~ Val Van Meier

Our climate here in Nelson will evolve, but as of yet it’s not predicted to look like this!

“Preparing for the New Normals in New Hampshire’s Climate” is a presentation recorded in March 2022. It cites recorded temperatures consistently increasing since the 1970s, with warmer winter nights, more precipitation primarily in the form of rain, but with fewer rainy days. We’ll have 90-degree summer days increasing from our current 20 to the possibility of 60 per year. It’s not time to hang up the snowshoes yet, but it is time to plan our gardens, roads, and heating/cooling systems for the future.

Twenty-one years ago, I looked out to the home of my future garden, and watched where the tree shadows fell over the course of a summer, planning my vegetable garden. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have tilled the soil. I would have proceeded slowly, first by anchoring down cardboard. Under cardboard, tender plants die from lack of light, and others are munched by voles and field mice. After 60 days, I’d peel back the cardboard, and pull or dig up what remained. More than likely the survivors would have been the hearty goldenrod, New England aster, and milkweed, all of which are in the rest of our field. Those plants are lovely and provide good pollen and nectar for pollinators, but are not welcome in my vegetable garden.

By starting with tilled soil, the topsoil was turned under, and it released rocks, rocks, and more rocks. The joke about Nelson’s most reliable crop comes to mind. Yes, the answer is ROCKS! The first five years I planted, I had seedlings, a container of soil amendment, and a bucket for picked rocks beside me. More rocks rose to the surface yearly after each freeze-thaw cycle. What wasn’t rock was primarily clay. There were no worms in the clay. Those rocks were mostly helpful for lining the drip line of our house.

Older and hopefully wiser now, I typically add mulched leaves and aged manure to the top two inches, and place aged woodchips near seedlings, so not to leach nitrogen around the tender baby plants. I use fresh chips in pathways to avoid compacting soil.  Worms are now prolific. I’ve given them a good home and in return they pull those leaf pieces underground. Microbes thrive and assist in decaying those chips. It’s fun to spread the older woodchips and see orange threads of some decomposing fungi going to work for me.

You may remember our Ag Com talk about Hugelkultur, putting decaying wood, branches, and other wood matter in a pile, and adding soil and water. It will decompose, and support fungi, pill bugs, and other decomposers to create humus and retain moisture.

In my garden, I doubt that all the rocks have made their way to the surface, but I seem to be removing fewer these past few years. Perhaps it’s because I have been building up the soil with mulching, and only digging where I put my “plant babies.”

My raised beds don’t have formal sides, just mulch on the edges. This April, those beds were being scattered. I discovered the culprits were birds looking for worms! I can’t blame them, and as frustrating as it is, I’m glad that I have encouraged the worms to aerate the soil. My garden beds now are filled with broken-down plant matter and added organic nutrients, such as Pro-Grow, which adds endo and ecto mycorrhizals, also known as microbes. Yes, adding microbes. A few years ago the Cheshire County Conservation Commission arranged for a lecture by author David Montgomery, who has written a book entitled Dirt and another about the microbial roots of life, discussing the exchanges between microbes and plant roots. That speech and book took me down the path of learning about microbial interactions in my garden. Since adding microbes I have noticed fewer aphids and overall healthier plants.

Plants that are healthier have lots of organic matter to absorb moisture and protect the surface from the pounding of rain and the erosion it causes. Healthy plants have vigorous roots and will be more prepared to withstand our climate as it continues to change. There is no time like the present to start the habit of building, enriching, and protecting our soil.

Change in climate, seasons, and life in general, is nothing else but constant. One
change I always welcome is spring. In early March, snow fleas emerged jumping
around and into the jugs sitting in buckets on the ground under the maple trees I
was tapping. Those same critters also live in the top inches of soil, but they aren’t as
noticeable when I push my trowel into the spring soil. If I stop, look closely, and pull
the magnifying loop from my pocket, I see not only springtails (snow fleas) but
translucent worm-like nematodes and more tiny “creatures” in the soil. Others are
unseen but I know they are there because I have enriched the ground in my garden,
providing them (hopefully) with a good home.

Next month I’ll share my agriculture observations from our 8,000-mile trip around our nation from our trip in May of this year.

Voles cleared an area for me under a tarp this winter

Orange fungi threads cohabitating with plant roots

Fungal threads in my wood chip pile

Wood chips with a half circle “bloom” of fungi