Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prepping the garden beds

Decided to prep the garden beds today. I switched to raised beds about 4 years ago. Using them has been a big timesaver.

Each fall I put down a thick layer of grass and leaf clippings. Then by spring it has broken down quite a bit and I mix some into the soil and leave a thick layer on top which acts as a mulch and keeps the weeds down.

When it's time to plant, I just move some aside to install the plants, add a scoop of compost, and put the mulch back into place. It has really improved the structure and quality of the soil and I no longer add any fertilizer (organic or otherwise). A couple of added benefits is that it takes so much less time to get the garden ready each spring and I can plant earlier because the soil warms up so much faster. If you choose to use this method, be sure not to use leaves from the black walnut tree or honeysuckle, as they inhibit plant growth and/or seed germination.

 For years, I had maintained compost piles the old fashioned way - by making making a pile of kitchen and yard waste at least 3 feet high with a proper C:N, or carbon (the brown stuff) to nitrogen (the green stuff) ratio, of about 10:1. The pile had to be turned quite often and kept moist for adequate microbial decomposition. Though this method produces great compost, it is quite labor intensive and I didn't always keep up with good maintenance. However, since I added the raised beds, I have been trying a new method and I love it! I devote one of these beds to composting each year. I simply dig a hole, add a bowl of my kitchen scraps and cover it up and let it mellow until the next growing season. Nothing else, nada, zip.  I let the worms and microorganisms do it all. As you can see, it makes some beautiful "black gold" and the critters seem to love it.

This is a coldframe for starting my seeds or extending the growing season. These hoops get covered  with plastic and germination flats can be placed in the leaf mulch (this bed has a good 4-inch layer). This little microclimate works well, but that may differ by location.

This time of year is when I check on the garlic, which fared well over the winter. I think all 70 cloves made it. The biggest surprise is that the lettuce, carrots and herbs (in the next bed) unexpectedly survived this mild winter.

These last few pics show why I changed my methods over the years. I often experienced flooding during wet springs which made planting and/or getting in the garden impossible. Then when the garden took off, so did the weeds and bugs! As a novice, I used Sevin (a pesticide), Preen and Roundup (herbicides) to try to control things. As I learned about the negative effects of using pesticides I quit using them. Inevitably, though, it got worse through the season and I usually gave up by July and had a weed patch by August.

2005 was the first season I went organic. I used grass clippings to suppress weeds and it worked somewhat, but I still dealt with flooding and a big garden was a lot to maintain. Not to mention back-breaking rototilling each season. Back then, garden prep usually took a whole weekend, if not two, depending on the weather. You can't till wet earth. Today, I spent less than two hours getting all the beds ready for planting!  Now, my methods include encouraging birds to my yard to help me control unwanted pests; planting a large variety of flowers to entice bees for good pollination and beneficial insects to control the bad ones; natural weed control methods; crop rotation and composting.