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Permaculture Design Food Forest Apple Tee Guild Community Gaia's Garden Toby Hemenway

Beautiful fruit tree guild/community from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is more than growing food; it includes how we live with each other, how we live with the land. It’s living sustainably, a way of life!

It started in the modern sense with Australian Bill Mollison, researcher, author, scientist, teacher and biologist. His legacy was carried on by his student David Holmgren. Bill’s most famous book is the 1991 Introduction to Permaculture, still a great read today!

Geoff Lawton has taken Permaculture to over thirty countries around the world, to teach, to restore deserts. Permaculture uses nature’s ways of bringing land back to life. It has been done on many continents. The UK and China recently announced ambitious projects to plant millions of trees in an effort to create new forests. Feb 13, 2018 – China has reportedly reassigned over 60,000 soldiers, and some of their police force, to plant trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country’s forest coverage.

High altitudes Austrian Sepp Holzer is another hero. His book is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. One admirer says: ‘Sepp’s approaches to horticulture and agriculture generally sound CRAZY! And then you hear the logic behind it and see the amazing results. The dude is a genius!’ He’s great to hear in person. It is said he was doing permaculture before he ever heard the word! And I’ll bet some of you are too!  

Gaia’s Garden, the best-selling permaculture book in the world, by Toby Hemenway brought permaculture to the average American veggie gardener, urban and suburban growers. His chapter on living SOIL changed my life! It woke me to how gardening is a 100% living adventure!

His book explains how ‘many people mistakenly think that ecological gardening—which involves growing a wide range of edible and other useful plants—can take place only on a large, multiacre scale. As Hemenway demonstrates, it’s fun and easy to create a “backyard ecosystem” by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively and perform a variety of functions, including:

  • Building and maintaining soil fertility and structure
  • Catching and conserving water in the landscape
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals
  • Growing an edible “forest” that yields seasonal fruits, nuts, and other foods’

‘[The] revised and updated edition features a new chapter on urban permaculture, designed especially for people in cities and suburbs who have very limited growing space. Whatever size yard or garden you have to work with, you can apply basic permaculture principles to make it more diverse, more natural, more productive, and more beautiful. Best of all, once it’s established, an ecological garden will reduce or eliminate most of the backbreaking work that’s needed to maintain the typical lawn and garden.’ That’s quite a claim, but it’s true!

How I got to know permaculture was the large scale version, first selecting the land – ideally choosing an area that has higher land that drains to a lower area, a creek is lovely. You can have hillside terracing, your veggies are watered, and you have fish ponds below that water and fertilize veggies there! Food forests can be a part of this setup with the seven levels of plants. First you plant core trees, install shrubs as undergrowth, on down to ground covers and lowest level veggies. Trees, like other plants and us, get along with some plants, not others. Tree guilds, communities, are important to establish. Depending on how much land you have, select your trees wisely.

Here are three basic diagrams to help your decision making:

1) Wind protection, keeping your garden warm in a cool climate or dryer in a moist shore area climate, or conversely, more sheltered from drying winds in a dry climate! This U shaped keyhole garden lets the warmest southern sunshine in. Adjust it to your needs.

Garden Design U-Shaped Sun Trap Keyhole Permaculture

2) Food Forests – Guilds/Communities!

Food Forest - Forest Garden 7 Level Design
There are variations! Every gardener’s situation and wants are different. This is a guide to stir your thinking. If you have a lot of wind, the shrub layer can be super important to the veggies. Adjust as makes sense. IE # 3, the shrub layer height depends on what you choose. I like blueberries, and blackberries are a lot taller!!!

A remarkable feature of Forest Gardens is when many who have never seen such a thing before see them for the first time, not being familiar with the food plants of an area, they don’t know it is a garden! Indigenous peoples ‘gardens’ blend so perfectly with nature, unknowing visitors think that area is simply the nearby perimeter undergrowth surrounding the village!

3) Here is an Apple Tree guild/community example. Look how much can happen there! If you don’t do that, put in a legume and oats cover crop to feed and condition the soil. Maybe you would do that the first year. Here’s a more extensive post Living Mulch! When, Which and Why?!
Design Guild Community Apple Tree Permaculture
Another permie principle is to be as self sufficient as possible. Select soil enhancing legume trees, trees for quick growing firewood, trees with nuts for protein. Have fish and chicken for protein and manures! Raise bunnies, goats and sheep for fur/wool for clothing, and poop and meat. Make your own energy.

However, if you are gardening at a community garden in a 10X20′ plot like I am, you scale down to the most simple applications of the principles. You take sun/shade, high/low areas, wind direction, into account, plant cover crops when the soil needs refurbishing. You might install a small water pool or plant water loving plants in a low area near the hose. Plant companions to enhance growth, protect from pests and diseases. Intentionally include habitat for beneficial insects, birds and animals in your space or nearby. Install wild bee homes and owl houses.

