Gardening to honour the earth

This year is the second full season I've had this extended veggie garden.  2 years ago we added almost 2000 square feet to the small garden we'd set up behind the greenhouse and fenced it in. The fence is mainly to keep our dogs out - they help themselves to peas, carrots and peppers, destroying whole plants as they go...grrr....
The fence also keeps the chickens out, also voracious eaters who can do a surprising amount of damage in a few short hours should some sneak their way in.  A few little ones find ways in, but I don't mind them as their damage is minimal compared to my big ladies who loooove tomatoes and chard.

When we put the fence posts in, what came up when we dug the holes was dust - lifeless, grey, clay dust.  Rototilling would be backbreaking and pointless - it would just make the clay clumpy rather than flat.  What this new garden needed was some nutrients and life in the soil.

My hero is Ruth Stout.  I have her book 'No-Work Garden Book' and it is a delightful read. To give you an idea of her philosophy and style, she has another book called 'Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent'.  Not sure which I am, perhaps all three, but she is very entertaining and explains how to garden up, never dig, and have a great garden with little effort. 

I found her book at a garage sale, but it is worth a search for a used one online as well.  

I also read Lasagna Gardening which expands on Ruth's ideas and throws in some of the science behind it.

Basically, what you do is layer a compost heap in place where you want to garden.

 Right on the lawn.

You heard that right - no digging up of lawn required.  The lawn and the compost heap will decompose on the spot and attract and feed the worms, insects and micro-organisms that will create a great growing medium for you.That's why I'm making this post in the fall - it's the best time to get started as you will have a useable garden in the spring. 
This means less work (no digging or bringing in nutrients - it's all there right from the start), super rich soil with tons of micronutrients to feed your plants for more nutritious veggies, a balanced soil that has no harsh artificial fertilizers and depending on where you live it can be free! I got free horse manure (fresh) from the stables down my street and old hay from various folks in the area - I advertised on Kijiji and went to get many trailer loads of small bales.  Horse people often have hay to give away as horses can't have old hay due to respiratory issues it can give them.

There are other benefits to not digging - although I don't think that's really the right way to put it as the natural state of the ground is 'not dug'. It is more accurate to talk about the damage done to the earth when you dig.  First of all, when you dig, you release carbon from the soil. This reduces the carbon available to the plants and it also increases the carbon in the atmosphere.

Plants take in carbon dioxide as food. Some of the carbon plants capture returns to the atmosphere when plants are harvested and consumed.  The rest is stored in the soil as organic matter. When you dig (or till in the case of farms using machinery), air mixes in with the soil and increases microbial activity - this greatly speeds the breakdown of organic material, releasing carbon and increasing carbon dioxide levels into the atmosphere.  More and more farmers are turning to a no-till farming method to reduce this effect.

Another thing that happens when you dig is you destroy large numbers of micro-organisms. I prefer to let them be so they can do their job undisturbed.

How to begin

The first thing you need to put down is something to smother your grass. You want something that will decompose over time - try cardboard or many layers of newspaper.  I got huge sheets of heavy cardboard from TSC - it is used as a liner on a skid under bags of feed or other items.

On this, layer whatever you've got.  Mix brown (dry) and green (fresh) items in layers.

The best is hay or straw as your brown layer. You can also use grass clippings, spent plants or annual weeds that haven't gone to seed, compostable kitchen waste etc.

You also want something that will speed up the composting and add a wide range of nutrients and the best thing for that is fresh manure.  The most nutrient dense manures are chicken, then horse. Fortunately I can find these in abundance for free.

That's it.

For your paths, and keep these to a minimum with nice wide, long beds in between, use the cardboard and wood chips or more hay or straw.

Then each year, in the fall, add another layer of manure and hay, or what-have-you. You will still have a layer of hay showing in the spring, but it will break down slowly, and underneath it will be breaking down. I use fall as an opportunity to clean out the coop where I use the deep bed method - keep adding wood shavings and it all composts down on the spot, then empty it out twice a year.  I clear most of the bed out, lay down the vegetation, add manure, then add hay on top.

One year after I started my garden, if I dug my trowel in to put in a plant, it was teeming with worms, black and rich. Still a lot of clay underneath, but each year, that clay gets softer with more organic matter worked in by the worms - they are doing the work for me and doing a better job of it too. Here is a spot under some hay:

To plant, just make a small hole in the garden and put your transplant in - tuck it down under the top hay layers. To plant seeds, to avoid them falling through the hay or other organic material on top, put a thin layer of soil or compost and seeds and more soil. Once your garden has been going for a couple of seasons, you should have enough organic humus built up that where you seed you can just pull away the top hay layers instead.

Add more hay on top to suppress weeds. You'll still get weeds, not as bad as in a regular garden though and easier to pull.  I fling them over the fence to the chickens - they duck and cover, then run over to feast.

Add hay as your plants grow as mulch as well for weed suppression and to add to the moisture retention.

This year we had a few very late hard frosts so I didn't get the germination I hoped for and my tomatoes were set back, but I still had a good harvest.

The clay and thick layer of organic material holds onto moisture, and I rarely water this garden - mainly just after seeding if it's a dry spring.

I grow beans in among my corn - I love how the tendrils climb up, up, up.

We had only one raccoon attempt on the corn - they knocked down about 8 stalks before losing interest - they were going for a dent corn that isn't sweet.

Enjoy your garden and let the outside be a little wild!


Popular Posts