We began our High Desert vegetable garden project last month with the intentions of having it ready to plant in the spring of 2014. So far we are on target. This year we are concentrating on preparing the vegetable garden on the north side of our chicken coop. We have already installed the cattle fencing and repurposed an old decorative gated archway, although we will replace the double gates with a single gate. We will reuse them in the herb garden. We plan to enrich our desert soil, without the addition of chemical enriched fertilizers. Therefore, we chose to go about tackling this problem by raising chickens and gardens side by side where hopefully the two will benefit from each other.
First, Hubby built a chicken coop complete with a hen house that our friend Jamie described as a "Chicken Castle". He also provided them their own yard, consisting of a safe chain link covered area that protects them from local predators such as: Hawks, Owls and Coyotes. We placed the coop in between two vegetable gardens and installed an entry gate to each garden area. That will allow us to restrict or permit the chicken’s access to the side that needs their assistance. Next we intend to implement a rather old method, which would put our chickens to work; weeding, fertilizing and debugging our garden soil. Our goal is to alternate planting between the north garden and the south garden each year. Letting the garden rest the second year while the chickens clean and fertilize the soil preparing it for the following years planting. Once we established our planting area Hubby rototilled in clean straw to add some organic matter to the soil. Hopefully it will help in preventing the winds from carrying away our much-needed topsoil. Each time we clean the coop the chicken manure is spread around the garden and dug under. So far, that is working out much better than anticipated. Those ladies already have 1/4 of one side of the garden fertilized. The chickens will have access to the garden for a couple of hours daily which enables them to scratch at the ground, enjoy insects, larvae as well as any seeds, they may find. Once we get the corrugated metal along the fence line they will have more time in the garden. Until then we must supervise them, as they tend to go through the cattle fence oblivious that our dogs are on the other side.
While the chickens and nature are busy working throughout the winter we have time to get our soil tested. There are many benefits to having ones soil tested. The test will inform us of our soil type. This enables us to learn the actual percentages of: clay, sand, silt, or loam as well as the soil's pH. We will be provided with a list of the available nutrients in the soil as well as its nutrient deficiencies. Knowledge such as this will enable us to meet our plant's needs and grow the healthiest and most prolific plants. Desert soil tends to be somewhat alkaline, therefore, knowing the pH results will let us know exactly what type of amendments would benefit our plants. Information such as this will save us hours of frustration while ensuring our garden to be all it can be. To locate a soil testing company in San Bernardino County ~ Google: soil testing San Bernardino, California.
Here in the Lucerne Valley, Ca we have plenty of wind, sand, sunshine and wildlife. The sunshine being most enjoyable, however, when gardening in the "High Desert" some of the others are not necessarily desirable traits. Providing protection from the wind and sand is obtainable in a variety of ways. For our vegetable garden we plan to install corrugated metal panels that are about two foot high around the perimeter of the garden fence. The panels will provide some wind protection, as well as a bit of shade during the hot summer months while also keeping some of the native critters at bay.