Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.
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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

The Charming Garden

20180501_143251There are many efficient and simple gardens out there and they are all lovely.  I thrive on color and texture and I love a little whimsical touch.

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We spend much of our time outdoors if it is nice out so we treat the yard as if it were an extension of the house.  Two comfy chairs (not couches or discarded recliners please) make a nice place for settin’ with a glass of sweet tea, to watch the world (and neighbors) go by.  They don’t match, but someday they will.  I always have about twelve bucks in my gardening budget so we use what we have!

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Trellises anywhere you can put them invite vines and climbing flowers.  They add a vertical element to the garden.  Of course, our old farm sign still graces the porch.

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A yard (or a house) should never be quite perfect.  Complete orchestration takes out the whimsy and comfort of a place.  We have weeds and barren places and we have beauty and interest.  Our gardens invite the visitor to look for fairies and sit awhile to watch the birds.

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These trellises are a bit rickety after years of use but attached to the fence they make a lovely architectural image, like a large picture in the garden.

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I have friends with very efficient gardens that are self watering, raised beds that can stand the test of time.  Again with twelve dollars, I get more creative.  I want my garden beds to become part of the earth.  Each spring and each fall as I add more compost and chicken straw from the coop, I want them to nestle down into heaps of greatly fertile soil that restores Mother Earth.  My simple method is logs surrounding cardboard topped with straw, compost, and soil.

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This soon-to-be herb garden is awaiting its soil.  The trellis in the center is for scrambling vines to add height to the bed but also to create beauty.

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I love how the beds seem like they just rose out of the ground.  I didn’t leave enough room for the mower in between the beds so I took empty chicken feed and mulch bags and lined the space between the beds then topped them with mulch.

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The spring crops peek out of the soil.  My fingernails are gloriously dirty.  I love springtime!

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Most of our decor are natural elements but sometimes you need a little bling.  I added the wind vane/solar lights to create a fun vibe.  The tractor and the bicycle are adorable.  There are more beds to be made and more twinkly lights to be added.

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We put pumpkins from the root cellar in the trees for the squirrels and put out a big bowl of bird seed along with a bowl of water for birds.  The hummingbird feeder is full.  We love the Snow White feeling here.  We welcome all the critters.

We eat alfresco every night of the summer so it is time for me to clean off the table and put a nice woven blanket on it.  Yesterday a lovely, rich rain fell upon the beds and the earth and the birds sang and is beautiful in this charming garden.

 

Hugelkultur Gardening

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Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

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Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

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I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Empowering Young Farmers and Humbling the Farmer (and how to design garden beds)

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I received a message wondering if I could use the help of twenty girl scouts.  The farm they were supposed to help out decided they didn’t need volunteers.  Not only can I use volunteers, but I always jump at the opportunity to reach out to kids.  It is staggering to me the minute amount of people who have chosen to grow food and the even smaller amount of women that have opted for this job.  I don’t remember in school it even being an option.  I was told I could be anything I want, a stay at home mom, a doctor, a lawyer, a nun, but never was the word farmer uttered.

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I think it is so important to show kids that living simply and farming is indeed a real career and lifestyle choice.  So I stood there thinking of all the ways I would inspire and encourage troop 2251 to do great things as they pulled in.  My breath caught and tears threatened to come.  Two cars of smiling girls were followed by a truck and trailer.  Stacked a top that trailer were twenty bales of straw for mulch and twenty bags of organic potting soil.  They had raised money to help out a farm.  What a blessing, what a group of angels that descended on our humble farm!

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I welcomed them to Pumpkin Hollow Farm and told them a bit about our simple lifestyle.  I introduced them to the animals.  They swooned over the baby lambs and my granddaughter, Maryjane.  They looked for all the kittens in the house and I showed them the wood cook stove.  We then set off to work.  We had a daunting task, turn the barren patch of dirt that was once a thriving garden at one time into a ready-to-plant plot.

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We gathered all the cardboard boxes that I had thrown in there over the winter, flattened them, and laid them beneath the paths.  I explained how we would make a one foot path, then a four foot bed, and repeat that all the way across.  They didn’t have to be straight beds.  Gardening is art, I told them, so they could make the beds wavy like little rivers, or use interesting items to line the path.