Row or monoculture planting, like farm plantings, are ‘unnatural,’ not as useful as biodiversity like in nature. Research has shown home gardeners efficiently produce more per square foot than farms do! We don’t need tractor or harvest machinery space. Plants can be grown side by side, trellised above and grown under the biggers, around and among! Even in rows, ie lettuce, carrots, onion, kale can grow all together, from tall to short, harvesting is no problem! If you plant along the sun’s path of the day, you can grow on both sides of the tallest plants!

Companion Planting

Organic growers are combining strips of bright flowers and legumes among their plantings to bring bees, enhance their soil, interrupt pest patterns, eliminate the need for pesticides! We can do that on a smaller scale, and not necessarily in rows! In drought areas savvy farmers are using land differently, following the contours of hillsides, along canyon walls, like farmers all over the world have done for centuries. They are resurrecting old tricks like cultivating after a rain to prevent evaporation.

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Seed Saving is clearly a vital part of permaculture. In the old days, isolated people’s lives depended on it. Saving our local seeds, from our best plants, each year, yields super plants with improved production. Those plants love that location, that soil. They love you and how you garden! Seed Saving is still a very vital ritual.

Getting a Permaculture Design Certificate, PDC, is most admirable, recognized around the world. In Santa Barbara CA area Santa Barbara City College offers a right smart course by two savvy instructors! Nearby Quail Springs Permaculture Farm offers a 2 week intensive taught by well-known instructors. You live-on-the-land, applying the principles as you learn them. It is a treasured experience. Getting your certificate with the world renowned Larry Santoyo, water specialist, is much coveted.

There are many permaculture publications, including ecopsychology!

There are events worldwide! This site lists events important to those of us interested in permaculture. This page by Oregon State University lists permaculture organizations worldwide!

The idea is to get maximum return per the land’s ability to support it in harmony with nature and each other.

Permaculture applies to all facets of your life. Being thoughtful about growing fruitful relationships with people is part of permaculture. We are all part of the greater ecosystem. Humans need specific care. Special kindnesses, sharing, to be able to secure our needs in times of stress – illnesses, injury, losing a loved one, crop failure, hard seasons or years. Collaborating like companion plants certainly enhances our chances. Plants can’t go walkabout, but we can. We can do good for many other humans and spread the good word. We can share our abundance. At times we can trade one thing for another.

Stand way back. Get a good look at the big picture. Take time to be thoughtful. The earliest facets of your Permaculture choices, like the selection of trees, are the most permanent, that shape the long term plan, the backdrop for years to come. Let go of artificial time limits. Wait. Have patience, learn more. If you don’t feel quite sure yet, talk with more others. ‘Mistakes,’ like growing the ‘wrong’ tree, could have 20 or 30 year consequences. Ask others why and how they got started, what mistakes they made, how, if they could be, repaired. What were their successes that have done well for them. Search online for the pros and cons of your ideas. If you are on totally new ground you may just have to fly by the seat of your pants! Take images to document your experiences. Make a few reminder notes as to why you made that decision at that time.

The most natural times to establish a new permaculture garden in southern climates are at season changes, but, of course, there are variables for many reasons. Start when you can. In northern areas we’re looking at spring. Well before that time, be researching and designing – notice nature’s ways with your land and let that be part of what shapes your plans. Smaller shrubs, veggies, can be adjusted along the way all year every year.

Permaculture isn’t really something new. It is way more complicated than these few words. I hope you look into it further for yourself. We are each so different, no two situations quite the same, each are making our own unique contribution. It takes a village. Please make comments, leave a trail of knowledge for others to follow. Blog your experiments and experiences. That is like fertile soil to our minds that translates to our gardens.

Live in as good a way as possible in ultimate harmony with nature! 

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Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. In 2018 they lasted into September and October! Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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Huge, healthy Broccoli and Cabbage, Mushroom Compost, Soil

Plants like these cabbages and broccoli really thrive when they have super soil!  Val Webb, gardening on the red bluffs above Mobile Bay, Alabama, says ‘…hoeing in a two-inch layer of clean, crumbly black mushroom compost. (I use mushroom compost because human sewage sludge — delicately referred to as “biosolids” in the federal regulations that allow it to be lumped in as compost and sold to unsuspecting gardeners — is frequently lurking in commercial bagged manure products [no date given]. Ewwww.)’  I agree wholeheartedly!  Use the best you have available, get prime results!

Plants vary in their soil needs.

Brassica Patches!  Since Brassicas are the backbone of your winter garden, and most of them are big plants, heavy feeders, they need good tasty soils!  It is true cooler weather slows uptake of cold soil Nitrogen, so be sure what you are offering is easy for your winter plant to take up!  That said, they LOVE recently manured ground.  Always use well composted manures.  Bagged manures are safe.  Bunny poop from your local shelter is safe.  Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability.  We like that.  Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter (compost) are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli.  Sidedress (feed) about three to four weeks after transplanting when the plants have become established. Nitrogen is important for high-quality.

