Friday, March 28, 2008

Vegetable Lasagna

Well, it's not quite what you think... no yummy recipes here. It's a new-to-me way of developing our garden plot. As it turns out, a new acquaintance of ours is a Master Gardener with the Lane County Extension Office, and she stopped by to help us identify an unknown weed in our pastures. She had lots of other ideas to share, and among them was a simple way of readying our designated garden area. It's a sort of layered mix of cardboard, manure, leaves, newspaper, clippings and mulch. Our soil rocky with six inches of heavy clay on top of it. So to lighten it up, I'm going to use the "lasagna" method, also called sheet mulching.

Since we have plenty of cardboard boxes leftover from moving in, I started with them, opening them wide and removing the tape. I just layed them down on top of the grass and weeds, to kill them by blocking the sunlight, adding to the mulch. No mowing or digging necessary.

Then I topped the cardboard with a layer of alpaca beans from yesterday's clean-up. Alpaca manure is often called "alpaca gold" because it is nutrient-rich and can be applied directly to plants without burning them, and it composts well.

Next, a layer of dead grasses, long and seedless, that I grabbed from an old fence line. I need to import some leaves that I've raked in another area, and get discarded newspaper from a neighbor to complete the layers. But the rain comes and goes several times a day, so I've let it begin the decomposition for now. It was a quick start, and has me motivated to continue.

But then I thought that I should have begun the layering with a "carpet"of chicken wire on the bottom, to keep out the gophers and moles. So we bought that today and will put it under what I've started so far, and continue with that when I start the other sections. All of this is intended as raised bed, so we will border them with wood or timber.

Often we find earthworms whenever we dig, or we see them inching away from a boggy area so they don't drown. Now I will begin to collect them and relocate them to the garden zone.

I've already browsed the Territorial Seed Company catalog, selecting vegetable types I'd like to plant. And since they are in nearby Cottage Grove, we can go and talk to them directly and get their recommendations.

Last year at this time, a blackberry thicket was much of hiding our fence line. We had them cut down, and now that sunlight can reach the ground, there has sprouted several plants that roughly resemble zucchini bushes: large, serrated leaves growing out from a center, and less than knee-high.

I took photos and sent them to Melissa-the-Pasture-Lady (Small Farms Advisor for Oregon State Univeristy extension). I also posted the photo on EVAA's (our local alpaca association's) email list: Does anyone know what this plant is, or if it is harmful to alpacas? One of the other farm owners at first suspected it to be the dangerous and toxic Giant Hogweed, and located an online brochure (PDF) for me to compare it with. From the photo, Melissa said she was 99% sure that it is Cow Parsnip, Heracleum lanatum. We continued the search to be certain.

As mentioned, Master Gardener Joy offered to come and look at the mystery plant in its natural habitat, and to bring along some of her taxonomy books, to identify it. This invader is definitely Cow Parsnip, which is often mistaken for Giant Hogweed, its nasty cousin. In fact, I recall seeing CP in flowering form across the road last year. Its large white flowers resemble Queen Anne's Lace, and I had picked them for a flower arrangement.

The cream-colored tap root looks rather like a parsnip, hence the common name. I have been methodically digging it out of our pasture and the boys' pen, and will continue to check that area to make certain it is eradicated.

Because the Boys are coming! Our herdsire Galileo has been picked up at his "other home, " Eclipse Alpacas in Michigan. After a respite in Iowa to wait out a snowstorm, they will journey to So CA to pick up Orion, along with other alpacas needing a ride along the route, and will arrive here early next week.

It has been so very nice to get to know our small group of girls for these first weeks, and now we look forward to adding another dimension -- two areas to tend to, to clean and feed and maintain and enjoy.

And in a few weeks, the yearling boys Dakota and Sorrento will arrive, after making an appearance at The California Classic.

Hurray, the Boys are coming!

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