It has been an unbelievably warm spring here in northern Minnesota. I live in Duluth where Lake Superior tends to mitigate our winter weather, but even by our standards it is an unbelievably warm spring. The snow is gone, the temperatures are in the 60s during the day and above freezing at night. Trees are budding, birds are singing, and I am quarrying out a garden. My new house is situated on half an acre of flat, treeless land, but two inches down the soil contains more rock than a Rolling Stones concert.

It has been tough to find time to even work on the garden over the last couple of weeks as with tax day rapidly approaching and the fact that I have an accounting degree, I become everybody’s best friend and favorite relation right about now. I help my friends and family with their 1040s in return for a twelve pack of Newcastle Brown Ale (I like my beer to cross at least one ocean if possible) from each of them; let us just say that my fridge looks like it belongs in a frat house right now. Thankfully I have finished doing all of the taxes that I am going to do this year and can get down to business.

During the winter I had been planning out my garden in detail, and every time I rethought the process it just got bigger and bigger. My original hope was to build a garden large enough to support half of my food needs. This is not so bad if you are lacking gainful employment, but to grow a garden that size in northern Minnesota (not known for its prime farmland) while working full time was more than I could realistically handle and stay sane.

The new plan is to try and get the most output for the least input. I am digging two 6X18′ beds for my beans, squash, melons, cabbages, and the like, and will try growing my potatoes in towers (more on that later). I figure that this is a good start, and that I can always add to it later on if I feel that it is too small.

Unfortunately, the digging of the beds is taking much longer than I had hoped. I have dug just over half of the first bed, and in those first 10 feet I have quite literally pulled out 250 lbs of rock and broken blacktop fill.

That which does not kill us makes us stonger...

The simple solution would be to just build raised beds, but I am not prepared to buy a dump truck full of black dirt just now. Plus it would violate my pioneer ethos of using what you have to the full effect. No rototiller for me.

I have been digging it all out with a shovel, garden fork, and a mattock. The mattock has been a lifesaver. It is basically a flat bladed pick axe, and can power through, and dig up the broken fill that the shovel and fork simply cannot penetrate.

I am doing this John Seymour style by cutting a trench which I then fill with the turned over sod that I pull from the next strip and top with the underlying soil. My sod has the best soil (no rocks) and as the grass decomposes at the bottom of the tilled soil it will add nutrients back to the garden. I had hoped to be digging down a solid foot, but there are huge slabs of rock that are preventing me from going past seven or eight inches. I will be edging the plots a couple of inches higher than the surrounding grass, so after I add compost I should have 9-10″ of tillable soil to work with.

I have also begun construction of a potato tower for growing my potatoes vertically rather than in the ground, but I will save that for another post.

For now, my back is hurting and I think that I will have a beer.

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