Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall garden preparation and planting - I have been to the mountaintop!

As the acorns plunk and rattle down the roof along with a gentle rain this evening, it's becoming clear that the inevitable change of seasons is at hand. Steve here to share a bit about Fall preparation of the garden and planting and to deliver some other news as well. I'd give myself a handle like "Tiller of Soil" (to go along with Builder of Coops) except that I spent last Saturday at Charlie Headington's excellent workshop on permaculture gardening and learned that tilling is not really the way to go if you want to create a sustainable year round garden to feed yourself and your loved ones - and maybe a couple dozen more folks too if you garden like Charlie does.

Charlie has turned his small lot in the College Hill section of town into a veritable edible Eden over the last ten or so years, complete with vegetables, fruit trees, two ponds (yes, two ponds) and even bees. His garden represents the epitome of the locavore culture. He's growing it all right there in his own back and front yards and the rewards are delicious (he served a tasty lunch as part of the workshop with much of it coming right from his lovely garden).

This is part of what we would like to create with the Locavore Makeover Project as well. We've wanted to garden here at our home ever since we moved from Chapel Hill where we had some amazing success with just a small strip of dirt in our townhouse courtyard. Our lot here, though, is almost 100% shaded during the growing season. What to do? I guess this is the news part. Anne-Marie and I have purchased another home, only a block and a half from our current residence in Sunset Hills, but with twice as much land and lots more sun.

The big plan is to really "go locavore" on this new lot, starting with some bed preparation and limited planting this Fall and, hopefully, expanding like crazy in the Spring, and getting the Tilleys and Richeys involved along the way. Oh, and yes, there is a house on the new lot, too. And we kind of need to sell or rent our existing home (soon!) so we don't bankrupt ourselves in the process, but that's just details, right?

So, if we want to get started on this garden, it sounds like we'd be in for a lot of tilling and turning of soil starting in a couple of weeks when we close on the new house. Not so fast, Charlie would say. At his workshop last weekend he introduced us to the concept of "sheet mulching", a relatively quick and easy way to start your garden beds right on top of your existing soil, even on top of a lawn.

The idea is that you are imitating nature's processes, but intensifying them to quickly create nutrient rich soil and get your garden off to a great start. Yes, there are additives (it's not magic, you know) including pelletized lime for magnesium, green sand for potassium, bone meal for phosphorus, and a nitrogen source like fish meal fertilizer or an organic liquid source that you can dilute, but the steps are easy to follow and the results are much faster than nature would provide unaided. Also involved are layers of newspaper, leaf mold (available from the City for about $20 per pickup truck load if you can haul it yourself), some pine or wheat straw, and, of course, water. I won't go into all the steps right now, but we are excited about trying this approach and introducing it to the families. We will continue to report on our progress as we make it.

Another great thing that sheet mulching does is that it creates a great environment for worms that are already living in the soil below. Having built and populated a worm box myself over last winter, I can attest to the wonderful work worms do turning one's garbage into wonderful rich soil. Worm castings (their poop, essentially) make a fantastic natural fertilizer and they love leaf mold almost as much as they do your table scraps. They naturally aerate the soil, turn rotting food waste into wonderful compost, and generally can be a gardener's best friend. (By the way, a great local source for worms and more information about worms is Betsy Buhrman at Betsy Lou Worms. She can be found at Greensboro's Curb Market most any Saturday). And while worms "work" the soil, they do it much more naturally and productively than does mechanical tilling. Tilling releases nitrogen much faster than is desirable, kills otherwise helpful soil micro-organisms rapidly as they are exposed to the air and it also exposes previously dormant weed seeds allowing them to flourish more readily. 

There's much more to it all than this little taste, but it's late and I think I said I was going to talk about planting, too. I guess that will be next time after we start experimenting with tenting and cold frames to try to start some winter plants. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Fun article and very well written! Perhaps a missed calling there? But every time you till or shovel or wormify your soil there, thank the good Lord (or lords, depending on your views) for your luck! After begging the remnants of Glaciers that have long since retreated to allow something as simple as a few grass blades to grow, I miss the gooey red mud of NC oh so very much! But heck if you need any potassium or other silicon based byproducts to 'enrich' things, give us a shout!