I would say spring is in full swing, but if your weather is a crazy as ours, then bless your heart and stay strong. The cold weather has provided one thing: time to make more raised beds. Be prepared, though. I might have been an Orthodox Jewish girl at one point, but I’ve never been an Orthodox gardener!
I don’t know about most people, but I have this unyielding conviction that growing food is suppose to cut the grocery bill, not add a new bill to the yearly cost of living. In keeping with this I use whatever happens to be laying around. What I have laying around happens to be old limbs, old barn wood, spent hay bedding, and tons of manure. I mean TONS of manure, and it has to go somewhere. I also have about an inch of nasty white clay over lime bedrock in my garden. That’s not great for growing…
Interestingly, the resources available right here at home are exactly the resources I need to have a stellar garden. Funny how often that works out!
My first garden bed layer is typically yard trash like rotting limbs and leaves. I use this as the base for my bed. I cross them or just use larger limbs. I have two lines of thinking on that. One, it allows air flow so the upper layers compost, and two my beds drain better. I also will use bamboo leaves, old corn husk, old plants, or whatever is bulky.
My next layer is the fun one! It’s the BIG layer. When I lived in the city this was my kitchen scraps and grass clippings layer. With the animals it’s spent bedding and fresh manure. Don’t worry about your plants – they won’t be touching it for a while. I like a good foot to foot and a half deep bed. You will be shocked how quickly that breaks down into six to eight inches of compost. I like cattle, horse, and of course sheep manure laden bedding. Sheep offerings are actually hotter than chicken. However, I’ve not had issues with using the flock’s donations that chicken bedding causes. Get everything good and wet, keep it moist, and by the time the next season’s planting time rolls around earthworms will have made a nutritious garden bed. Don’t worry about the chunks. They’ll break down after a while.
The top layer is the key to making this whole thing work. I’ll transplant established plants directly into the middle layer. However, young transplants and direct sew seedlings do better in aged chicken compost, dried cow patties, or regular old dirt. Cow patties are my go to seed starting medium. I simply crumble some up (with gloves on!) and create whatever depth I need for my seeds on top of the BIG layer. Then I keep it well watered until the plants establish themselves.
Does it work? I think so!
I know what you’re thinking, “That’s so nice you have all that manure and stuff laying around”. Even when I lived in the city in a town house with a tiny patio I still used this method of growing in containers. I’d put in twigs, then leaves from the local park along with my coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, and then let them hang out for the winter. When spring time came around again I’d put a small amount of potting soil on top and plant. Same principles, just a smaller scale. The best part – a $25 a week grocery bill and all the lettuce and pesto I could eat without shelling out a bunch of money for bags of soil.
If you feel adventurous call up some local farms, verify they don’t use round up, and ask to collect some manure. Believe me – you offer to clean stalls or pick up patties from the paddocks and you’ll have a new best friend. You might even end up with some farm fresh produce and eggs for your trouble along with the muck.
To keep weeds from popping up I keep adding new rotted muck and compost as mulch or do some cultivating every few months. That equates to about four times a year on average. It depends on the bed’s age. Older beds nearing the end of their lifecycle need weeding more often. My beds typically live for two years and then it’s time to rebuild it over winter for the next spring.
Recently, I was told that this is called Hugelculture. But when reading up on the Hugel my way is much less sophisticated. I call it composting garden beds or shytenculture. But really, it’s just an old, old, old way of managing waste, growing food, and using the gifts that surround us.
Until next time,
Craft no harm,