Our weather has me a little concerned. At this time last year we were digging the foundation and rubble trench but here we are buried under several feet of snow with no sign of spring yet. Nevertheless I have started my seeds indoors hoping that any day now we’ll have fantastically warm days that will melt away the snow and allow me to start several new gardens before we start work on the house again.
I’ve mentioned before that our soil is absolute crap necessitating the building of raised bed gardens. Apart from hauling the materials- which can be a little labour intensive- they’re ridiculously easy to build and the plants loved them last year. I’ll be adding another couple hundred square feet altogether this year. My design is complete to make the most of rain capture and ease of maintenance and I’m ready to go! Anytime now…
Last year I built frames for the gardens using discarded wood, as well as some with rock borders, and a few very small ones using wagon wheels. Eventually I’d like to build up the walls using earthbags and plaster but given the limited time this year I’ll probably go with rock walls. We have a zillion rocks on the property and I like the look of rock besides.
Rather than just filling in the beds with purchased soil, I do sheet mulching which is basically a kind of ‘composting in place’. First I break up the soil. I don’t really turn it over, just break it in place twisting a shovel. Then add a little manure (just an inch will do), then about half an inch of newspaper (just the black and white- no glossy or color pages). Hose it down really well and top the newspaper with more manure or fresh grass clippings- just a bit will suffice. Top that with about eight inches or so of mulch. I have straw and leaves on hand so that’s what I use but wood shavings, broken down bark, or the like will work as well. I also threw in veggie scraps last year. On top of that goes a couple of inches of soil mixed with compost and then the final mulch layer- about two inches of chopped straw or whatever you have on hand. When you’re ready to plant you just pull back the top layer of mulch and plant your seeds in the soil/compost layer. (I skipped the final mulch layer last year, allowing some weeds to invade the space.)
Sheet mulching is really forgiving- you don’t have to be precise and you can throw a lot of stuff in there so long as you try to keep a relatively even balance. You do have to water the bed really well when you first build it. It shouldn’t be overflowing with water but quite damp and it’s amazing how much water the layers will absorb. Other than that, combined with some basic polyculture garden design, it was pretty much maintenance-free. I pulled a couple of weeds here and there but never actually applied myself to the task. I particularly enjoyed pulling up the carrots which slid easily from the nice fluffy beds, perfectly fat and intact.
The other thing I want to try this year is hugelkultur which involves collecting dead fall branches, piling them about two feet deep, stomping them down (I intend to dance on mine, no sense wasting the opportunity to dance), adding some straw and grass clippings and topping it off with about an inch each of soil and compost. According to Gaia’s Garden (one of my all time favourite books) potatoes, squash, melons and other vines do exceedingly well in this environment. I imagine raspberries and blueberries would probably do well too and I’ll perhaps try those next year.
Yet another option that I probably won’t get to this year is a dead wood swale which involves digging down about a foot and a half, dropping in dead fall, rotting stumps, and firewood, and backfilling the trench. Berries are particularly partial to this type of garden as it mimics their preferred natural environment. I would just love to have lots of blueberries on the property reminiscent of my days in the East.
Ah- I can’t wait! Soon I’ll be back in my element- in the mud, covered in bruises and cuts from hauling materials and building, sore but oh so satisfied at the end of the day. 🙂