Landscaping, the new chapter
This year’s garden was a disaster. I can come up with all kinds of rational reasons why, but ultimately it’s because it’s awful soil and I didn’t feed it enough. This year we are trying to do better, partially by actually preparing in the autumn for what’s to come.
As of a couple of weeks ago, we had Your Basic Backyard. It had a raised-bed veggie garden, and a smaller raised bed in another part, neither of which had great soil, but we gave it a shot. Now, after a couple of weekends of giving ourselves backaches (my husband more than me, honestly, but I did my share) our yard already looks dramatically different: we covered the grass in the “back 40” *(in our case, more like yards than acres), about 5-10 feet from the fence in a gently curving line all along the back, in a single layer of corrugated cardboard. (Newsprint would have probably been even more recommended, but we don’t know anyone who subscribes to enough newspapers to make it practical. Cardboard should work; it is also biodegradable but will kill the grass underneath.)
We then, two weekends ago, offered to rake several neighbors’ leaves, in exchange for the privilege of keeping them ourselves. Seriously. This is the kind of thing that reinforces your “they are kind of weird but nice people” standing in your neighborhood. People look at you funny when you offer, but they seldom decline. We, by the way, did not offer for our next door neighbor who is already onto the reality of what we’re suggesting: he too heavily mulches his garden beds with raked leaves every year. We spread those leaves on top of the cardboard in a heavy layer.
This weekend–AFTER the sleepover–we literally shovelled s$%t. We first looked on Craigslist to see where we could obtain some manure for the garden and discovered a stable in Palos happy to give it away to anyone who wants to come get it…and it occurred to us that there’s a stable half a mile from our house that might be willing to do the same thing. We called, and they are. Our car may never smell the same, but we now have tons of nice nitrogen-rich horse-leavings to balance the carbon-heavy brown matter we’re filling our garden with. After the manure it’ll be yet another layer, of free wood chips from the village, which dumps them in a huge pile for anyone to take, to go on top of the manure layer.
We’re trying to follow the tenets of “weedless gardening”--an organic method of gardening which relies on added organic matter every autumn and set foot-paths (to avoid compressing growing beds) to avoid turning the soil and giving weeds the chance to literally see the light and germinate. I also want to explore the concept of “edible landscaping,” which instead of having a Vegetable Garden With Seedlings In Rows incorporates the edible plants in with compatible non-edible ones, or just combines different heights and levels of edibles all over the place to make an attractive but constructive garden. I’m sure we’ll blow it in a few areas, but it’s worth a try, and it can’t help but work better than our attempts this spring and summer…
And let me please stress–we are adding probably 6 inches of matter to the top of our existing land, a fairly large chunk. And we are not paying for any of it. We are not buying 40 plastic bags of ridiculously heavy and ridiculously expensive stuff from the garden center (that would probably cover maybe 1/3 or less of what we need). This is free, it helps keep everyone else’s environment cleared out and functional, and it’s giving us a nice base for our garden. IMO, this is how it should be all the time.
We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity next spring to write about giant mutant zucchinis again.