Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let's Throw Some Pots-in the Garden

My friend, Barabara, and I make pottery together every now and then.  She is the pottress (the clay kind) and I sculpt and paint and decorate.  She said that if I ever learned how to "throw" clay, then I would no longer need her-so I never learned!  North Carolina is home to Seagrove, a community of potters, and pottresses, and clay dug right out of the ground.

North Carolina is also home to another sort of clay that many of us curse.  Red clay.  Yes, I believe that you could sculpt with it, but I don't like it in my gardens, which is, of course, right where it is.  I have lived in NC all of my life and been lucky to have never encountered this boot sucking, ankle wrenching stuff on any of the properties where I lived.  Well, now I have plenty of it.  In the garden, in the pastures and in the flower beds.

I moved to this particular farm in July 2010.  For the last several years, chemical fertilizers and herbicides have been used on the farm.  The pastures were over grazed and no lime has been spread.  The results?  Lots of broom sedge in the pastures, sparse grass (dirt showing), hard clay with no organic matter, and not an earthworm in sight.

A pretty picture except for the broom sedge
The first mistake-I decided to let some new baby pigs root around the garden.  They were small and I was afraid that they would scoot under my electric fence (and into the neighbor's perfectly manicured lawn=disaster).   So I fenced them onto the garden and moved them once a week. 

These little piggies happily tilled up the garden, eating grubs, grass and roots and fertilizing along the way.  So far so good. 

Second Mistake-The damage came when I moved the pigs to a new area.  I used to throw corn on the turned over the dug up pig piles and the chickens would scratch and smooth it all out again.  Works great with fine, friable mountain soil.  The baby ducks and fat Cornish Rock chickens trampled over the newly turned clay with their big, flat feet and soon made a impenetrable hard pack out of every area the pigs had turned over.   Lesson learned, keep foot traffic, mine and theirs, off of the red clay as much as possible.

The Solution (I hope)- The pigs are coming off and the chickens are coming out.  The chickens are fenced on some grassy areas ( no soil showing) that I will plant later in corn, pumpkins, beans and tomatoes.  I plan to till these areas as little as possible and to plant a "smother crop" of Dutch White Clover.  A smother crop is achieved by heavily over seeding  an area with a crop, in this case , the clover.

The clover will accomplish several objectives.  First, it will protect the soil where I walk through the rows of vegetables from becoming too compacted.  Second,  it should smother out most of the grasses and weeds and the area should not have to be mown very often (Dutch White Clover is not very tall).  Third, and best, clover is a legume and legumes add large amounts of all natural nitrogen and organic matter to the soil-which is what this soil desperately needs.

Turning abused land back into productive land takes time and patience.  It takes a lot less time to deplete a piece of land then it does to repair it.  I will keep adding updates and photos of the pastures and gardens as they progress.  Now to get those pigs moved....


  1. Those pigs are so cute! Look like they are asking "WHAT?" LOL Good Morning, Mal

  2. Pigs are pretty funny. I let them out to run around and they "bark" like dogs in their excitement and do "crack" pig around the yard! Have to get it on video one day!