Monday, February 24, 2014

First Garden

We've started our first garden plot at Sage Garden.  For this plot, we're using some time-tested gardening patterns - namely, sheet mulching and the 3 sisters.

We started with a 9' x 13' area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  Its willingness to grow is attested by the weeds that were thriving in it.  It's protected by fence on 3 sides from wind and critters (making it easy, if needed, to completely surround it by erecting another small fence), and it's not far from an existing hose bib.

Here's a before picture.  (Thanks for the pic, Liz.)
You can see the cardboard boxes that we collected as everyone moved into Sage Garden.  These are an important ingredient of sheet mulching.  First, we set the cardboard aside.  One patch of ground was bare and particularly hard, so I loosened it with a garden fork.  I didn't turn it at all - just cracked the ground so water could seep down into it.  Then we hacked the existing weeds; we simply cut them low and left the cuttings in place.  To this we added manure, spread the whole mess evenly, and then watered generously (using tap water with a chlorine filter).  Next came the cardboard.
We used those boxes as our weed barrier.  We considered the surrounding area and the potential for weeds to encroach.  To the south (left in the pictures) is the neighboring property, so we'll set a walkway of pavers on that side.  On the north, on the other side of the fence, is our parking lot, so that'll be easy to manage.  To the west is soil on the other side of the fence, so we'll have to keep the weeds there under control.  And to the east you can see grass and weeds, so we'll continue our paver walkway on that side.

On top of the cardboard, we dumped about 20 gallons of sawdust I happened to have on hand, and mixed in more composted manure.  Then we laid down a soaker hose, spiraling in to cover the area well.  Finally, we added a couple inches of mulch.  I'm a little embarrassed to say I bought some organic mulch (seems silly, when so many people are trying to get rid of yard waste that's perfectly suitable for mulch).
We added stepping stones to define a central area, where our 3 sisters will live.  To plant seeds, we just scoop aside the top layer of mulch, poke a hole in the cardboard, place a few handfulls of soil in the hole, and plant in that soil.  Over time, all the layers will decompose into humus-rich soil.

"3 sisters" are the traditional trio of corn, beans and squash.  First we planted the corn in a ring in the center.  Once the corn is about 10" high, we'll intersperse it with bean seeds.  The corn forms a framework for the beans to climb on, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil.  After the bean seedlings show, we'll round out the trio by planting squash around the perimeter (still inside the path of stepping stones).  The squash will spread out and its broad leaves will further protect the ground from evaporation.

We'll also pack in other plants around the outside of the stepping stone path.  For instance, we planted sunflowers in the NW corner.

Thank you, Liz, for your help on this garden plot!

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