Starting a new garden

Looking across the garden site from the barn to the Motherhouse, April 23

Looking across the garden site from the barn to the Motherhouse, April 23

On April 23 2013 David and I met with Sister Donna Brady, Sister Florence Kennedy, and Brian Ives to look at the site they’d chosen for the new garden.

It is a flat one-acre piece of land between the big dairy barn and the Mother House.

In May I took soil cores with a probe, and dropped them into a bucket.  The soil was mixed, and a subsample was taken to Truro for analysis. I was surprised how hard it was to push the soil probe into the ground. This soil will need some work! Here are the results of the soil test.

The goal is to prepare this land for a vibrant and productive garden.  Good garden soil should be loose, full of life, and well-drained.  We will start by growing cover crops and adding fertility in 2013, and the gardening can begin in 2014.

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6 Responses to Starting a new garden

  1. suzanne1953 says:

    Hi all,

    Thanks so much for this wonderful resource. It is really fun and high quality! Your efforts are very much appreciated!

    I hope this is an OK place to raise a question about my own land. I have an area about a half acre on the side of a gently sloping hill that I want to turn into a vegetable garden like the one at Bethany. The whole area will be tilled twice (or three times if possible) with my neighbour’s disc tiller, which can go just 4″ down. (See, I took notes at your workshop!) Then planted with:

    Fall Rye (25 kg)
    Single Cut Red Clover (25 kg)
    Sherwood Oats (40 kg)

    The Atlantic Co-op lady told me that as long as it’s in before September 16, it should be fine. So I’m trying to get the tilling all before then. (Garlic of course waits for mid-October.) I do not have any of my own machinery so I am at the mercy of the time my generous neighbour has available with his tiller, truck, etcetera. And if it keeps raining, he might not get to it at all. (Would love a BCS or similar machine, but not possible this year.)

    Are these amounts way more than what is needed for a half acre? They are minimum amounts, and hopefully I can save the leftover seed to use next year (is that done?), or else use them on another plot I’ve been messing with.

    I’d appreciate any thoughts anyone has about this plan, suggestions for improvement, if you think I should wait, what I’m forgetting, etc. Thanks!

    And thanks again for this.

    • jenredfox says:

      This sounds like a fine plan. You need a good place to look up seeding rates for cover crops. I think you have too much seed, especially the clover. Seed will last a few years, but if you are in doubt, you can always germ test it. The Atlantic Co-op lady is right. It should be in before Sept 16. See our latest post about that.

      Does anyone else want to comment? Feel free!


      • suzanne1953 says:

        Thanks Jen! At least I’m not wayyyy off track. One question: I just found out that the rye grain will not arrive until the 16th, so I won’t be able to plant it until the 17th or 18th or even later depending on the weather. Is it going to be too late??? Should I just plant the clover and oats now and leave it at that? (Anybody, not just Laura, if you know, please chime in!) Thanks!!!

  2. suzanne1953 says:

    PS Sorry, I mentioned garlic because I’m going to plant it in a 100’x4′ strip at the top of the field with a truckload of manure (already delivered to the field) tilled in. I also forgot to mention that the whole half acre has been bush hogged.

  3. Shane Borthwick says:

    Hi. Great work on the site. Very helpful. Wondering if you could provide comments on the soil sample. I’m sure many people would find it helpful to explain each item and what the ideal range should be. Also how to get it up or down. Just a thought. Thanks

    • jenredfox says:

      Hi Shane.

      Interpretation of soil tests is a huge topic. You may want to contact your local agricultural specialist for help. In New Brunswick, Claude Bertheleme is excellent. In Nova Scotia, Av Singh or your local government representative would be helpful. Dr. Av Singh works for Perennia, and for the Just Us Small Farm Centre out of Grand Pre. (11865 Highway 1 Grand Pre, NS Email:

      Av gave me ideal base saturation ranges, which I marked down on the soil test (see link above) on the far left of the page. Personally, I pay most attention to the base saturation percentages. I’m looking for a good balance. The ideal range for potassium (K) is 3-5%; calcium (Ca) is 65-70%; magnesium (Mg) is 12-15%; sodium (Na) is 1-3%; and hydrogen (H) is 10%. You can see the calcium at Bethany is in a good range, so we decided not to apply lime there. The other three soil sample results on the soil test report are from Abundant Acres where we graze the cattle. Here the calcium is too low and we applied calcitic lime this year.

      We will try to do a post specifically about soil over the winter.


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