by Ron Ferrell
Since this is my first blog effort, it seems obvious that I should start with a most wonderful feature of this late August gardening season……RAIN, and plenty of rain to do a gardener proud. I know how tough it is to keep a garden wet in the summer, especially in the ‘dry’ heat of July and August, but not this August. Heck, I’m thinking about building a fire in my stove this evening it is so cool.
For days and months without such prosperous skies, I’ve got phase two of my sustainable project near Jones, a layered garden. When I set out to build a sustainable structure two summers ago, I knew that I would have a small garden on my place to grow my two favorite summer foods, tomatoes and okra. I didn’t have the energy at the time to dream that I would now be building a very large, compost based vegetable garden and have lots more than tomatoes and okra and much more captured soil.
About the time I bought my acreage, I attended a permaculture garden class in which cardboard, compost and mulch were the 3 ingredients the teacher used to make an almost instant strawberry patch. I was amazed at how quickly she was able to build a garden, and it didn’t take long for me to decide that this would be the new gardening technique for my garden since it appeared to eliminate weeds and conserve moisture. As any beginning gardener knows, the most daunting tasks on the path to fresh veggies are weed control and moisture upkeep. Those darn weeds love nutrients and water too!
When I bought my place in 2006, there was an incredible crop of weeds where the previous owner had built a fence around what was an intended garden. I suppose the fence was to keep the weeds out, but the weeds had migrated in and they were equally tall inside and outside of the gated fence. What a mess, and to top it off, there were jumbles of grape-less grape vines, poison ivy, poke and any other undesirable weed you can name all grown in and through that wonderful, two-layer fence.
In the middle of this weed garden there was a barrel with no bottom in the ground. I asked the guy what was the purpose of the barrel. He proceeded to explain that his dad had a barrel in his tomato patch, and he would fill the barrel with manure and water through it for the tomatoes planted around. What a great idea, organic ‘tea’ supplied via sub irrigation.
I decided that I would combine these two processes and plant some tomatoes that might produce while I was building my ecohut, as I didn’t have the time or energy to tend a garden. And grow they did! I had eight-foot-tall plants and plenty of tomatoes along with lots and lots of weeds in and out of the fenced in garden area but NOT where the cardboard and straw mulch were. Plus, it was apparent that the area was much, much easier to keep wet. I fertilized my tomatoes in the barrel with a dry, organic recipe I found in Mother Earth News, and that worked well.
Two years ago at this time, I was still building my ecohut. Now that it’s done, I am in the third year of my tomato efforts and doing quite well. I now have much more garden planted, but my main efforts are now doing what I call "capturing soil." Capturing soil involves knocking the weeds down in another intended garden area with a lawn mower or whatever weapon you have, adding organic matter and worm food, covering the area or rows with cardboard, and then applying lots of straw or old hay and finally laying "stall mix" or other organic material on top of that. I DO NOT ROTO-TILL AT ALL. This is strictly layering organic matter on top of organic matter. The size of my garden spots are determined by how much cardboard and organic matter I have on hand.