Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Garden: Ugly "Before" Pictures

This is going to be the garden equivalent of one of those TV reality shows.  You know, the ones where they start out with someone who's ugly and unfashionable, and give them every kind of makeover imaginable until at the end they look like a super model.  Or at least better than they did before.

This is what we're starting with.  As you can see, we've got the "ugly" part well in hand:

For several years, this patch of ground was our main horse paddock.  So the ground has been grazed down to bare dirt, the soil has been compacted to brick-like hardness, and much of the topsoil has been eroded away from the constant dumping and refilling the horses' water troughs.

Then we sold all the horses, and the paddock was abandoned for a year, which allowed all manner of unpleasant weeds to take over.  A 6-foot-tall forest of thorny and toxic plants like thistle and jimson weed grew, flourished, and spread their seeds lavishly over the entire area.

Are you scared yet?  Because, frankly, I am, a little.  Just thinking of all those millions of little weed seeds waiting to spring forth and devour my future garden makes me cringe.  It's going to be an uphill battle!

With the poor condition of the soil, we decided that building raised beds would give us our best shot at success.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, in the absence of funds to build "real" raised beds, I was planning to rescue a large stash of old, discarded bricks out of the woods to use as edges for the beds.  

But while walking around making plans for the garden, I happened to notice the three abandoned telephone poles the power company left when they replaced our poles last year.  We've been keeping them, thinking we'd figure out something useful to do with them eventually.

Turns out they are exactly the length we wanted our raised beds to be!

Ken spent some time mowing down the forest of last year's weed stalks, and since the poles were far too heavy for us to move by ourselves, we got our neighbor to bring his tractor over to drag them into position.

They are spaced about 7 feet apart---room for a planting bed and a path between each one.  To compensate for the slight slope in the ground, we'll use the thick telephone poles as the lower side of the beds, and bring the old bricks or other smaller poles to form the top edges of the beds.

Next, we had planned to rototill the beds to break up the hard ground.  But when Ken dragged the tiller out of the shed, it wouldn't work.  Not exactly surprising, since the last time we used it was about seven years ago, before we had even moved to this farm.  So now we're considering whether to wait until we can get the tiller fixed before continuing our garden prep, or just skip tilling, and move on to the next step.

Just as a matter of timing, I'm leaning towards just moving to the next step.  First, because our pickup truck also just broke down and is currently at the shop, so we couldn't haul the tiller anywhere to be repaired right now anyway.

Second, because the "next step" we had planned was to thoroughly mulch the bottom of the garden beds with the old, spent bedding and hay from the lambing barn.  Since lambing time is fast approaching, I need to take advantage of this week's good weather and clean out the lambing barn in the next couple of days.  I would much rather haul all that mulch directly to the place where I want it, rather than having to pile it somewhere and then move it again after the beds are tilled.

After the bottoms of the garden beds are mulched with a thick layer of hay and bedding, we'll add compost and topsoil on top for the seeds to grow in.  The theory is that the hay mulch will help suppress the weed seeds that are already in the soil and will gradually decompose and add more humus to the beds.

Ideally, we would spend this year doing all this soil improvement, weed suppressing, and raised-bed building, and wait until next year before trying to grow anything in these beds.  But as I mentioned in my earlier post, we have our free seeds from The Dinner Garden sitting here waiting for a place to grow.  These seeds are counting on us, so even though conditions this year won't be ideal, we'll do our best.

With a little luck and a lot of work, perhaps by this time next year our ugly garden will look like a super model after all!


savelad said...

Best of luck, Nancy! Can't wait to see the Ugly Duckling blossom into the beautiful Swan...

V.R. Leavitt said...

Good find with those telephone poles!! Good luck! If it's anything like your previous garden, it'll be nothing short of spectacular.

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