Through the use of carefully planned cover crop/vegetable rotations, homemade compost and intention, we focus on minimal tillage and maintaining high organic matter in our soils to retain as much of that soil moisture as possible. Recently we have realized that our plants may have come up against it in this quest – up against a hard pan, that is. Our old soils have been worked since this farm was homesteaded in 1720; over those years it’s seen lots of farming through the generations. In the market gardens we tested for subsoil compaction with a penetrometer, and at 8-12 inches deep this was stopped by the hard pan. With a hefty push, it would punch through and penetrate freely again below this compacted layer. Well to really drought proof the gardens, we wanted to allow the roots of our vegetable plants to be able to penetrate deep into the subsoil moisture reserves in dry spells.
The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.