Plotting our dreamy garden

Our first summer we had a fairly small garden; about 10x12. 

We rushed to put in a personal sized garden. I had been growing seedlings inside and we were ready to bring them out, but wanted a designated space. It seemed as if the owners before us had put some vegetable plants through the flower gardens. I was not keen on this given we have so many trees and I’ve had years of failed gardens due to too much shade. 

I wanted to hit the ground running. We tossed together a garden, made a crappy fence around it and voila, we had a garden good enough to get us through one summer. Over a few weeks, I put a layer of wood chips in and walking rocks. After about 1 month things were filling in nicely, but at 2 months, the garden was getting a little crammed. 

I have huge eyes for a large garden with walk paths and a sitting area. A spot to bring my tools, push a wheelbarrow and get dirty on the daily next year. We settled on a larger plot, but Mike talked me down to a reasonable jump in size; 30 x 50.

This spot is located in direct sun, near the apiary and on very rich soil. It’s directly in the middle of our hayfield gone wild so it took some effort to cut it down. Now we’re ready to build it up, but we had a few guiding principles we’ve taken from Permaculture practices. 

The approach we are leaning into is called Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening. This is a permaculture tactic and allows us to avoid rototilling the land. If we aren't going into the ground, we have to built up the ground starting with a layer of cardboard.  Over time it will decompose and it will add carbon to our soil.

The key to this approach is to prevent the vegetation from the hay field from growing next year by preventing any access to sun. This allows the garden to flourish without fighting the deep rooted hay that have been there for years.

To get started was a matter of acquiring the materials for the layers. Which is not all that straightforward in a pandemic. 

  • Cardboard, and a ton of it, was needed for the base. This would provide carbon to the soil in time.
  • Then we needed soil. 22 yards finally arrived late in October 
  • Between my coffee addiction and our flock of chickens, we had ample nitrogen to layer on top of the soil. 
  • To finalize it, we covered the paths with hay from the chicken coop as a second life. When this slowly decomposes, it will also provide nitrogen into the soil. 
  • Hay that we were lucky enough to have a bunch of in the barn and chicken coop and 
  • a whole bunch of cardboard.  

With little time left before our Ontario winter rolls in, we got to work. The plan had slightly shifted; I wanted to use more of the hay to actually clean out that coop so we could stock it with fresh hay for the winter.  So my paths became fairly large and wide. One is intended to be a path to bring the wheelbarrow and ATV through so that will stay. 

I totally underestimated the amount of cardboard we needed. This slowed us down in getting the garden done, though the weather was on our side with unseasonal warmness. 

I wanted it all down for the spring start, so I decided to put down minimal soil knowing I could add more easily in the spring if needed. Even with this strategy, we only made it about half way before we crossed into the winter months. 

A fair start for the spring, but certainly we have more work to do. This spring, we’ll continue the strategy with more cardboard and use the opportunity to clear the coop out again for the paths. Then, with the rinky dink rows we’ll beef them out, layering on top of hay, giving us our real garden starting point. 

We’ll need to get started this spring so it's done in time for the seedlings to be transferred outside. We’ll hone in on what we'll be planting throughout the winter months.