(Or, Gardening for Knuckle-Draggers)

Discussion in 'The Green Patch' started by OldDude49, Jan 15, 2019.

  1. OldDude49

    OldDude49 Just n old guy

    Guerrilla Gardener: Some Thoughts and Observations on Vegetable Food Production (Or, Gardening for Knuckle-Draggers)
    January 14, 2019
    One of the truisms of gardening is that “Your first year of gardening will result in abject failure.” There’s so much to learn, about the plants, about starting seeds, about your local soil conditions and what amendments are needed, about weather and climactic conditions, etc.

    We had gardens when I was a kid. We successfully raised rocks, tomatoes, rocks, okra, rocks, and peas, as I recall. Of course, as any gardener will tell you, those are some of the simplest crops to raise in a kitchen garden. In fact, they’re so easy to grow, you could almost grow them without even planting them (especially the case with rocks…).

    After leaving home for the Army, I had never had a garden. Hell, I’d never had a potted plant.

    My wife had never, as far as I know, had a garden in her life.

    So, when we decided to start raising most of our own food, to increase our sustainability, my first instinct was to raise small livestock: chickens, rabbits, etc. Of course, I’m a meat-eater, both literally and figuratively, so that makes sense. My wife on the other hand, likes her veggies, and we want the kids to eat well-balanced meals, so a garden, it was decided, was a necessity (And, to be clear, by “it was decided,” I mean, HH6 said, “We’re going to plant a garden this year!” and I responded with, “Roger that, boss!”)

    So, as is my norm, when confronted with a new, unfamiliar—foreign—mission, I started doing my “Area Study” research. I dug out a couple dozen books on subsistence gardening, organic gardening, no-till gardening, and etc.

    Let me set your mind at ease: there’s a metric fuckton of material available out there on gardening, and it’s fair to say that any given reference book on the subject will contradict what every other available reference book will say.

    In the end, between our research, and my wife and I bickering about differing visions for the farm’s production, here’s what we ended up trying (read to the end to find out how it turned out):

    We used a combination of “Lasagna Gardening,” and Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening.”

    Lasagna Gardening has nothing to do with meat, tomato sauce, and noodles. It is simply a technique for creating your own topsoil for planting. In a nutshell, it involves laying down something to act as a weed barrier, such as old carpet or cardboard, or even old newspaper (we used old cardboard and old newspapers, collected from a local lady that owns a shop in town, and I’ve known her since I was a kid), followed by alternating layers of straw and compost. If you could cut away the side and look at it, the resulting product would look like a shit-and-straw dish of lasagna, with its layers.

    The benefit of this is that you end up with an almost perfect ratio of nitrogen:carbon, and—assuming you’re using decent compost, you end up with a pretty good base of plant nutrients as well.

    Square-Foot Gardening, on the other hand, originally utilized a specific blend of store-bought soil amendments, in ratios developed by Mr. Bartholomew—which we promptly ignored as both unnecessarily expensive, and completely unsustainable, in the long-term. What we did find useful was his method of laying out planting beds, divided into square foot sections, with the distribution of seeds, within those square foot sections, predicated on what the plant was, and how much room it needed to grow.

    Since we were planting only heirloom, heritage seeds, that are considerably more expensive than the shitty cast-off seeds you buy at the Wal-Mart or Lowe’s gardening section, the reduced waste of not planting then thinning, was appealing.

    So, we used Square-Foot Gardening, with Lasagna Gardening for the soil building.

    We built four-foot by four-foot garden beds. We bought straw the first year, but only because we had too anyway for animal bedding and for part of the house construction. We ended up with a tractor-trailer load worth of straw. When some of it got wet, after the neighbor’s cows knocked down part of the pile, it was a no-brainer to go ahead and use it.

    We started a compost pile, as soon as we bought the property, combining cut grass, animal droppings, and those kitchen wastes that we didn’t feed to the animals (we also use a composting toilet, which could be applied to the garden, but for my wife’s sanity, we reserve it only for use on fruit trees in the orchard, and even then, only after it has aged for a year or two.). So, when we started the garden, we had a half-dozen 4×4 boxes, 12 inches deep, filled with alternating layers of straw and compost. Then, we scraped up enough topsoil to cover the top, and to plant the seeds in.

    Did it work?

    The first years, we had so many cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and other shit that, even with eating it all summer, and the kids getting into the garden and eating off the plants, I would guess that something like 60% of what we grew ended up getting fed to the livestock.

    Now, this was partly because we weren’t set up yet for long-term preservation. The house wasn’t built, and the temporary cabin we were living in was only a 12×32 foot structure, with the “kitchen” taking up 6×8 feet of one corner. With myself, the missus, and two young children, it was a little….tight.

