We’re all somewhere on the garden path. Some of us have a few pots, maybe indoor herbs, maybe a farm. Our family is working to make the most of our big suburban backyard. One year ago, almost to the day, I was completing the prep for our new vegetable garden! We’ve been through a bit of an explosion in our backyard over the last few years. And this expanded space is the latest in what we’ve dubbed ‘musical gardens’. Well, these beauties are staying put!
In order to add the amount of growing space we wanted fast, we went with a well known no till option called “Lasagna Gardening”. Just one growing season in and I’m amazed at what a great addition these beds have been!
In The Beginning…
When we moved in 10 years ago our backyard had spruce trees, overgrown bridal wreath and an almost dead hydrangea. And a lawn of mostly creeping charlie. No garden in site. Needless to say, we’ve added A LOT of perennials, bushes, trees, chickens, pathways, and yes- Gardens. Of course the creeping charlie will forever be part of our landscape as well… But let’s focus on the Vegetable Garden here.
We had a happy 24’ X 20’ fenced in vegetable garden for years, where I grew a good amount of food, and enjoyed learning more about organic gardening practices along the way. We changed part of the space into 3 raised beds a few years back. Each bed measuring 4’ X 8’ with a large strawberry patch in front and open edges for potatoes and pots.
But as most gardeners know, you eventually outgrow your space. And then once you start looking at how to change one part of the garden you can quickly move half your yard around. Hence the ‘musical gardens”. And, if I do say so- we rocked that tune!
Down to Earth
We started the project by removing a dying spruce. This would allow more light to an otherwise shady part of the yard.
Chipping the branches gave us a great source of carbon to decompose in the raised beds- and to add the the pathways.
We ended up fencing in 24’ X 50’. The fence was a must for us, our yard is home to a myriad of bunny families. This new safe space accommodated the 4 raised beds, room for row crops along the edges, some pots, and a garden table. The design always included some kind of arch/pergola/trellis, but not until we started building it did we know exactly what and where it would be! 😊 I am very lucky my husband is a carpenter and doesn’t shy away from hard work! OK, I love the physical labor part too!
We filled the four new beds using the ‘lasagna gardening’ technique. This means a quick no till start to the bottom layer. I did ‘fork’ the compacted lawn to get more air flow in the top layer (and invite worms to venture upwards). We started with layers of cardboard and soy inked newspapers. Then a hefty layer of our compost to get things moving. I can’t wait to add some ‘worm poop’ next spring from our very own “Vermicompost”! On top of that, wood ships, leaves, wood ashes, and plant clippings etc that I would have thrown into the compost pile along with spent chicken coop straw all got layered up!
Then we went to the Ramsey County Yard Waste Site with a friend’s trailer and shoveled in a WHOLE LOT of finished compost- for FREE. This is a great service both for dropping off yard waste and for the amazing free compost they offer. A quick google search will find your county’s info.
Then, luck struck again, when a friends who’s parents’ offered up their used straw bales from their Summer’s Straw Bale garden. The partially decomposed straw bales were like gardening gold to me! (Thank you Mark and Theresa Moe!)
Garden Evolution Notes
And like most projects that you jump into feet first; I learned a lot about what not to do! Like, if I had it to do over again, I should have put the straw under the top compost layer! And maybe even followed this permaculture expert’s recipe for lasagna garden building instead. What I do know is that even though there’s some heat generated from the decomposition, it doesn’t compare to the sun’s rays on black dirt! As a result my straw-topped beds warmed much slower than my older prepped and previously tilled beds.
But wow the lasagna gardening made easy work of creating great soil over weedy lawn. Not having to till and weed out that nasty, hard packed ground was worth it! I was able to plant in those beds in early May (with a row cover over b/c you all remember that crazy late blizzard this year, right!?) on compost I had layered in early October!
The proof is in the produce!
We feel like we’re getting there. Joining the ranks of other folks who enjoy growing more of their own food on their land, even if they have a regular sized lot. We’ve got a slightly larger than normal lot size, but this is a far cry from the acreage of a farmstead. We still have so many possibilities – dreams to be planted and bear fruit here… and each season we learn more, grow more, and become more deeply rooted to this beautiful place we call HOME.
This year (like all years) is unique and beautiful and challenging and rewarding… all rolled into fabulous meals, and a freezer bulging with bags of frozen goodness. Shelves stocked with mason jars of Summer harvests. And a pantry bursting with dried herbs and teas. Those, along with our home made maple syrup, venison and eggs keep us eating local long after the tomatoes have stopped. And with the seeds I’ve collected from the gardens, I’m halfway back to my starting point next Spring.
I hope my ‘real world’ story helps you decide if you’re ready to help your gardens evolve and grow too. It has been a lot of work but, for me- the rewards are worth every drop of sweat equity! Let me know if you have any questions, or suggestions about adding growing space in your yard.
Get your forks in the dirt!