Winter Lettuces  Lettuces aren’t necessarily persnickety, they are just hungry!  They too LOVE recently manured ground!  Nitrogen!  They are producing nothing but leaves, and if we are harvesting the lower leaves regularly, they keep right on producing up to 10 weeks!  That’s a lot of work, so they need a lot of chow!  

Onions  You are hearing these words again!  LOVE recently manured ground.  Deep garden loam in full sun makes them quite happy.  Whether using transplants or seeds, prepare the ground ahead of time. Since onions like a well-drained, crumbly, fertile soil, raised beds work well. Work a two-inch layer of compost into the bed before planting in fall. At planting, apply a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at 1/2 cup per 20-foot row. Although onions are heavy feeders, save most of your fertilizing until spring when the bulbs begin to form. Don’t go too rich too soon or the tops will do all the growing.  Generally tops grow in cool weather, the bulb in hot.

Peas – Legumes  Peas are another creature entirely!  They are a legume – gather Nitrogen from the air and deposit it in little nodules on their roots!  They feed themselves!  So generally they don’t need fertilizing or rich soils, but do watch them.  If they start losing their perk and leaves start paling, a tad of blood meal will help if that’s the issue.  At the same time, give them a feed of light fish/kelp liquid mix for them to take up a bit later.  Favas are legumes too, but they usually do quite well without feeding even though they become huge plants.

Chard  Chard is practically a miracle plant!  A prolific grower, tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.  They are sensitive to soil acidity though. A low soil pH results in stunted growth.  Chard prefers a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 but will tolerate 6.0 to 7.5. Loose, well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for chard. If you have heavy soil, amend it well with compost prior to planting. Break up large clods of soil and rake the area smooth prior to planting your chard seeds.  Though it grows over summer, it grows best  in our cooler times of year.

Strawberry Beds  Strawberries like loose, loamy, slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0-6.5) and full sun to achieve peak berry quality, but they will tolerate a variety of soil conditions as long as they have adequate drainage.  Soggy soil makes for fruit and roots that rot. If your garden tends to hold water, mix 6 inches of compost into the soil to create a raised bed.  Raised beds are desirable near moist coastal areas.  Dig in lots of manure and compost before transplanting strawberries right at the soil level since strawberries are short rooted.  But not chicken manure.  They do not like the salts in chicken manure.  No matter how much you water in summer, it’s hard to get rid of those salts.  Once your bed is made, mulch it with pine needles. That helps your soil have the pH strawberries like.

Soil is the foundation of the life of your garden.  Read, reread, that chapter on soil in Gaia’s Garden!

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This is a great time to install native plants and fruit trees, so see if any of this info affects where and how you place them.  A food forest can be anchored by a south opening ‘U’ shaped planting of trees that captures heat for growing veggies in its center area.  It can start with a single tree.  Read Toby Hemenway’s book ‘Gaia’s Garden,’ especially the chapter on Designing Garden Guilds.  Toby says “…biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the garden’s burden onto the broad back of nature.”  If you have time and inclination, see Linda & Larry’s Food Forest Video!  Besides their suburban Santa Barbara yard being a food forest, it is the epitome of edible landscaping!  Your nursery will begin stocking bare-root trees this month!  Santa Barbarans, have you heard of Norm Beard?  He’s the man to see, past President of California Rare Fruit Tree Growers!  You will be amazed what we can grow here, and Norm knows the varieties and stocks the ones that grow best here!

*Guild plants are plants that grow well together.  It’s a LOT more than companion planting by twos, two plants that like, enhance, or help each other, though that is wonderful too.  Happy plants make more food!  Guilds are systems of plants starting with a tree if you have the space!  Check out Permies.com on Guilds  If you love the idea of guilds, and apples, check out this Apple Tree Guild! – image at left.  See the details at the link.  A super functioning guild utilizes both vertical space and horizontal overlapping circles!

I am in hopes you will talk this up to your apartment owner, install it on your own property, model your veggie garden after it, share it with every gardener anywhere, of any kind that you know.  This principle is so important in many ways.  Guild lists can be made for every area, plant zone, specific for every tree!  Guild planting makes sense.

  • It’s economical.  Plants grow densely, produce more.  We are making on prem food forests when times are hard and may get harder.
  • Ecologically we are restoring native habitat when we plant and support those plants that use our water more wisely.
  • It is sustainable –  produces more food on less land, cuts food miles, no fuel, packaging.
  • Health is prime as we eat organic, much more nutritious food that hasn’t been depleted by shipping, storage and processing.

Our list [SEE IT!] author is Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., MFT, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, Sierra Club Books (May 2009).  She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle.  Linda is an heirloom rose lover, current VP of the Board of the Santa Barbara Rose Society, founder of the International Assn for Ecotherapy and co-founder of the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club!  She cares.

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world.  The list in your area may be different.  Check out your local gardener’s successes, check with your local nursery.  This list is not tree specific yet.  We’re working on that!

SEE PART 2, the List!

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Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com.  Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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