Â Â I just wanted to welcome you back to the Welcoming House! As we are gearing up here for gardening season, and due to the rather wonderful response from many on the FB page about ‘s where we should head next, I am jumping headfirst into a basic series on gardening a la Heather starting this morning.
Â Â I am quite excited about it. And there are a couple reasons why.
- I love to garden. I have done this for 11 Springs, Summers and Falls, and I have STILL not gotten over how miraculous it is to plant a tiny seed, and see life thrust forth from the ground up. Not to mention the miracles I see as it reproduces itself a thousand fold each year, yielding fruit, vegetables, and richness every single year.
- I feel closer to the Lord in the garden than in any other place in the world, and that includes even church. The lessons he has taught me out there, about patience, beauty in the midst of pain, how faithful he is, and how we should never take life for granted…well, those all impact me daily. And all from crawling around and getting dirt under my fingernails.
- My final reason is YOU, actually. You see, I try not to worry about many of you who send me emails and ask questions about basic things like gardening. I am quite sure that many of you are looking around at the world as we are seeing it and wondering how long it will be until things take another turn for the worse. It seems like we just cant catch a break, between food prices being outrageous and gas climbing by the day. I know there are a lot of moms, dads, and singles out there wondering how they can make things stretch a little more, keep their kids fed when they can barely afford daycare, gas and diapers, etc. When I did my first series, Making DO Without Missing a Thing, there was a constant theme among the responses here and where it was posted–people are desperate and wondering what to do. I would encourage you today, if you are there, RIGHT NOW, then please please please,Â CLICK HERE to head on over there and read that series. I want to help you, and I poured my heart and soul into that, for those of you who need it. And folks, I hate to tell you, but I just dont see how it cant get worse with all the red flags going up right now in all different areas of the economy. Gardening is one of the easiest, most satisfying, and most frugal of things you can do immediately to make life a little easier and better.
Â Â So, now that we have that out of the way, I am going to share the single most important thing you can learn over the next however many posts I am going to link to this article.
Â Â If you have poor dirt, you will have a poor garden. You will work your tail off for a small return, and it will absolutely kill you to see such a small result every fall. The opposite is also true. If you work smart, not hard, at having good dirt, then you will have a heavy yield, and relatively pest-free garden.
And so, we are going to talk about what kind of dirt is best, how to use that dirt, how to make it better, and what simple things you can do to make a garden less work, and more yield for anyone who is looking to garden without killing themselves over it. 🙂 Ready? Here we go!
Â Â I am blessed to live in the farming Heartland of America and all the amazing soil that goes right along with it. You pull up a bunch of grass and we have black, rich dirt that grows just about anything. For years, while I was thankful for the dirt, I went about things the hard way, tilling up the ground, fighting the weeds, picking the bugs, etc. But the ideas I am going to pass on to you today are what I have learned in my (short-er) journey about what works, and will work no matter where you are. If you are in an apartment and looking for small options, that is okay, because you will still glean some information from this too, and we will have a small section for you later on this week. 🙂
Â Â Not all dirt is conducive to growing plants. Some areas have heavy clay that needs something like sand to “amend it”—otherwise known as “making it better” for those of you who dont speak garden-ese Other areas have very powdery soil that is too light and needs some heavy, rich compost added to make it better and more able to sustain life.
However, the very best results I have had in my many years of gardening have been in using raised beds, of one form or another, and container gardening.
Currently I have one rather large raised bed garden with five beds that measure 4′ X 12′. One has a framework set up in it to grow things up–last year we used this to grow peas and heirloom dry beans, and it was fabulous. We are actually putting in another raised bed garden this Spring here at the new house, as well as a few other ideas we have been tossing around, like a keyhole garden, and strictly herb garden very close to the house. But more on that later.
All of our raised beds use a modified square foot gardening method, in that the planting method is the same, but I had no desire to take the soil in and out every year, or turn it, or till it, etc etc etc. So instead, we use raised beds with a “lasagna” gardening method, or “no-till” gardening method. Basically, every year, we add more good organic stuff, such as grass clippings, composts, rabbit or horse manure, etc, to the bed in the fall and sometimes in the Spring, and let nature take it’s course in breaking down things for the gardening season the next time around. We mulch our beds very heavily with wood chips, and have had amazing results from it.
When we made our beds, we did a lot of research,
and this was how we built them:
- My husband measured and built simple frames for the beds. We laid them on the ground, straight grassy backyard like a lot of people have, and then began by laying layers of wet newspaper down inside and also under the edges of the wood so as to have no weeds popping up in the inside edges of the beds. Why newspaper? because it created an effective, bio-degradable weed mat that would eventually break down beneath the soil of the bed without allowing the grass to grow up through it. It takes one season for this to happen, and then the following season plants that need deeper root systems will also be able to push deeper into the ground beneath the beds as needed. The soil becomes soft, and with the grass composting underneath it, it is rich, loamy soil. Or atleast, here it is. If you live in a dry desert area, or have clay like soil, it will still break down, but it may take a little longer, and will just get better with the years.
- We then used rich organic compost, and put a 2″ layer over the newspaper in each of the beds. If you can find compost in bulk for cheap–seriously, do it. This was the only financial mistake we made, and after we had filled the beds, we discovered a lovely monstrous pile of gorgeous compost for FREE down at the “Pit” which is where all the town leaves, etc go each fall. Check horse stables, small farms, etc, before you go the route we did of buying a gazillion small bags of rich compost. Make that layer over the wet newspaper.
- we found a local source of black dirt from a friend that was relatively weed free. I traded lessons, and he agreed to haul it in his large trailer and dump it off at the site. There are a lot of options out there, and so research your area to see what is available. We actually know people who have done it for free, who have dug it themselves, who have put ads in the paper and gotten it for nothing…you just have to do your legwork to find it.
- This is where we got a little different from the regular square foot gardening folks. We did not do a wheelbarrow full of stuff and mix it all up in some perfect ratio. We put a 2 ” layer of dirt, then sprinkled peat moss over the top to cover. Then we repeated the compost, the dirt and the peat moss, ending with a layer of dirt, and topping off with a heavy wood chip mulch on the beds. Over the summer we mulched with more dried grass clippings, and had a very successful year with yield and with keeping the weeds at bay.
Â Â There are many different ways to garden, from time intensive to ways that use almost no effort at all and eventually take care of themselves. But when you are starting out, the plan should always be to start with the very best dirt, compost, and beds you can start with. I would encourage you to browse through my links below and see if anything catches your attention, then do a little legwork on your own to find your best option. Otherwise, we are also going to be covering those topics tomorrow and showing you a little bit about each one.
I would also encourage you, folks, if you have not gardened before, and you are not sure you want to try, start small. Use containers as your first year gardening. There are some great ideas out there for container gardening, and I will be including those in a couple days. But if you are serious about providing even a little of your food, then you need to start now before it is too late, and you are right in the middle of the crowd with everyone else looking for seeds, and a way to grow them. Because I really think its coming. 🙁
Come back tomorrow for our next post on what is easiest to grow and how to get started planting.