With fall readily coming to an end, and winter well on the way, I decided to be a good homeowner and do some fall cleaning of my garden. Let me tell you about my garden, for those of you who haven’t seen our house. I moved into this house about three years ago with my then boyfriend, now husband Mike. Mike, being a single man at the time, took no real care of the garden or the yard, seeing as he had better things to do like remodeling the upstairs (a project that is still ongoing to this day). I have never been one to care much for yard work, being busy with life, apathetic and lazy with a severe dislike of weeding, kind of just let what remained of the nice garden go wild and free. The rosebushes and flower bulbs survived pretty well… unfortunately so did grass, weeds, and some nasty viney bush thing that takes over and strangles everything in its path.
Let it be known now that I know almost nothing about gardening, and have a very brown thumb. Everything I know, I’ve learned from either passively observing my Mom, or from the great tips from the wonderful people in my life today. Well, and the all knowing internet.
I decided a few months ago, when we choose to eat healthier (i.e. whole organic foods) that I should have a garden where I could grow vegetables and herbs for the year. This is all in the hope that we could save some money, and have some peace of mind about how the food on our plate, got there (this way I know no pesticides were used, etc.).
I have a very nostalgic view of the whole gardening thing, because my Mom and most of her siblings love to garden. I remember that while I was growing up, my Mom would always spend time out in the garden. It always seemed to make her feel good about herself. So I go into this gardening thing with high hopes. I mean it’s a labor of love, not a whole ton of work… Right?
Step one: Clear Up.
I want you to close your eyes, and picture a glorious garden, full of tulips rose bushes, and two little trees. Now add half a decade of neglect, so that it’s completely over run with grass, weeds, viney death bushes, dead rosebush branches, garbage, etc.
All said and done, this took about eight hours to clean up. I still have the side garden to do, so that eight hours only really count for the front of the house, and the killing of two viney death bushes with some very violent shovel work. I am sure that this won’t take as long in the future, assuming that I don’t allow my “field” to go fallow again.
Boy oh boy, was that a lot of work! My body hurts all over! Still, I guess you can call it a good workout. I am also quickly coming to understand why people who rely on subsistence agriculture to survive are so much thinner! Yeah anthropology nerd rearing its ugly head there. Even if they eat well you spend an awful lot of energy just cleaning up everything and clearing out all of the debris!
These are just some of the interesting things I found while cleaning out my garden: Earwigs (any natural tips on how to get rid of these nasties?), worms(the soil was in better shape than I thought), spiders (which it took all my strength not to kill… they are a good part of the ecosystem… and creep me out!), roof shingles (not from our roof), a three foot section of re-bar, an un opened can of minute made lemonade, long lost (and thoroughly buried) sprinkler heads, a half eaten tennis ball, some random hunks of concrete, and a very large (and angry) black beetle.
Step two: Make a compost pile with all of the yard debris you just cleaned up.
I did this a few different ways. I have a compost pile that will “cook” this spring. In this compost pile I layered the branches and roots (cut up very small so they can break down) from the viney death bushes, the weeds I pulled out of the ground, and the bulbs from something that looked like it belonged to the onion family, but had no smell or discernable taste. I also layered in there for good measure phone books, cardboard that the city won’t recycle, and other miscellaneous biodegradable stuff in a 4 foot by 4 foot pile. The idea is that once it warms up, these things will create internal heat while breaking down, making natural compost for my garden this spring. From what I have read the “cooking” process should reach about 140-170 degrees F, therefore killing the seeds and bulbs of all of those things I don’t want to grow in my garden.
In my opinion this is a great way to recycle biodegradable waste. It’s the most natural way to return it back to the earth so that it can help to produce more food, the leftovers of which we will then be recycling back again, etcetera, etcetera. What a great process! That being said it is a lot of work to get going (although I’ve read that once you have it started you just need to turn it a few times a week to support the breakdown process). It should reduce the waste we send to the dump.
I also started a layered or “lasagna” garden, where I laid old newspapers over the grass aria where I would like my new garden, then made a layer of recently trimmed rose bush branches, then a layer of garden grass that had to be removed, and then another layer paper, some fall leaves donated by neighbors, and some organic soil from Lowes. This should settle and decompose over the winter and be ready for planting in the spring. The great thing about this gardening concept is that by creating the loose layers of organic matter, anything planted in it will have abundant nutrients, and if any weeds or grass sprout up they will pull out with no fuss since their root systems won’t be able to get a good hold on anything! What a great Idea. My Mom said she just started a lasagna garden in AZ (because fall is the perfect planting time there for anything that might usually burn in the summer) and that it is great for plants that have already taken root (as the seeds might not survive because it will be decomposing and settling a little bit).
Last but not least I have my little worm farm. I saw this idea on the show “The Lazy Environmentalist” and thought it was a great idea. We have a bin (just a plastic storage bin with a top) lined on the bottom and sides with newspaper, and containing one bag of organic soil. This bin is in the laundry room beside the kitchen, so whenever we have fruit or veggie trimmings, egg shells, or paper we brake them up into small pieces and put them in my bin with the worms, (articles I have read suggest you start with 20 red worms: aka composting worms) and the worms will eat your organic waste and turn it into worm castings. This will be great for my garden, and a great way to decrease my waste going to the dump, as these worms will eat almost anything. Quick tip: don’t put any plastic, chemicals, or meat products in with the worms, as the plastic won’t be eaten, chemicals would kill the worms and pollute the soil, and meat will rot and get smelly.
Step three: Plant the onions and garlic.
Once I finally cleared out all of the yard debris and pulled out all of the miscellaneous unwanted stuff growing in my yard, I added a few bags of organic soil, mixed up the dirt, and planted my bulbs for the spring. I hear that the fall is when you do the bulb planting. Don’t ask me why, I am stumbling through this, as the queen of garden newbieness. I am really excited about this, but kind of worried at the same time. I have put all of this work and labor into my garden, what if they don’t sprout? What if all the bugs in my garden eat my onions? What if I didn’t do it right? I guess these are all just questions that have to be answered in time.
I planted three kinds of onions; white, yellow and red, all in sunny conditions, loose soil, and spaced them per the instructions that came with the onion bulb bags. I also planted two types of garlic, although the names escape me at the moment. We use a lot of onions and garlic through the year, so I plan to plant more in early spring, and then some in mid spring so we can tier the harvesting and hopefully have enough to last through most of the growing season.
Let’s hope that if they don’t take, I can at least learn why. I have done all my homework now, so all I can do is cross my fingers and pray to the earth goddess to help them grow.
Hopefully, I can finish cleaning up the side yard before the snow starts. This windstorm tonight has a foreboding feeling that that will happen pretty soon. If not then spring will be early enough, since there’s plenty more to do, and plenty more to plant.
Until next time, if you have any great gardening tips for a total clueless city girl let me know. I can use all the help I can get.
Have a great day and stay warm!