Well, last spring, I planted some tomatoes in pots, and some in the ground, and also did a few other things. It was all haphazard and our soil at this rental house is not great. I didn’t want to install real raised beds here then lose my investment when we move (because you KNOW the instant I have a wonderful garden here we’ll find a house to buy). But dang it, we’re here, and I want a real vegetable garden. So this weekend, I started on my own raised beds.
The photo above shows the area I have to work with. The large tree is a corkscrew willow. Ugh. A true thug in our neck of the woods—at least in residential situations. It gets tip blight every year and mostly defoliates and looks like crap until it manages to push out new leaves in summertime. I previously wrote about why this is not a great landscape tree. And for so many reasons it’s not a great tree to have near a vegetable garden—shade, leaf and twig drop, and rampant surface rooting. But I digress…
The area where I wanted my veggie garden was a mass of weeds because we back up to a storm-water detention out-lot area that is filled to the brim with weeds and dandelions. I’m going to construct the beds using a method called lasagna gardening. Here is a great book on the subject: Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanz. Actually, I’m doing closer to sheet mulching because a true lasagna garden is composed of raw ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ and then left several months to make compost in place. I’m using finished compost and garden soil, and will plant it shortly after Mother’s Day.
Both of these methods are ‘no-till’, and you can make it as simple or complicated as you like. The essence of the process is that you are making your own soil on top of an organic weed barrier.
You start with a layer of newspaper or very thin cardboard (I prefer newspaper mostly because we get the newspaper and so it’s more or less free) placed on the ground as a weed barrier. See photo below. I have read that you can just mow the vegetation very short and lay the newspaper and start building your bed. But I am choosing to dig out most of the weeds. I figure that can’t hurt. :-) On top of the weed barrier the greens and browns are laid down in layers and over time will make wonderful compost soil. And actually, this doesn’t have to be in layers. Then just let nature take its course. It will take several months. It’s great to start a lasagna garden in summertime. You can toss your kitchen scraps and garden waste right on top all summer long, then top off with fall leaves or straw and let it cook for the winter.
If you need a garden bed right now—you can do as I’m doing and combine these 2 no-till bed construction methods. In the photo above see that I started with the newspaper. Then I will be adding about 6″ of my own finished yard waste and kitchen scraps compost. On top of that I’ll add about 12″ of a purchased organic planting mix with a bit of manure in it. I realize the mounds will reduce in height a good big—probably by about half, but gradually over this growing season. Next fall, I will have new compost made which I’ll put right on top along with my fall leaves and perhaps some manure. Then I’ll let it cook in place all winter and be ready for planting without all this labor next spring. And I realize the beds would be tidier if they were enclosed with cedar planks, but it’s not my yard, and I’m doing this project on a budget. The next renters can add frames if they like. :-)
In the photo above you can see that I’ve got compost on 3 of my 4 beds. That is garlic to the right of the right-most bed. Since I already have it in place, I’m just going to leave it there this year. Next year, I’ll plant it into one of the new beds and this area will become a walkway between the garden beds and my compost bins/piles (yes, I have ugly piles right now—money issue—sometimes you have to just do it and not worry how it looks.
Once I get the dirt/compost all in place on my new beds, I will put down more newspaper in the areas around the beds and cover it with straw to keep the weeds down. Or, I’ll use pine or cedar chips if I can find some at a good price. I like the chunkier stuff better than sawdust because it seems to stay drier. But that could be site specific, I think. Use what you like.
This was as much physical labor as I’ve done in a garden in a few years since we’ve been renters. Felt good, but I got a blister on my palm. DANG! At least I wasn’t too sore today (Sunday). I had other stuff to do today, but I seem to have a light week of work coming up, so I hope to finish my beds by Wednesday.
But I couldn’t stop the work. I’ve been threatening to re-route the path leading from the back deck which is pretty much now blocked by a Picea abies that has been left to it’s own devices WAY too long. See next post for that little project.