvest some pretty nice roots which really make good soap.

Of late, I have been experimenting with the powdered root mixed with mallow plant root in an attempt to make my own shampoo..if it turns out I will mention it on the blog.

Mr. H. said...


I bet you have a lot of snow, we were just watching a show on ice road truckers in Alaska...amazing.

We do the layer thing as well. I like to use oat hay rather than straw so the birds can peck out the grains. Sometimes, like you said, I just toss a block of it in their pen and let them do all the spreading. Normally this time of year the ground in their house freezes solid so using layers of hay is the only way to go. They have not been doing a good job of spreading though as they are still able to run around outside and spreading hay is not nearly as exciting.:)

This will be the first year that we have been able to put lots of it on the garden so I am excited to see the results.

Joyce Paski said...

I just love everything about your blog! I do have a question: Under your fruit and berry section you show of picture of some sort of white berry. What is that? I've never seen an edible white berry?

Mr. H. said...


The little berries in the picture are elderberries that we had the good fortune of picking this summer. We use them in various dishes and also harvest the flowers for tea. Ours have a coating similar to that of some blueberries that make them appear almost white, once washed they are very blue though. Thanks for the nice comment.:)

Anonymous said...

Gotta say, I'm envious of your slightly warmer climes... Who knows, one day you may be able to grow mangoes!

Have a Merry Christmas.

Your friend,


Mr. H. said...


We have been having a regular heat wave with the temperature in the mid 30'sF last week, pretty nice for December around here. The lake froze, thawed, and has just frozen enough for ice fishing again in the last couple of much cooler days.

No mangoes in my future, but perhaps a peach or two if my tree manages the winter...fingers crossed.

You also have a very merry Christmas!

Ottawa Gardener said...

Nice. I remember the odd year like that. This year is not one of them as we are covered in snow. Dirt, however, is lovely, though if the temps are cold, I worry.

Happy gardening!

Mr. H. said...

Ottawa Gardener,

It is nice but I am a bit worried. Before this warm spell we had a couple weeks of below -0 F weather and I am hoping that it was not too hard on our fruit trees, normally they are well insulated under cover of snow. It is starting to cool off again but we still have almost no snow to speak of.

On a positive note, my hope is that with the ground so barren that perhaps some of my garden nemesis died off...aphids, slugs, ants. Stay warm!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

I love seeing garden pictures where you can actually see some decomposing organic matter lying about versus neat dirt rows of finely ground soil. I guess because it reminds me of our garden:-).

We break up and allow the previous year's plant debris to make it's way into our soil as well. And, like you, we haven't noticed any sign of disease, although bugs are still with us. We have noticed a slight decline in bad bugs since allowing our chickens access to the garden from late fall until spring.

Thanks for yet another great post!

Mr. H. said...

Thanks ThyHandHathProvided,

We have also been experimenting with letting the chickens have access to the gardens recently. I was able to let them into the salad garden the year before last and the slug population was pretty low in 2009 for a change so I thought I would try it again this winter(one of Mavis's posts reminded me.)

I have to tell you that with out any snow cover to speak of and a couple extremely cold weeks followed by lots of rain, I am hoping the bad insect population will be lighter this year.

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