It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I visited with Earl in his garden. He has a great spring crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, chard, and of course, green beans.
We started our tour taking a look at the Oliver plow his father used on his farm in North Carolina where Earl grew up. Earl believes the plow is about 100 years old and was last used by his dad in 1940. Earl said, “I was born in a time that let me plow with both a mule and a tractor.”
Earl described his father’s three-year rotation on the farm starting with corn, followed by wheat, and then Lespedeza clover. He worked with the weeds instead of fighting them, timing his mowing to clip the weeds above the clover and ultimately turning all of the crop and weed residue back into the soil. Earl’s father said, “if you keep taking away and don’t put back, you’re left with nothing.” Earl has adopted his father’s method of composting in-place and aerating (plowing) in his garden today.
Earl then showed me his garden. In the photos below, you can see his chard, cucumbers, and zinnias – this is his first year to grow cut flowers but they look just as vigorous as his vegetables.
As I described in previous posts, Earl has been saving seeds from his green beans for 30 years . He started with an envelope of seeds his sister sent him from an agriculture coop in North Carolina that grew into the first green bean that his wife enjoyed eating. Every year since, he grows a row of beans to eat and a row for seeds, selecting the biggest beans from the healthiest plants for seeds for the next year’s crop. He doesn’t harvest any beans from his seed row for the kitchen – instead, he lets them grow until the beans dry on the vine. As you can see in the picture, the row where the beans are continuously harvested are still green and producing while the plants on the right got the message that they completed their job of reproducing and are now shutting down allowing the seeds to dry. Earl has shared his adapted beans with many other Austin area gardeners ensuring they’re continued success in our area.
This year Earl is making extensive use of trenches, both for getting water to the roots of his plants as shown below and to work fertilizer into his beds prior to planting. His processing of trenching is described in an article in the Organic Techniques section of the AOG website.
Other changes for Earl this year include using a movable trellis for his square foot beds instead of a permanent grid on each bed. This allows him to space his plants and seeds, but doesn’t get in the way of working the soil. The trellis can be easily stored.
Earl has devised a new tomato cage system this year that makes it easer to harvest his tomatoes. He still uses 7 heavy-duty, 4 ring cages with one over the plant and a ring of 6 more around the central cage . He leaves a leg of each of the outer cages facing the outside and then secures them together with twist ties as marked with a “T” in the diagram on the right. Earl circles the cages with 4 strands of heavy-duty twine at each of the 4 rings. He ties one end of the twine to an outer leg of one of the cages, pulls the twine to the next cage and wraps around its outer legs, and continues this process to the starting point and ties it off. He repeats this circling of the cages at each of the 4 cage rings. Earl said this may not be quite as strong as his previous method of attaching an outer ring of wire, but he thinks it’s strong enough and makes harvesting and mulching much easier. His previous and new methods are shown in the photos below.