Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to Eden inspired vegetable garden part 2

Siemer and Sons Gardening Service and a girl Siemer came this afternoon and got all of the soil and wood chips moved for our Back to Eden style garden bed. We are so excited! Not only did they do an awesome job but we really enjoyed our time as friends too.

One of our acquaintances mentioned we may still have weeds coming up after this process and I wanted to address that concern quickly here. While we have never done exactly this type of garden before, we have done some very similar things to choke out all weeds, including crab grass and other noxious weeds.

The key is to make sure that you prepare well beforehand. When laying out cardboard you must make sure to overlap the edges and I even went as far as to lay down a few layers of newspaper in between the cardboard pieces underneath so not even a tiny bit of earth was showing. The weeds will not get the light they need and the area should have too much nitrogen for them to grow up from underneath.

Weeds go with gardening. We could spend hours debating what a "weed" is. The invasive ones will crawl up and over from the edges so you have to be diligent about pulling weeds around this type of bed. Also, the wind and your feet will carry weed seeds into the garden so you do have to pull those weeds as soon as you see them coming which will be easy in this loose soil if you do it regularly. There is no such thing as a completely weed free garden but I expect this one will be easy to manage.

Here's the area with all of the cardboard and newspaper laid out - the smaller mound is our hugelkultur
The Siemers arrived with their glorious tractor and turned what would have taken us a month to do into a few hours work.
Laying out the grower's mix first. We covered the hugelkultur with some fresh soil too.
I was very impressed with the tractor and if someone gave us one, I certainly would not turn it down. Until then, The Siemers are an excellent crew and I hope they'll be willing to come back if we decide to expand on this. We're going to try it for awhile to see if it lives up to our expectations, which I admit are high right now. Maybe because I am high on soil dust.

The first layer of wood going on the beautiful soil that the crew spread out perfectly. 
Almost done. Goodness. It's hot out. 

I think this was the final load.

Here she is.
I'm going to have to post a part 3 to this series because I haven't had the time to plan beyond this. I feel like this seed was planted and grew so quickly that now I need to take a second. This is the biggest blank canvas we've ever had at one time. It's only 23 x 25 feet but we've been urban gardeners in the past. This is a nice spread.

I need to thank my dear friend and lifelong mentor, Sandi Repetowski, for sending me an email about this concept. She thought I might be interested in exploring it further and I was. I watched the movie on my laptop and immediately started praying about how to get it started. I have never seen anything that made more sense to me as far as creating a healthy environment for plants. Not that I'm an expert but my intuition was all tingly. 

Two days later, we received an email from someone who wanted to buy green pecans and everything just fell perfectly into place. I can't wait to keep you posted about how it goes. 
Gidget doesn't seem disgusted by the idea. Hipster is cool with everything but a little surprised by Gidget's indifference. 

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to Eden inspired vegetable garden part 1

We watched the movie Back to Eden and fell in love with the simplicity of this gardening method. We have already had success with the same type of concept in our lasagna garden bed so why wouldn't the idea work on a larger scale? This method goes right along with my intuition about how to make plants really happy.

Instead of passively composting in small beds, we decided to go for the gusto and have some growing mix brought in from Lone Star Mulch and Compost.
A mountain of grower's mix
The concept is extremely simple which I think makes some people skeptical, including myself, but I'm willing to try it and see. You put down cardboard or newspaper over your existing mess, no tilling needed and then add compost, growing mix or just plain wood chips on top of it. The cardboard chokes out the weeds but will break down over time. Depending on how long you want to wait you can start planting right away in grower's mix, wait a few months if you use straight compost or in the case of using just wood chips, you can wait a couple years while they break down before planting. It depends on the materials you choose to use and how quickly you want to start planting..

The benefits are that you don't have to till your existing soil, the wood chips create an excellent mulch so you use less water and you don't have to add a lot of fertilizers because you always have organic matter breaking down to feed your plants.
Preparing the area by laying down cardboard first, there's a smaller mountain of wood chips in the background
The main example in the movie is a man who lives in the pacific northwest so our climates are dramatically different. We will have to wait and see how well it works for us.

