After weeks of planning the Pelican garden, the growing season has begun! Open-up crew planted over 15 seed-flats in a planting hurricane for the Pelican garden this summer.
We planted seeds from Fedco, a seed co-op in Maine and our own saved seed:
- Basil (Lemon Basil and Sacred Basil)
- Brocoli (a mix of brocoli varieties that will mature over a longer season)
- Cabbage (Bartolo Cabbage)
- Corn (Abenaki Calais Flint Corn)
- Cucumber (Super Zagross Middle Eastern Slicing Cucumbers)
- Eggplant (Swallow Eggplant)
- Kale (Russian Kale)
- Lettuce (a mix of many different varieties)
- Husky Cherries
- Pumpkin (Baby Pam Pumpkin)
- Squash (Burpee’s Butterbush Winter Squash, Spaghetti Winter Squash, Galeux d’Eysines Winter Squash, Waltham Butternut Squash and Sweet Mama Winter Squash)
- Tomatoes (a mix of heriloom and cherry tomatoes)
- Zucchini and Summer Squash (Eight Ball Zucchini, Raven Zucchini, Costata Romanesca Zucchini, and Star Patty Pan Summer Squash)
- Sweet Pepper (King of the North Sweet Pepper)
Flats were filled with a soil mix-1/2 rich topsoil from under the Brookfield building and 1/2 of our own island compost.
Former Pelicans, Maggie and Drew, came to the island to help start the garden for the season. In the fall, all the garden beds were covered with burlap sacks and nylon to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. It was estimated that during the winter of 2011-2012, almost half of the soil in the garden was eroded away by wind and water, despite planting a winter rye cover crop. However, covering the beds with burlap sacks and nylon has had good results. We uncovered all the beds and started preparing them for this season’s crops.
To prepare the beds, we loosened up about a shovel head or two’s length of soil. Loosening the soil provides better drainage and air circulation in the soil, which helps plant’s roots grow rapidly. Soil amendments are added, if needed. The bed is then evened out and leveled with a rake. A level bed has better germination because it ensures more even watering.
Based on a 2012 soil test taken by a group of agricultural students from Vermont Technical College, the Pelican garden soil has a low or acidic pH (5.6), high levels of sodium, deficient levels of nitrogen and calcium and optimum levels of phosporous.
Ideally, garden soil should have a pH a little below 7 (neutral). Acidic conditions lead to low germination rates and prevent plants from taking up nutrients. In order to make a more neutral pH, we added organic soil amendments:
- Bonemeal (crushed bones)—a natural fertilizer that increases pH and adds phosporous and calcium to the soil, helping acelerate healthy plant growth
- Lime (pulverized limestone or chalk)—a source of calcium and magnisium that improves plants’ ability to soak up nutrients and increases alkalinity in the soil.
Although you can plant directly in beds after adding bonemeal, you should wait two weeks before planting in beds with lime added.
As an island garden, our garden soil is extremely high in sodium (salt). Therefore, we do not add seaweed compost or mulch to the garden. Most plants native to the island are highly resistant to salt, however the strains of vegetables we grow in the garden are not.
Low nitrogen levels can prevent plants from giving fruit. We dealt with low-nitrogen levels by:
- Sowing nitrogen-fixing legumes. We use crop rotation to make sure that legumes are planted in different beds each year.
- Planting nitrogen-fixing covercrops, such as clover and buckwheat. In some of the beds, we planted clover and/or buckwheat. After a month, when the covercrop is several inches high, it can be raked into the bed; the composting plants will fix nitrogen into the soil. The bed can then be planted with season crops.
The bush beans and fava beans were planted at 10 inches (25 cm) triangulated and a leafy green–mizuna, mustard and arugula–were interplanted in each triangle. In the summer, leafy greens are shaded by the bean plants and grow well.
The peas were planted about two peas deep, 2 inches (5 cm) apart in rows 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Spinach was planted between each row of peas. Two peas were planted in each hole. The strongest of the two will be selected to get the strongest plants.
The key to successful gardening on Star is ensuring that the soil has a neutral pH and is full of nutrients and organic matter; and of course lots of help!