When we first moved to our four acres from the suburbs, we had some great expectations. I was raised in the country with an orchard and garden and many acres that needed maintained so I knew how much work it would be. We had visions of a huge, bountiful garden providing us food, ripe, juicy peaches fresh from the tree, plump, plentiful blackberries and of course, beautiful bunches of wine grapes. As we began implementing this vision reality gave us a wake up call.
The first year we didn’t have a garden as we moved in at the beginning of July. Although, I did plant a cherry tomato and it did provide us with a lot of them.
The second year my step dad brought out his tractor and tilled up two areas: one east of the house and the other north of the house. I was going to sow both of these and have lots of food! Wrong. Two proved too much to handle and I was lucky to get one of them planted and that was the one east of the house.
He also brought a couple of truckloads of composted cow manure and I worked into the soil knowing this was like gold for my plants! I managed to get a small garden planted using no particular method other than putting some seeds in the ground. I then mulched with some straw, but not nearly enough. I ended up having to provide a barrier because of this little guy who showed up at our place and made it his home.
I began working on another section using a version of the lasagna method which is where you layer cardboard (to kill the grass) with dirt, mulch, etc. until you have 8-9 inches of growing medium. This proved to be a whole lot of work! More than just taking a pick axe and shovel and digging up the ground. The point is though to not till up the ground and destroy the rich little ecosystem it has. The layering method allows for weed kill and decomposition of the cardboard, which worms like, and building up rich, fertile soil. It wasn’t working for me. I wanted to be as resourceful as possible and hauling in dirt seemed silly to me. Maybe if we lived in the city it would make more sense, but we live in the country with lots of great soil and leaves and forest floor. I scrapped that method.
So this was our first garden.
Taking what we learned from the previous we of course wanted to improve and expand. This was also our first year with chickens. Our adopted dog, Shadow, had grown and jumped right over the barriers I had for the garden looking for some cool soil to lay in. I need to mention that the first two years we lived here were extremely hot, like a 110 Degrees F. hot and really dry which of course is very challenging trying to maintain a garden. The third year was hot but not extremely so and we had a bit more rain. We had to fortify the garden better so we installed a real fence. The chickens wanted in so bad.
This time I made some rows and planted. However, our land slopes a bit and I made rows parallel to the slope which was not the best thing to do.
We also added a bunch of wood mulch following a more Garden of Eden method. What I have read so far regarding wood mulch is that it is great for moisture and weed control. If you mix the wood in with your soil though it will draw nitrogen from the soil for decomposition which of course is not good for your plants. Leave it on top.
This year we ran rows perpendicular to the slope to reduce soil erosion and to retain more moisture. We mound up beds about 4 Ft x 10 Ft and paths about 2 Ft wide in between each bed. This so far was the best method we have used. What we did not do and will do next year is mulch heavily. The weeds have now over taken the garden but mostly due to me being out of commission with a back issue. We are expanding the garden for next year and here a few things we will be changing based on what we learned this year:
- Mulch heavily over the winter with straw and leaves
- Plant cover crops
- Grow a smaller Spring/Summer Kitchen garden with some of our favorites
- Focus on Fall garden for more food production
- Many of the plants I grew in the garden this year such as medicinal plants and culinary herbs will have their own space next year. We will also incorporate some of these plants into landscaping.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch
One has to find what works best for them when it comes to the garden. This year I also created a small container garden right outside my front door. I am growing some culinary herbs and greens. This makes it easier to harvest herbs as I need them in the kitchen without walking all the way out to the garden. It also allows for more space in the garden to grow more food like beans and okra. The greens this time of year burn up in the sun and the containers allow me to control their exposure and growth and makes it easier to access them.
Developing a garden is personal, it’s art, it’s unique, it’s discovery. My advice is look into all the methods then just start doing something. Don’t over analyze it. Start digging in and it will take on a life of its own. Have fun with it and be patient.