I love a good veggie and herb garden. Flowers are nice…as long as they are interspersed amongst herbs and veggies! And edible. I like to eat, could you tell? Marigolds andflowers that resist pests, or attract them away from my food = also acceptable. It’s tough being a flower in my veggie garden, obviously. I find much more beauty in a lush green garden growing food for my family than a bunch of pretty flowers that will soon die and fade away.
Once I decided a garden was happening this year, I had some obvious obstacles to overcome. Specifically the abundance of herbivores roaming through the area; mule deer, cotton tail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail, etc. I put up a quick and temporary double fence using t-posts and deer netting (aka: horrible overpriced nonsense) that has worked fine for a temporary solution.
Next step, since I wouldn’t be using raised beds, like I had at my previous house, I had to decide what type of garden to do; double dug beds, hugelkulture beds, lasagna mulch beds, traditional tilled beds, no till beds, waffle garden, back to eden, swales, and on and on the options go! I initially decided to combine several different methods and was going to experiment with 2 hugelkulture beds, 1 double dug bed, and one back to eden style bed with swales dug around the entire garden area as well as each individual bed.
But then…it took me 3 days to dig the trench around the entire garden area (maybe 20’x25′), dig out one hugelkulture bed (4×20), and one additional swale. The ground is more like a solid brick than any dirt I’ve ever seen! I vowed that I would not put one more shovel into that horrid ground. So I ditched the idea of a double dug bed (duuuh) and moved on with my one dug out hugelkulture bed, another hugelkulture bed that I started from the top of the ground, instead of digging down, and a back to eden bed.
Here’s a quick overview of these different methods (and I mean very quick);
Swale: A fancy word for a trench to catch and retain water in the soil instead of it all running off the property, also helping with erosion issues. I live in the desert so, of course, my primary purpose for them will be water retention.
Hugelkulture: The idea of putting large logs, sticks and wood in a big rectangular pile, or bed, then covering that with leaves, small sticks, and finally soil which you then plant your seeds and plants into. The idea here is that as the logs and sticks take on water they do 2 important things; 1. Soak up water when it rains and release that moisture back into the soil when it gets hot and they “sweat”, thereby reducing or eliminating the need to water your plants and 2. They break down over time and add organic matter and nutrients back into your soil, feeding your plants so you don’t have to continually add organic matter. Here’s a great picture of what a hugelkulture garden bed looks like over time, though mine are not nearly this large.
Back to Eden: Basically a deep mulch method that emphasizes using a “covering” over the soil to retain moisture and build rich soil. This is a no till permiculture method that I cannot say enough about. There are so many reasons why tilling is harmful in the garden (or basically anywhere). A few of these reasons, that matter the most to me when I’m trying to build soil for a successful garden, are the weed seeds tilling brings to the surface and allows a chance to reach light and grow, and the soil organisms and structure it disrupts. The back to eden, or deep mulch, method of layering on top of the ground is simply copying Gods way of adding organic materials and feeding/nurturing the ground. Paul Gautschi is the man who has coined the “Back to Eden Garden” term and has an amazing documentary film about his own inspirational garden. It’s free to watch here, which I highly recommend! You can use any kind of mulch you have that’s free or cheap, hay, straw, rocks…Paul uses wood chips and that’s also what I am using here on the Meyerstead. They are typically easy to find, just contact a local arborist and tell them they can unload the chips from their tree work at your location. They should be more than happy to do so!
This fall, I will put chicken manure, straw with goat poop, and rabbit poop on top of the wood chips I have laid down to fertilize. Resist the urge to till it in or disturb the ground!!! Below is a basic layering outline for setting up this type of garden area.
Now that I had my methods decided, I got to work getting the beds and swales dug out. This was a long miserable process…in fact I’m having some PTSD just looking at the pictures here…
I used brown contractor paper from Lowes, instead of newspaper, to lay down in order to kill current and prevent future weeds. It’s not free, but it is very affordable ($10 a roll).
Once the paper was down, I filled the dug out bed with lots of small logs and sticks. Next, I put a mixture of compost, top soil, and aged horse manure on top, roughly 4 inches deep. On top of that goes the wood chips. The compost/soil layer is only necessary if you’re going to use your garden right away. If you have a few seasons to wait, just put the wood chips on top of the paper and let them do their thing. You will have beautiful soil to plant your seeds and plants into when you move the chips back after several months of sitting. Obviously, I am not that patient so I had to “fake it” this first year.
Here are both hugelkulture beds completed. I stacked wooden sticks and logs around the edges to help hold in the soil and wood chips. It is also a fun way to identify these as hugelkulture beds in the future.
Finally my back to eden bed to round out my experimental first year garden! Nice thick compost mix on top of brown paper and ready to be topped of with a rich wood chip mulch covering.
I got everything covered and moved wood chips aside where I planned to plant, exposing the soil underneath. Side note: you have to move the chips aside when planting. As soon as the plants are up and established, you can side dress with the wood chips. I planted bush beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins, peppers, beets, and turnips!
Here is how everything looks at present (Late August) after roughly 10 weeks of growth. The bare open spaces are where I’ve planted for Fall/Winter. The red posts are where we are putting up our permanent fence! I’ll be doing a separate post on that once we’re done! I’m pretty excited about it 🙂
For a garden that initially wasn’t to be, and then one I was sure would be nibbled to non existence, I am pretty thrilled with how well it’s doing! Especially considering I did not get one seed in the ground until almost July! And I am also notoriously easy to please 😉 Hoping to harvest at least 3 watermelons, 2 cantaloupe’s, at least 2-3 quarts of bush beans, several large zucchini, we’ve been eating beet and turnip greens all Summer and will harvest full beats and turnips in the Spring, after eating them all Winter. We have already had a decent pepper harvest and looks like another one is on the horizon with the number of new flowers on our plants. There are a few squash and pumpkins growing, but not sure they will have enough time to mature before our first frost hits. So far, looks like we will be riding this heat wave well into September, so I am still hopeful there will be time! Is Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made from fresh home grown pumpkin, sitting next to our home grown turkey, so much to ask?
Well that’s a wrap for our first years Summer garden! Not too shabby, eh? Looking forward to my 2017/2018 Winter garden already!!