Spring Gardening in Layers
Working in the earth is a lovely pleasure to me. Mowing the lawn, planting a few new herbs and flowers, feeling the cold well water trickle between my toes, watching the buds push out on the rose bushes...
I love the manual labor.
I love the dirt.
I love wearing my threadbare overalls and going barefoot.
I love when my kids come to dig beside me.
I love the all-over soreness I feel when I crawl into bed at night.
I love watching my kids in their excited daily examinations of what's sprouting, what's budding, what's blooming, and what needs trimming, what's thirsty, what's fuzzy, what's prickly, what stinks, what smells divine, and what attracts the butterflies.
We moved into our present home a year and a half ago so I've not had much time here to review the lay of the land and all it's microclimates. I took at face value the landscaping plants the previous owners dropped in the ground to make the house look good enough to buy. The plants were there already, so I just let them be. I had three kids to homeschool and a boxes to unpack-- better to let the landscape do it's thing until we got settled and I could have a good look at it.
The time has come.
Last summer it started when I ripped out three purple Rhododendrons under my living room window. They were token plants placed there to sell the house. They were half dead (literally! One half of each plant was dead, the other half was alive and well) and had sickly purple-gray flowers that I found icky. I didn't feel guilty at all.
Here's where I'm starting in our garden this year. Lasagna Gardening.
This is an idea my mother taught me a few years ago. I used it for 3 years in Texas and I used it here in Maryland last year with great results.
Lasagna Gardening has nothing to do with the Italian pasta dish of the same name. Except that if you cut into a dish of lasagna, lasagna gardening resembles the cross-sections. The main idea here is to layer your gardening elements on top of the ground and eliminate the need for weed barriers, expensive soil enrichments and laboring to coax your garden to produce. It is very simple, uses several items we might consider trash, and is very effective for vegetables and flowers. The article I've linked above will give you the particulars, but here's what I've done in the past.
: Erin's Lasagna Garden :
1) Save all my corrugated cardboard boxes, flatten and store in the shed. ** Remember to do this around the holidays when gift packaging reaches a level near insanity. It doesn't all need to go to the dump! You can also raid the dumpsters behind furniture stores and liquor stores (or inquire with the managment).
Remove anything that is NOT biodegradable from the boxes. (Plastic windows, mailing tape, staples, wire ties, styrofoam supports, etc.)
2) Also save newspapers, circulars, and paper grocery bags. (Slick and polychromatic papers, like magazines, don't work. Toss those in the recycle bin.) If I don't have enough cardboard to cover my area I'll opt for layered newspaper, but it degrades faster than cardboard so I'll have to re-do the newspaper areas sooner.
3) When the weather gets warm enough, I clear out the area I want to work in by turning the soil, moving and removing rocks. And really, I don't even have to work the soil. I can start laying cardboard right on top of my lawn (or even do this on top of asphalt if my layers are deep enough) and it eventually kills everything underneath it without me lifting a finger.
4) If I need/want to move an existing plant or put a largish new one in the ground, this is when I do it.
5) I put down a layer of flattened cardboard. Puzzle pieces of corrugated boxes here, there and everywhere. I leave a space around the base of each plant (about 2-3 inches) so that I'm sure there's a good inlet for water. I use as much cardboard as I've got because if you imagine a weed trying to push it's way through a single layer of a U-Haul box, it's rather difficult. And if one layer is difficult, two layers are intimidating, and three layers are daunting. Those pesky weeds will just pack up and move to your neighbors garden! (Insert devil horns here.)
6) Next I put about a 3-4 inch layer of bark mulch on top of the cardboard. It not only holds the cardboard down in the wind, but keeps moisture under the soil and insulates my lovely plants in the summer heat and winter freeze. (I think the article recommends using peat, but peat is not an easily renewed resource, so you may want to steer clear of that.)
7) Then I do the layers again, which is where the "lasagna" part of Lasagna Gardening comes in.
8) Drop in my seeds or small plants.
9) Water generously.
Really, that's all the prep work I did last spring and it was amazing how weed-free and healthy my garden stayed all summer. Pulling the few weeds that DID take root were like cutting butter with a hot knife because all they had to hold onto were little bits of mulch.
The article also suggests adding bone meal, grass clippings and leaf chippings to the mix to help fortify your soil, but I skipped that expense and effort. If you're indeed planting on top of asphalt (and I'm dying to find out how that goes!), you will need nutrients for those plants (mulch is an insulator, not a good growth medium), so add lots of top soil/compost/manure.
Now I have you thinking I'm a gardening genius. Don't believe it for a second. But here's what I am...
NOT out there pulling weeds all summer long.
NOT pitching all my cardboard pieces and newspapers into the recycle bin.
NOT lamenting my poor soil or spending boatloads of money trying to get something to grow.
THOROUGHLY enjoying the life that takes place in, on and around our little plot of land in Maryland.