We have been spending lots of time out in the field prepping beds for planting. For the last four or five years the back field has been planted in hops and grass. Last year, the hop trellises were removed and the hop plants were mowed continuously all summer. In order to make room to grow vegetables, we’ve transplanted several rows of hops out to the north and south field boundary where we are currently working on building a trellis (the trellis we’re putting in is 12.5′ tall, and will hopefully work as a deer deterrent as well).
After measuring and marking out the rows, we rented a sod cutter and proceeded to spend a full day walking back and forth (and back and forth), making 36″ wide bands of sod with 12″ wide bands of grass in between. Our plan is for 30″ beds, but we used the full width of the sod cutter and have allowed for some grass encroachment. Over the following four days, we flipped to sod in place, putting grass side down. Flipping the sod proved to be a real ooey-gooey, intimate, getting-to-know-you, DIRTY exercise for us and the soil. The kind of thing poetry is made of. We were in constant amazement at the life in our soil: ants, beetles, collembola (this is a link to a VERY COOL video), earthworms, sow bugs, centipedes, and spiders. There were also a few undesirables like white grubs, wire worms, and cut worms. We got to know every inch of these beds, inside and out, flipping sod. Goodness.
In the days since flipping the sod the over-turned grass is already dying. Peeking under the sod mats, we can see lots of continued invertebrate activity and the sod mat is successfully acting as a mulch keeping in moisture and preventing weeds from taking over.
Maybe it seems like a funny thing to do, all this intensive preparation instead of running a rototiller down the rows. The field has been sod for at least 10 years, maybe closer to 25 years. Resting. This has allowed for incredible soil development; soil structure, pore space, slow decaying organics, infiltration rate, mycorrhizae, and biotic community. By preparing the beds without tilling, we are able to preserve as best we can the soil structure and organics. This exact method is not something we’ve ever seen done before – we are experimenting. With enthusiasm. Weeds are going to be a mess. That’s expected. We’ll be weeding. Lots. In order to help minimize weed pressure for next year’s growing season, we will get cover crops started this fall. The plan is to convert the grass rows between beds to clover or vetch, something that can withstand foot traffic trampling and feed the bees and the soil.
This is just the very beginning of a whole exciting line-up of soil building, crop rotations, and cover crops. Oh, to sequester carbon! We’re stoked. And if it works well, we’re happy to help all of Spearfish no-till their pretty lawns into food production. Yes!