CASFS – Potatoes and Biointensive Growing

My first week here at CASFS was spent working at the Chadwick garden. The Chadwick garden was constructed in the 60’s, on a rocky, clay slope with no soil. Despite the harsh terrain, with decades of loving cultivation, today you can plunge in your arm into the soil up to your elbow into light, fluffy feet of top soil. Apparently the story goes that Alan Chadwick was such a force, students started dropping out of the university and dedicating all their time to working at the garden, and living in the surrounding woods.   There are several specific reasons this site was chosen, aside from the challenge of transforming barren earth into a healthy ecosystem. The slope of this garden is south facing, with a warmer microclimate from the rest surrounding woods.

The garden has been cover-cropped with bell beans, peas, vetch, and oats every year as a winter cover crop, or rye or buckwheat as a summer cover crop. Adding grasses to a leguminous cover crop is a great way to add organic matter to your soil, as grasses have fibrous root systems that break up soil and continually slough off dead cells.  These are skimmed, chopped up and turned into the soil when still young. We placed straw over the soil to protect it from erosion while the cover crops break down. On the other hand, for perennial tree systems, we chopped down the cover cops, weighed them down a bit with soil, and mulched with wood chips. The cover crops will add organic matter, helping promote soil aggregation and providing food for soil microbes.

We’ve learned soil cultivation techniques of double and single digging, side forking, and U-bar/broad forking. It’s crucial that soil is not worked with too dry or too wet, but at the perfect medium of 50-70% soil moisture. You can test the soil moisture level by grabbing a handful of soil, and squeezing it gently into a ball. If it crumbles under light pressure from your finger, it should be in the right moisture range.



After double digging, we laid out a number of beds with string jigs. We double dug, and then prepared beds for planting early potatoes, red gold and cherry red potatoes. Whole tubers are generally best for planting, to avoid rot. If you need to plant pieces, the pieces can be coated with wood ash to create an environment not hospitable for bacteria to thrive.

Most of the plants in the Chadwick garden are started in speedling flats, so that as many crops as possible can be in the ground throughout the season. These trays encourage fibrous root systems. When the plant roots reach the conical drainage hole at the bottom, they are automatically air pruned.

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We transplanted many beds of onions, shallots, and other alliums. I planted twelve kinds of leeks in just one bed.



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