How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

The Crone and the Ants

20171103_092307We named her the Crone upon first seeing her, for her lengthy limbs and wide trunk seemed to tell stories of old.  It was obvious she was coming up in years and wouldn’t be around forever.  Sawdust fell at her feet and pieces of her skin fell off in the dust.  Her scant leaves held firm.

The tree men came and took down just the limbs over the electric wires and noted that the Crone was hollow.  “Carpenter ants,” a shrewd one said.  You have to go get ant killer.  Bayer.  It’s at the hardware store.  It’s the only way to save the tree.”

Doug hopped in the car and started for the store.  I had a sudden realization, like a deck of cards filing out quickly in front of me of what we were about to do.  I called him and told him to come back home!  No poisons.  That is not how we have ever done things.

“Then your tree will die,” the tree man shrugged.

I had him put corn meal into the hollowed ends.  I put the wood ash around her base.

The thing to remember here is that the ants are there because the tree is dying, not the other way around.

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I watched the wood pecker the next day with his lacy wings and red head pecking at the tree.  Several friends joined him.  Sparrows and finches burrow into her limbs.  Squirrels play among her arms.  We would have killed them all.

I planted twenty trees in her place.  She will fall when she falls.  Then she will return to my garden and to the wood stove.  All in nature’s time.  No poisons necessary.

Yule and the Talking Tree

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The Yule tree is always a conifer because evergreens survive the winter and they are a sign of hope and renewal.

I worked with a lovely Comanche elder for years and he told me the story about taking his children to gather cedar for ceremony.  As the children watched, he asked the tree if he could have part of her dress.  He said he needed a little of her cloak to help the people.

“Dad!  Did you see that?  The tree lowered its branch to you!” his daughter exclaimed.

I smiled and nodded knowingly.  I was taught to honor the plants and trees that I gather medicine from and on more occasions than I could possibly recall, the plants move and respond to voice and request.

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In the book, The Hidden Life of Trees; What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben, the author forays into the scientific explanations and the mesmerizing experiences regarding trees communicating.  Of course there is science behind everything regarding plants growing better to music and singing or trees lowering their branches to offer medicine, but in my work we don’t need to hear the scientific explanations, we just know.  We see it.

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This is a beautiful time of year to go for a walk, go hiking in the mountains, or around a trail in your park.  There are less distractions and you can get to know an evergreen.  You will find them quite jovial.  When you say hello, it will move in a small area.  Sometimes the whole thing shakes without the help of wind or breeze.

Real magic is all around us, beyond cubicles and meetings, beyond television and bills.  It has always been there.  We are heading to Taos for the weekend.  And in the woods there and along the paths evergreens wish those that pass a Merry Yuletide.

Planting Arbor Day Trees (how to)

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Years ago we had donated money to the Arbor Day Foundation and received in the mail ten trees.  Rather, ten sticks.  I didn’t know a darn thing about raising trees and have killed many over my years, I am afraid.  Well, those first ten were subject to neglect and the lawn mower.

Ten trees…sticks…arrived in the mail from Arbor Day the other day.  Ten more are arriving next week.  3 Dogwoods, 2 Redbuds, 2 Crepe Myrtles, 2 Crabapples, and 2 Hawthorns (the primary ingredient in my heart medicine) were carefully planted in the yard.

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Gandalf was very helpful with digging the holes.  I started the hole and he finished it for me!

Dig a hole at least a foot and half wide (so that grass and weeds can’t sneak up on the tree) and a foot and a half down.  Any lower and you might lose the tree!  They aren’t very big but they are trees and the Arbor Day will send you ten with a ten dollar donation and that is a great deal for everyone.  They catch up to their older, potted cousins within a few years and will be stronger because they started so young and they will adapt to the soil they are put in.

 

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One huge mistake I have made in the past was using compost or potting soil to fill the hole.  The tree just wants regular dirt!  Fill the hole back with the dirt that was in there.  The sticks soaked in a vase for a few hours to absorb water.  Draw a two inch reservoir a foot away from and around the tree base.  Fill with water.  Put a tomato cage over it so you won’t hit it with the lawn mower! (and you will remember where you put the sticks.)  Mulch, leaving base clear, with leaves or straw, or the like.  Water occasionally through winter.

20171115_122425This is the first house we have bought in a long time and we are thrilled that this time we will actually be able to enjoy the trees we plant this year!  Time flies and it won’t be long before the trees are large and beautiful.

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.  The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb

Supporting Your Local Nursery (a field trip to Holly Acres)

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In winter,  you might find a child riding a zebra or a toddler on a horse.  Perhaps you’d like to sit with Santa or drink hot chocolate.  We choose our perfect Christmas tree and haul it home happily in the season.

