Opening Day

Some opening days are marked ahead of time on the calendar, like for baseball or fishing season. Others are less specifically noted, but make themselves apparent nonetheless. When the air has a certain crispness to it, and breakfast goes off without a hitch, and you just happen to have a dresser full of clean clothes, you might be looking at an Opening Day.

The trick then is to make the most of it-either to Make Something Happen or to Let Something Happen-but not force it. Try, but not too hard. Such a day came last weekend, and we managed to put a garden bed in our backyard.

We had the spot in our lower backyard picked out for some time, but we weren’t sure how to go about actually making the garden. Raised bed? Roto-tilling? Those options looked to be too time-and-money-consuming. Then we discovered a method known as “lasagna gardening.” No, it’s not about growing eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, although one could do that. The name refers to the method of building the garden bed: layers of wet newspaper, compost, and mulch stacked in a defined area, with plants growing right in the decomposing medium. It seemed low-and-slow enough for us, so we decided to go for it.

For the newspapers, I simply neglected to set our papers our for recycling for a few weeks. Our 30-gallon compost bin was nearly full as well, and we had a bale of straw that had wintered over from Halloween for mulch. All that was needed was another pair of hands and a sunny day, and last Saturday we got both. One of my wife’s friends from school came over in the morning, and we got to work.

The first step was to mow the area close to the ground, which I did the day before. Remember all those other rhubarb plants I thought I found? False alarm; they’re a weed known as burdock.  Granted, the plant has some medicinal and food value, but I haven’t time for such esoteric pursuits now. Off with their heads!

Next, we laid down sections of wet newspaper. This both acts as a barrier to growth from below and forms part of the garden bed as it breaks down:

it's like paper-mache, but outdoors

Wetting the paper first makes it much easier to keep in place. Don’t ask me how I learned that.

After the wet paper, we put down a layer of the old straw. I was glad to have a helper for this, as a full bale of old, damp straw weighs a ton. We had to roll it most of the way across the yard. Once we got it in place and cut the baling twine, it was easy enough to work with, though:

No straw men here

Then came the compost, or as it’s known in certain circles, “that sludge.” I admit I was pretty lazy about the bin over the winter; I should have turned it once a week to mix things up.  Oh, well; I’m actually thinking about setting up worm bins instead. Let them do the work! Meanwhile, we had to spread this slurry around:

We wear gloves for this part.

The only trouble was that there wasn’t enough to really cover the area I had marked out. What to do? We thought of going for a load of horse manure, but a) we weren’t sure if it was fresh or seasoned and b) there have been cases of a nasty equine virus in the area lately, so we said “no.” We finally decided, after a pleasant lunch of egg-salad sandwiches, sun tea, and lemonade, to do the gardening equivalent of a comb-over. Moving all the compost to the back side of the space (towards the cones in the above picture), we covered it with the wet newspaper from the front side, then with more straw:

Laying the layers

In the end, we had enough material for a roughly 6-foot square garden plot:

The plot is thickened

which, if we apply the square-foot gardening philosophy, should be enough to grow quite a bit of produce. We covered the plot with a tarp to help it “cook” a bit, and of course the weather’s been nasty all week-windy, rainy, and cold enough to prefer indoor projects-but we’ll get it planted this weekend for sure.

Now, to see about those worm bins…



About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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4 Responses to Opening Day

  1. Easy Listener says:

    Your gardening methods, including “Square Foot Gardening”, could be the best thing anyone could do. Period.

  2. Cassie says:

    I’ve been gardening for 20 years and have a 30×15 foot veggie garden, and I use all the same methods you do (lasagne, square foot gardening), so you are definitely on the right track. The only thing I would recommend if you were to do it again is to do the lasagne thing in the late fall or a few months prior to planting. This gives the newspaper, grass, and roots time to break down. You may have some trouble digging the holes to plant your new friends with only having done this last weekend. It’s possible, but just may be a bit more time consuming. By next Spring, you will have a beautiful, loamy, easy to work garden!

    Plant on!

  3. Cassie says:

    Hmmm…I just read your link to “square foot gardening,” which I never realized was basically a trademarked product that some guy created. I probably first read about it in Organic Gardening mag in the late 90s. I don’t know who Mel is, so I can’t possibly be doing Square Foot Gardening…I think what I do is called “French Intensive Gardening,” which is based on similar principles (planting close together so as to eliminate weeding and watering; companion planting) but doesn’t get involved with building the raised boxes. After all these years, my soil is pretty good and I wouldn’t ever see a reason to build a box and fill it with store bought dirt to cover what I already have 🙂

    So, are you going to do it by his method with the raised boxes and grids and all? In that case, your prep at this point is fine since you’ll not be digging into the ground to plant anyway.

    • poorlocavore says:

      I think the raised bed is to avoid the tilling and soil prep that a new garden would require by conventional methods. Lasagna gardening takes a similar approach. Plus, the bed edges are a handy way to mark off the square-foot space. If you’ve already got good dirt, then you’re good-to-go.

      I’m going to try to apply the square-foot methodology of plant spacing in the lasagna bed, and hopefully get the best of both worlds. If I read the “lasagna” book correctly, plants should be able to grow right in the compost-mulch medium as it breaks down. We’ll see how it goes, but I do wish I had decided to do this last fall-we’d be way ahead of the game. That might be too confusing for us, though-like arriving early somewhere, we’re not used to it.

      I think that Mel was the guy who developed the square-foot method back in the early ’80s-maybe in Brooklyn, working in community gardens?-and it seems he’s taken it prime-time now. So there’s the commercial part, and there’s a non-profit which teaches the method around the world. I suppose the one supports the other.

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