Updated: Mar 12, 2020
When we moved to our hilly acre and a half, we sold our tiller for a snow blower and went from row planting to "medicinal landscape planting." We adapted to our new surroundings, but continued to build our medicine chest through our land. Now, 10 years and 750+ native perennials/shrubs later, we felt the need to spread out even further. We were eyeing up a property two doors down, but I was completely unsure of how the owner (with his "Make American Great Again" hat) would respond to me. I nervously put on my big-girl-pants and knocked on his door to see if he had any interest in selling us his flat, sunny plot of land. Though he had no interest in selling it, we struck a deal where we are allowed to "farm" a section of it!
After speaking with our 65-year old neighbor Roger for a little, I learned that he grew up working on his father's 90 acre farm. He was accustomed to machinery farming at a large scale. I was shocked when he insisted on organic contour farming practices. He has never put chemicals on the yard in its 15 years under his ownership; made my heart sing! Due to the childhood trauma of being forced to weed (my kids can relate;), he had no interest in gardening, but I was surprised to see how excited he was to have some organic vegetables in his back yard. We became instantly motivated and ready to get moving.
First on the agenda was to get the ground workable and see what kind of soil we were dealing with. Based on our property we assumed that we were going to be working with rocky clay, ugh! Much to our surprise this seemed like viable soil that might just need a little bit of help to get healthy. After some research we decided that we would try to overwinter crimson clover. The idea is that the clover germinates before any frost sets in, and continues to grow throughout the winter. Red clover has been known to grow down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The roots of the red clover will continue to break up the soil right through until Spring. In the Spring we will mow the clover down and allow it to decompose right on the garden plot, adding beneficial nitrogen to the soil. My biggest concern is that we are too late in the season to get these seeds germinating before it gets too cold.
Roger offered his broadcast spreader to sow the seeds; a smirk spread across his face when I said I was fine just walking the land and tossing them by hand. Once I was finished spreading the clover he offered me a tool to cover up the seeds with soil. I opted to use my bare feet and swipe a protective layer of soil over the seeds. Roger came over and said with a laugh "Is that how the Native Americans used to do it?" I have a feeling that I am going to be an endless source of entertainment for him. As far as I can tell, this whole process is going to be one giant learning experience with lots of trial and error. I have a lot to learn from my neighbor and his life spent on a giant farm. I feel so blessed to have his guidance and encouragement on this journey, he has surprised me in so many ways already. I think that good things can come from this relationship. After the final pass over the seeds mother nature graced us with rain; it felt like we were getting a blessing on this endeavor. Now fingers crossed that the seeds germinate before the frost!