The Weekly Digs #234

by Becky

Orchard Mulching and Pruning

Last week we had some boys from our church youth group come and camp on our property. They asked if we had some service they could do for us before they left. Of course we have about 81,367 things that could be done at any given moment so we gratefully accepted the help and gave them a task.

We had mulched around each of the trees in our orchard but we felt like it would be good to widen out the mulch area around each tree. Cam had loaded an entire trailer with mulch so it would be easy to take down to the orchard.

Then the next morning Cam, our boys, and all the campers took that mulch and added more around each tree. It was a huge help. The next step is to move one of our chicken coops down in the orchard. 

Originally we were going to make a custom “self-sufficient” coop for down there but we have too many other upcoming projects that will take our time.

I walked down to the orchard this week to do my annual pruning and found caterpillars hatching on one of the branches. I quickly chopped off the branch, even though I probably didn’t need to be that drastic, and disposed of the caterpillars. 

It was a reminder to me that for an orchard it is critical to keep the bugs under control especially in spring. It’s my hope that the chickens will help. Many of you have warned me that it may not be the best thing to have my chickens in the orchard but I’m dying to find out for myself if it will help or hurt.

The mulch around each of the trees actually does need to be spread out some. We will let them free range at first. I think if the chickens become a problem I’ll move them back into the tractor full time but still move the tractor around the orchard.

Even though it’s not officially spring, it seems like literally within a few days some of the early spring trees blossomed and all the grass changed from brown to a vibrant green! 

Our chickens caught the hint too and have been laying eggs like crazy. One of the chickens is brooding and sitting on a clutch of eggs.  Our turkey’s have also started to lay eggs which they usually only do in spring. 

Wheat Planting

We spent the last couple of days preparing garden beds to plant wheat. I love how the garden beds in my tunnel turned out and I’m implementing that method throughout my entire garden this year. But of course it will be a slow and steady process. 

I used Richard Perkins method of laying a weed barrier (he uses cardboard rolls but I used paper just because that’s the only product I was sure was organic). Then we lay down a guide for the bed size and fill it with compost. 

It ends up being about 3 inches deep. Then the walking paths are filled with wood chip mulch and we move the guide down each row repeating the same process. I will have a video showing it next week on Youtube but in the meantime he has a good video about it HERE.

I like this method because it corrects the main problem that we’ve had with the garden. It has low organic matter, which makes it more difficult to weed because our heavy clay becomes so hard as it gets hot and dry. 

The more compost and organic matter that is on the top, it is easier to weed and it’s sitting so high we have less drainage problems.

Strawberry Pests

One day I did a big overhead watering in the tunnel because I had planted oats and peas and they weren’t really germinating well because I was only using drip irrigation. 

After the overhead watering the next morning I came out and the strawberries fruit (still white and immature) had some damage to them. It looked almost like something came along and nibbled all over the berry. 

My immediate reaction was that it was either mice, voles, or rabbits. All three have been a problem in the garden on occasion. And the rabbits LOVE strawberries. 

Mesclun mix greens are starting to bolt.

But Cam helped me to rule out the rodent as a culprit because we have kohlrabi in the tunnel and it has had no damage at all. We both decided if it was a rodent we would see problems in other places. 

After pondering on it for a while, I had an epiphany and I knew exactly what got my strawberries. It was slugs! I don’t usually see too much slug damage on unripe berries but I had watered the night before and I hadn’t had a problem until then. 

To remedy the slug problem I bought some food grade diatomaceous earth and will use that for starters around each of the plants. Hopefully it helps to solve the problem! 

Seed Starting for the Week

In soil blocks started:

  • Italian leaf parsley
  • lemon balm
  • new red fire lettuce
  • teagan lettuce
  • opopeo amaranth
  • sweet alyssum
  • giant hybrid mix dahlia. 

Direct seeded:

  • Glenn wheat

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Nat March 11, 2024 - 4:31 am

Hey Becky, I hope your chickens and turkeys going broody early does not lead to a year like we just had! Our last month of winter (in Australia) was unseasonably warm and all the trees blossomed early. When we got to September (which is the official start of Spring here), we literally had two weeks of Spring growing conditions before the temperatures soared to 39 degrees Celsius. The rest of ‘Spring’ was decidedly more like Summer and a hot one at that. In fact we had at least 4 heatwaves with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius for days at a time and no rain at all. It was a horrendous growing seasons and we are all very relieved that Autumn has arrived and are hoping for a long growing season before Winter arrives. Thank goodness we did not have a horrific bushfire season because he combination of the heat, water shortages and hot wind would have been an absolute disaster.

Courtney March 11, 2024 - 12:27 pm

I love that the campers lended a helping hand after their stay! I have been on the watch for 2024 Garden Plans, will you be posting yours soon? Enjoy the weather this week. It sure feels like spring here in NE!

Becky March 17, 2024 - 4:04 am

Yes, Garden Plans are coming soon! I’m working on having them ready next week!

Becky March 17, 2024 - 4:06 am

Wow, that sounds awful. I hope we don’t experience that! I’m glad it’s finally cooling off for you.

GardenLover March 17, 2024 - 6:23 pm

Do you research the caterpillar varieties? I just wonder if some of the ones around your farm belong to beneficial butterflies! If that’s the case you could move a branch away from your precious fruit orchard, letting them grow up to one day pollinate your crops 🙂 Some of the caterpillars out there are very hungry and not beneficial too, and that’s is so frustrating to deal with!


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