We are using growers mix that is ready to plant in with a layer of wood chips on top. The only thing we should ever have to add moving forward is more wood chips as the initial ones start to break down and become a part of the soil.

We will move the layer of wood chips to the side and plant in the growers mix. Planting in the wood chips themselves will not work but having them on top of the surrounding area will be the perfect mulch. When weeds makes their way in, they will be very easy to rake out because they won't be in the hard packed soil.

We could have done a number of different things but I want to test this out for a fall garden so this is the way we went. We are covering 23x25 feet for our first attempt. If it is successful then we may do more.

I got started today by laying out the cardboard and securing it from wind gusts with a little of the growing mix we had delivered.
I thought we had plenty of cardboard after saving it for months but we didn't.
I knew my neighbor gets the paper so I relieved him of the pile he had in his garage and was able to cover quite a bit with those but that's not as easy as using larger pieces of cardboard so I went and got some more from Elgin General Store and Blackland True Value. I had some old weed block on hand so I used that along the edges to keep weeds from creeping in. If you are going to do this, I suggest having more cardboard on hand than you think you'll need so you don't have to go hunt more down before you can proceed.

I did as much as I could before the heat chased me away. I'll go out later, after it cools down a bit, to lay out the rest of the area. 

We are hiring a local landscape company, Siemer and Sons Gardening Service, to move most of the material. They're coming tomorrow with a tractor so the rest should go quickly. 
Gidget continues to be disappointed in our efforts and reminds us that cats cannot live on vegetables alone. 

We'll show you the second phase soon! Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wrapping up the summer garden and preparing for fall in central Texas

I am a terrible garden writer as of late because I haven't posted anything about our adventures this first full season in central Texas. It's been a wonderful year here and I'll try to get you up to speed without boring you too much.
A look at the summer garden

The rainfall is still well below average around here but we did get more this year than last and we had about 8 inches in June alone so that really helped keep the plants healthy and happy. We started out in March with our tomatoes, peppers, corn, pumpkins, watermelon, cucumbers, sunflowers and a few other things. Everything is doing well but the summer garden is almost finished already.

Here are some of the beautiful fruits of our labor
We have enough produce to share some with the mail carrier and our neighbors but not quite enough yet to make it worth going to the farmers market. We have been selling some of our lemon cucumbers to the fantastic new grocery store in downtown. Elgin Local Goods is a place where growers and artisans can sell their local produce and goods. Consumers can buy it 6 days a week. I love it and there's a cafe coming soon too. Can't wait.
Lemon Cucumbers at Elgin Local Goods Photo Credit: Elgin Local Goods
The town of Elgin is a wonderful place to be a farmer right now. We are so excited about all of the other farmers here who are also committed to sustainable and naturally grown food.

We have gone through the process of getting approved to sell at the farmers market so now it's a matter of having enough extra to sell to make it worthwhile. I think that will be the case very soon. 

We are still working on getting the timing down as far as the perfect time to plant certain plants for maximum yield but we are way ahead of where we were this time last year. I think we could have started some things even earlier this year. Much depends on mother nature too and we've been very lucky with a cool summer so far this year. I'm excited about what the fall garden has in store for us. 

The tomatoes are about 7 feet tall but it's getting too hot to get much more out of them

Minerva is impressed
Gidget, however, is not.
Our next project is an expansion of our planting area. We did great with the small lasagna garden we tried so we are going to sort of expand on that idea using the success that we saw in the movie Back to Eden. It will be a 23x25 foot area so we'll have lots of new area to play in. 

We are going to put 6 inches of growing mix that we are getting from Lone Star Mulch & Company on top of cardboard and cover that with 2 inches of wood chips. When we plant, we will move the wood chips aside and plant in the growing mix. The quite eccentric and deeply religious, Paul Gautschi is having wild success with this concept and so are others that were highlighted in the documentary. He is also in the Pacific Northwest where everything is very different than central Texas. I'm excited to see how the idea works for us and to share our results with you.

Thanks for reading and you can also find us on Facebook for more consistent photos and adventure updates.