In spring this same place is a gardener’s best friend.  Heirloom seeds abound, many plant starts, and a greenhouse of intoxicating brilliant blooms to take home.  I get my seed potatoes, garlic, onion sets, seeds, and most of my plants from my local nursery, Holly Acres.

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It is so important to shop local.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Our communities rely on the mom and pop shops thriving.  Holly Acres is owned by a family in our community, whose children grew up with ours, who shop local themselves, and who have an amazing oasis of nature and beauty just down the road.

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Last year when we needed a bird bath for our instant rose garden, I got it there.  Same with the roses.  And when I taught you how to plant trees, I got the trees there.  They have the best fruit trees as well as many, many other varieties of trees.  They have everything one could want at a really great price.  They are very competitive with big box faceless stores.

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If you need seeds, garden décor, compost, or healthy affordable trees, head to our local nursery, Holly Acres and say Farmgirl sent you!  (And if you don’t live here, seek out a local nursery by you!)

5403 Highway 86, Elizabeth, CO, 80107.  303-646-8868.  http://Hollyacresnursery.com

 

Our New Home

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We rambled up the long driveway in our old truck and took in the view of the alpaca farm down the hill and the glorious eastern horizon where the sunrises will glint down upon the plants and through the numerous trees that reside on his property.

“I really feel that the sage is here to welcome you,” he said.  I was struck and honored at his words.  The sage is prolific there.  It grows rampant this year among the many Cherokee roses.  The prickly pear and the mullein are all there.  Pines so tall they can recall when the Kiowa Indians roamed these hills and called them home.

The owner of this property is well respected, a friend of mine, who works in an emotionally challenging job helping the ill and passing.  He lives in this large home alone.  He needs help here.  It is a glorious home that holds the spirits of his parents that built it.  Sparkling ceilings and medicine bags in the foundations.  The property has a retreat-like property and vortexes abound.  It is a special place. We will live here for a year.  We will help him sort and get ready to let this beautiful house go as he moves on to his next journey next autumn.

In the meantime we will have acres of medicinal herbs and trees to use and protect.  Sunrises that greet us through the walk out basement doors.  Three more cats to add to our menagerie.  One of his chickens approached me in greeting.  A wood cook stove and wood stove to help supplement heat.  A kitchen upstairs for me to make sure everyone has sustenance.  I feel quite well received here among his mother’s things and the spirit of the house and land.  I found Doug in a recliner with one of the house cats on his lap.  I think we’ll be real happy here.

It is two miles from my shop so a brisk morning walk will take place each day but that, perhaps, is a part of the hidden blessings.  Since becoming homeless and losing everything three months ago we have been swimming several times with our granddaughter and friends, to Utah, to a winery, in an airplane, sang on our son’s album, have visited, and made friends.  We have dreamed, comforted, and become fiercely grateful for everything.  We are more flexible and need less.  We will be content with a bed and two chairs before a roaring fire as the snow drops silently outside the window upon the world of peace and quiet.  Cats curled up near us.  A table.  A bookshelf.  Cups of hot coffee.  That is all.  That is all we really need anyway.  Each other and an enjoyment of this life right here and now is what we’ll thrive on.

How to Transplant in July (plants and oneself)

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Can you transplant trees and plants in July?  With the right conditions, yes.  This summer is unusually autumn-like again!  Rain, cool mornings, it is an odd summer…again…or maybe it’s the new norm.  Anyhoo, since we aren’t in our usual hundred degree weather pattern, then transplants will generally take.  I moved the trees we planted a few months ago to my friend’s house.  Their roots were still shallow and I was easily able to dig around the base and lift the trees up.  I did the same with five rose bushes I had planted.  Today I will bring over all the herbs by scooping them out of the soil and quickly placing them in pots.

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The other key to successful transplanting is acting quickly.  Dig the tree up, place it in a trash can with a little soil and get in the truck!  Get to your destination, dig a hole, replant before the tree (rose, herb, vegetable…) is any wiser.  Give a drink, some dappled sun, and there you have it, $500 worth of plants moved to their new home.

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I wish I could capture a picture with my old cracked IPOD of all the hummingbirds swarming around me on this cool morning.  I am sitting on my friend’s balcony looking out across the misty forest, and breathing in the sweet pine and hay scented air.  We spent the night last night.  It felt vacation-like and freeing.  The girls are in their new apartment.  We will get bring our kitties over today and finish all of our moving.  It will take another few weeks to finish being completely out of the house.  It is amazing how long it takes to unfeather a nest.

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Margie’s fairy house

To be continued….

How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

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I had an adorable work crew yesterday on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  Our mission was to plant trees.  Apple, plum, and apricot trees to be exact.

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“Can we climb the trees?” the younger ones asked.

“Maybe your kids will be able to climb the trees!” I responded.

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That certainly seemed a long time away for my young farm hands.