    Last year, we didn’t raise anything in the garden. The wife was pregnant, and ended up delivering the youngest in the middle of the summer, and she had zero interest in being out in the heat gardening, when she was roughly the shape of a beach ball with legs…

    This year, she’s already got her garden plan set. She’s got her seeds organized and catalogued. She’s got another half-dozen beds built and filled. She’s got the kitchen set up for canning and drying.

    There are multiple benefits to the blend of methods we used. With lasagna gardening, there is no tilling. I didn’t need to spend money on a tiller or plow. We’re not tearing up the subsurface structures in the soil that break down nutrients so the plants can utilize them, requiring the addition of chemical fertilizers to provide adequate nutrients. A couple years in, what we have, atop our clay soil, and 4-6 inches of native topsoil (this was farm ground and grazing pasture for 200 years, before it started going back to feral shrubbery when we bought it), is 12 inches of the richest, most thoroughly lively top soil you could imagine. It’s what I expect the top soil looked like in most of the eastern US when the forests were first cut for farming.

    An additional benefit is that we don’t need to do much to refresh the soil. We toss a couple shovels of compost on the top, in the early spring, a few weeks before we are ready to plant. Then, a week or so before planting, we toss on a couple shovelfuls of fresh rabbit shit (the nitrogen levels are lower than other manure, so it won’t scald the young plants). Then, we put the seeds in, already spread to appropriate growing distances, and we watch.

    Because of the amount of organic material in the created topsoil, it does an amazing job of holding moisture that the plants need to grow, even when it gets up into triple digits in the summer, and we don’t see rain for a month or so at a time. This is a bonus benefit, because we haul water for the garden in five gallon buckets, from rainwater catchment off the garden shed, so the less we have to water, the better.

    It takes, at most, an hour, to put in the compost addition in the spring, and that is basically it for garden prep.

    Planting might take two days of leisurely effort. Honestly, so far, the hardest part of this method has been actually harvesting the crops…damn it…

    more on site...

    Guerrilla Gardener: Some Thoughts and Observations on Vegetable Food Production (Or, Gardening for Knuckle-Draggers)
    natshare, GOG, STANGF150 and 8 others like this.
  2. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Very good article. He did suggest using old carpet as a barrier which I would discourage. Old carpet is toxic. It is worth reading the rest of the article & I know we have a few threads on how-to humanure.
    Zimmy, Dunerunner, Ganado and 2 others like this.
  3. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    Lasagna & square foot is a superb combination. No-till gardening is definitely the way to go.

    Carpet on the bottom is bad, as is plastic sheet on top to prevent weeds.

    The soil needs to breathe, lest undesirable fungus or molds take hold.

    Shingling with cardboard works well for me. The pieces don't have to be large, they only have to block the sun and the fall of weed seeds from wind & passing birds.

    I anchor my shingles down with a few rocks, in the always-handy RR size.

    Toss in a little drip irrigation and then just sit back and watch yourself not have to work hard.

    Plant worms if your garden is not already well populated. They provide much-needed aeration of the soil, as well as softening it.

    SRS (Suffocating Root Syndrome) is most obvious in heavy-clay soil. Roots need air every bit as much as water. The plant energy needed to drill roots through hard soil doesn't leave much for making produce.
  4. OldDude49

    OldDude49 Just n old guy

    good info... n carpet would NOT be the way I would go either...
    Motomom34 and Gator 45/70 like this.
  5. azrancher

    azrancher Monkey +++

    Carpet and plastic are a pain in the behind.
    My experience with paper (shredded TS and Secret documents) from our shredder at work was also a failure, it doesn't decompose.

    Zimmy, Motomom34 and Gator 45/70 like this.
  6. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    My area has no soil, it is all beach sand. The green areas compromise mixed undergrowth of Salal, Huckleberry, and Rhododendron with the top growth being Shore pine, Douglas fir and Hemlock fir. All that gets ripped out along with the very thin "soil" level the native growth depends upon for nutrients.

    I took over $150 of amendments to turn that sand into a 4'X10' planter box for my wife's bulb bed. Nearly 20 bags of barnyard blend, and 10 bags of worn castings just to get ~12" of plant ready soil for the bulbs and a ton of shovel work to turn everything in.

    Trying to convince SWMBO that we need to put up a 10'X20' greenhouse, but the resistance is insane..... :)

    The Lasagna approach to soil blending looks like a real winner and I may give it a try this next fall...
    Zimmy, Motomom34 and Gator 45/70 like this.
  7. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    The only issue I have with the lasagna layering method is that it creates layers. But with layers, the issues is some will drain better then others. They say to mix you soil especially in areas that may have clay. The plant roots are going to travel but what if the moisture cannot get through the layers easily? We have a monsoon season and I know if things do not drain easily then pooling becomes a huge issue. I tried newspaper. It was a soggy layer. I was not impressed. I guess it was good for holding moisture
    Gator 45/70, Dunerunner and Zimmy like this.
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