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The girl scout leaders, the girls, and I worked diligently under the first hot day of spring to create a masterpiece.  We brought over loads of bricks from the side of the outbuildings and made wavy streams of paths.  Discarded wood and branches lined the way.  I dared the girls to find the most creative piece to line the beds with.  My Christmas three that the goats stripped clean now lines of the beds!

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We had lunch beneath the pine trees and took in the views.  The little girls took turns carrying Maryjane around.  She has been in heaven this week with so many kids around.

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We then laid the twenty bales of straw thickly onto the planting beds.  All I need to do is lay a thick layer of wood chips on the paths and place stepping stones at strategic places across the beds to get across easily.  This plot will feed many, many people.  I am ever so grateful for their help.

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They taught me about generosity and hard work.  They helped a farmer that they didn’t even know.

What to Do With All that Poo (composting manure)

As Doug and I were shoveling alpaca poop onto the garden beds yesterday I said lightly, “You sure can’t be bothered by poop if you live on a farm, can you?!”  He laughed and agreed and we continued shoveling.  I did not know that I would be around it so much post baby diapers. But there it is, now what to do with it?

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The nice thing about Alpaca droppings is that it won’t burn plants.  It is adds nitrogen to the soil but does not have to be composted.  It can be added directly around plants and into garden beds.  From poop pile to garden bed.  Instant fertilizer.  If you know someone that has alpacas, they will likely share.  It is an added benefit to adopting alpacas, no more Miracle Grow!

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The chicken coop is full of future nutrition for the soil but it needs a bit more time.  Believe me, six months on a farm goes real fast though.  I have a compost bin that Doug easily made out of discarded pallets.  In the first one, the pile starts.  Coffee grounds from the coffee shop and the kitchen, tea bags, and other items I wouldn’t put in the chicken food go in the pile along with the soiled chicken bedding.

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When Nancy and I saw Joel Salatin two summers ago he mentioned that leaving the bedding in the coop all winter and just adding more as needed creates a warm space for the animals.  In the spring, we are to shovel out the foot high plus pile of bedding and move it to the compost pile.  Nancy didn’t like this idea when she tried it.  She has a lot more chickens than I do and for her the smell was overwhelming.  The floor of my coop is dirt and it works well for me.  Next month I will scoop out the soiled bedding and leftover scraps they didn’t want (orange peels and such) and throw them in the first open bin of compost.  He also mentioned that using straw is what creates the ammonia smell.  I stopped using it and started using the pine shavings he suggested.  The coop does not smell bad at all.  However, now I learn that ducks will eat pine shavings so we will be back using straw soon.  So, in this case, I may clean out the coop four times a year instead of two.

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Scooped into the wheel barrel and thrown into its requisite side, it will be topped with some dirt or finished compost and left to finish.  (Note: I constantly forget to turn my compost.  It never looks completely black and finished, but it still works.) In the fall when I go to add compost to cleaned out beds, it will be perfect.  Then the bedding from the summer coop pile will be cooking away in the second open area of the compost bin and will be ready to apply in spring.

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The goat poo is new to us this year.  It will not easily be picked up in their pasture as they drop small and many pellets.  I’d be raking for a  week.  However, their bedding will get changed out next month from their igloo and that will go into the cooking pile of compost.

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Dog and cat feces may not go into the pile.  It will decompose in the grass, true, but just like ours, one would need a composting toilet and high heat to kill the bacteria present.  Doug and I are planning on getting a composting toilet in the next house though!

Human urine kick starts the whole process.  However, raised in a home of decorum and higher society than most folks I know, Doug refuses to pee on the compost pile.  (Of course we are open to a major thoroughfare and close neighbors.)

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I used to think the chickens were going to give me too much compost to use.  But I find myself in constant lack.  The more I garden, the more I need.  The larger this farm gets, the more I need.  Even if one lived in a house smack dab in the middle of Denver one can use the compost from the allotted chickens and goats there.  It goes faster than you think!

Manure tea can also be made with droppings and poured on house plants or outdoor beds.  Just make sure the manure sat for six months if it isn’t from an alpaca.

I never thought in my life I would be writing about poop.  Just goes to show, never say never and having a farm changes you.