A couple of weeks ago I went on a sweet self-guided bike tour of 4 local veggie gardens. I DID ride my bike, & began at my friend Ellie's - she & her hubby have gardened almost 20 years on their HUGE plot, three terraces, they RARELY buy any veggies (don't even buy starts!) ... They have a lot that goes down to the creek (they don't garden the floodplain area - & have a deer fence between the 'tame' & bottom land.) Though it's mostly a 'practical' garden, with flowers relegated to flower beds around the house, one planting that I want to imitate - asparagus with Bells of Ireland!
The second garden I visited was a plot more like mine. Mike's (pictured above) is a normal size city lot, with mounded beds, a few sheds, a little spiral herb garden, several Orach - the red plant top Rt in pic., he gave me a seed head!! I had read that there are enzymes in the seed casing that help the seed sprout, so seed of this quinoa relative is a welcome gift!
In the front yard, Mike used sheet mulch in a large area & planted fall crops. He also has corn, beans & squash (3 sisters) in a garden in front - along with sunflowers & other big plants. He had a chicken 'tractor' (w/1 chicken) & a rainwater catchment ...
Both Mike & Ellie grow 'Black Aztec Corn' - Mike grinds it for cornbread, & Ellie's husband parches the kernels. All the gardens use drip irrigation & had late summer/fall plants - carrots, chard & spinach, cabbage, beans, leeks, tomatoes & tomatillas. Mikes also had currents & blueberries, while Ellie has an espalliered fruit orchard, persimmons, grape, fig, thornless blackberry ...
The next plot was a CSA on a city lot - Paul doesn't like mowing lawn, so put in raised beds when he moved in a couple of years ago, ordered mushroom compost, & began gardening! (goodness, wouldn't folks who object to veggies in front yards have a conniption fit!) He grows enough on one lot to feed his own & several other families (the CSA runs 20 weeks). His was the only garden with boards around the beds - the others use mounded systems.
And last was the Community Garden on Salvation Army land - both individual plots, & ones that are harvested for food boxes. They did have a few 'boxed' beds, but most were also mounded. A local shop owner (who has her 'sunny garden' plot here) buys cut flowers from the Community Garden! Folks with individual plots work in the community area several hours every month, & pay a very modest fee for their rows.
I have been perusing gardening books for ideas on cover crops & what to plant late summer/ early fall, & crop rotation. I planted carrots, salsify, buckwheat & radishes in one side of the old garlic bed, & beets, buckwheat & radishes in the other. Borage comes up on its own in that bed.
In a bed close to the quinoa, I put winter spinach, chard, arugula, lettuce mix, Endive, scatter planted corn salad, & edged with parsley, corriander, calendula & nasturtium seed. I have a sweet little pottery 'hedgehog' for sprinkling the seedbeds with.
On Monday (Labor Day) I did the 'soil balancing process' from Machaelle Small Wright's 'Garden Workbook' series. (check out her entry on 'gut gardening' to get started!!)
I'll write more about this process later - basically, you use soil amendments in a 'homeopathic' manner, working with Nature to balance & vitalize the soil. Machaelle writes: "The soil balancing & Stabilizing Process impacts the soil's vitality & not its physical fertilizer levels. However, when you use this process, you will find that the soil will test for fewer fertilizer needs. The process will have improved the soil vitality, which allows for more efficient interaction between plants & their surrounding soil."
On Friday, picking a book I'd requested up from the library, I also came home with 'Gaia's Garden, a guide to homescale permaculture.' WOW - lovely book! I can see that several of Mike's garden ideas came from this book, including the spiral herb garden! I'm attending a Permaculture 'Convergence' mid-October, so this is a timely read.
In Gaia's Garden, Toby recommends sheet mulch to prepare new ground, & occasional 'hugelculture' plots - using brush that you tromp down, then pile on mulch, top w/compost or an inch of soil & plant. (he says potatoes & squash LOVE these 'mounds') He gives of ideas for garden communities - broadcasting several kinds of seed over the same area, & what to plant in succession in those gardens; for conserving water, thinking beyond the vegetable garden, etc.
The last couple of days I've been working up several areas, trying the sheet mulch & a hugelculture mound.
The pic with the tall grass (above) shows this area in the middle of May, when I was cutting the grass with a hand sickle. I just piled the grass in heaps on the areas I didn't work up. My raspberry patch is in the back of this pic.
In August I dug the bed on the Right (next pictures) over a couple of days, & dug in a bag of mushroom compost, some lime, kelp, & other soil amendments. The bed on the L has been covered with the thick layer of mulch, & is ready for the last layers of compost & top mulch. These beds join in a U or 'keyhole' shape, with the top of the bed also being covered in mulch.
For sheet mulch, begin the day before by thoroughly watering the site you plan to mulch, & gather your materials. The next day, slash any vegetation, leaving it in place to compost (I'd done that in May, & covered with the layer of dry grass). Cover with a thin layer of soil amendments (lime, bone meal, kelp, etc) & open the soil a bit by wiggling a spading fork in different areas, if needed.
Add a layer of compost or green plant matter (I used chopped comfrey leaves & compost) ~ 1" thick - sprinkle with water.
Next layer is cardboard (I had several big boxes from my office) or 1/4-1/2" of newspaper - no glossy sheets - very wet. Overlap 6", & wet this layer (I sprayed the back of the cardboard before laying it down.
Next layer: another thin layer of manure/compost/greens
Next: 8-12" of loose straw, hay, leaves, grass etc - with some green matter mixed in, or blood meal etc (for nitrogen) ... wet layers as you add them - should 'be the consistency of a wrung out sponge' (Bed on Left, above, is covered with this mulch layer)
Top with another inch of compost or soil (last picture)
And mulch with 2" 'weed free' matter: straw, pine needles, wood shavings.
I used pine needles from my daughter's yard for the final layer of mulch (they are quite happy to pass them on, esp if I gather them!), & planted with seeds as the sun was setting: lettuce mix, buckwheat, spinach, onions, calendula, beans & borage.
A gal friend is giving me strawberry starts soon, so I looked up companion plants for strawberries. Years ago I planted strawberries in an herb circle, & made a LOVELY patch! I'll get some thyme plants from Incahoots, & perhaps plant some other low herbs around the edge ...
Rather than digging or tilling these beds, you simply add compost & mulch occasionally, push the mulch aside to plant or seed the compost layer. You can also dig kitchen waste directly into these beds, rather than the compost bin.
Enjoy your garden adventures!