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We live on the property with our landlords, us in the little, old homestead that was built here one hundred and ten years ago.  They are sweet enough to let us farm this property.  We would like to stay here a very long time.  Trees will outlive me and give future generations something wonderful to eat.  These children have decided to eat all the fruit available in the meantime!

“When will there be apples?” they asked.

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The young man pictured above is Will, the son of our neighbors here.  His older sister and husband are here for spring break with their four darling boys.  They are full of fun and energy and a fair amount of humor.  “Hello Mr. Rogers!” they shout as Doug walks by.  “Sanders!” he corrects. “Hello Mrs. Sandra!” to me.  Shyanne and I couldn’t stop laughing at the kids calling Doug Mr. Rogers.  Thoughts of my favorite childhood show in mind.

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Maryjane was in heaven with this many little boys.  She generally stays very close to me, often wanting to be held, but yesterday she wanted to be near the boys.  She walked down our porch and boldly out the gate.  She tried to get them to come back with her.  At one point she was in a large dog kennel with them.  She was completely enamored with these older boys.

To plant trees:  This is a perfect time of year to plant trees.  They are still sleeping and when they wake up next month they will stretch their roots and begin to grow and thrive.

Dig a hole about 18 inches by 18 inches to start.  That very well may be big enough for the trees but you could always make it bigger.  Make sure there are no electrical lines beneath you!

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Then fill the hole half way with water.  This lets you see how fast the water drains.  One of the holes we dug didn’t drain even after two hours so we filled it back up and dug a hole four feet from it and it was perfect.  By watering the hole you are also putting in moisture for the new trees.

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Will and Doug took Maryjane back to Elizabeth when her mom got off work and headed to our favorite nursery to pick up the trees.  I love to support local business and families in the community and Holly Acres in Elizabeth is a great source for plants at a very fair price.

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Stand tree upright in the hole and fill hole half way with organic garden soil.  Then top with the soil that was initially removed from the hole. This allows the pile of dirt to nestle around the neck of the tree and adds a little extra nutrition for the roots.  Don’t put compost on yet as it will burn the sleeping tree.  We will put some compost on in June.

Draw a ring around the tree a foot away from the trunk and fill the little ravine with water.  Mulch with straw or wood chips.

Keep watered year round to ensure a healthy start!

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Is That You Spring?

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I heard a faintly familiar sound as I approached the front door to let the lambs out.  A swooshing and cleansing sound.  The sound of rain.  Of Spring rain.  The shivering breath I had held all winter was released in a single, thankful exhale.  We made it to spring.  We made it through our first winter in this 1905 homestead.  We made it through the thirty-five degree bathroom, we made it snuggled up with cats, and with six layers of clothes on.  We are entering springtime on the homestead.  It is beautiful.

The rain washes the porches and my clothes on the line clean.  The trees are drinking in giant gulps and spreading their arms after their long winter nap.  Bits of green spreads like fingers across the prairie floor.  The meadowlark sings.  The robin searches for worms.  The birds are home for spring.  My gardens await and I have much work to do.  A fresh start and half an acre to prepare in the next few weeks.

Baby season is upon us and the lambs warm our hearts and laps.  The goats are getting large with child.  The world and I are waking up.

Welcome Spring.  You are our blessed guest.

 

The Overhead Garden Plan

Here is one way to get a broader overview of a new garden plan.  Get a bird’s eye view of your property!  Look up your property on Google Earth and print off map.

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From here I can see where the trees are, the shady areas, the barren areas, the possibilities.  I can see that the space by the garden is shady in the summer so I need to plant things in that area that can handle partial shade.  The spot that I considered for the hoop house is partially shaded too.  Not to mention that the lawn chairs in that area are constantly blowing away.  I can see where new fruit trees would work and where a pond could thrive.

In planning a new garden it is important to analyze and observe the space diligently.

Wind- We can sure get our fair share of wind out here.  But because I placed different reading and eating areas all over I can better see where the wind goes.  Beside the house, under the elm trees, is protected.  The cushions on the chairs haven’t even budged.  This is where we will erect a canopy and build an outdoor, off grid kitchen this year.

Sunlight- The porches are very sunny right now.  They will make great spaces to grow food in pots and five gallon buckets.  When the trees are in their full foliage I should be prepared to move them around to get maximum sun or grow cold crops so that by the time the leaves are out the plants won’t require so much sun.

Space- I can see on the map where the trees expand in the summer and can lead me to plant trees a little further out.

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There are many benefits of downloading and printing the overhead view of your land.  You can see where best to fit a chicken coop, where to put a windbreak, or where to put a pond.  Or where to put a hammock!

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You can use little pictures like these and move them around before drawing in the final idea.  Just one more way to plan a new garden or implement a new idea!