Sheet Mulching: Workshop

Finished Bed

The key to a successful workshop is copious amounts of preparation. Or so I hoped.

Claudia Bolli of Wildgreen Garden Consulting was on her way to my place to teach a workshop and I was hoping that as the host of the event I was ready. Ten students were coming on this crisp fall morning to learn about sheet mulching and I had been collecting material for the hands-on portion of the workshop for two months.

Sheet mulching, sometimes referred to as lasagna gardening, is the process of creating a garden space through the layering of compostable materials in a very specific manner. Basically you lay down a cardboard barrier then nitrogen rich greens and carbon rich browns alternating until you have a tall pile of material that slowly decompose into a workable garden plot.

Sheet mulching saves the back-breaking labour of digging out sod and the budget-breaking expense of hauling in soil. A garden can be created right over the grass using clean, chemical-free biodegradable materials found on your own property and/or scrounged from neighbours and friends.

And scrounge I did. I collected grass clippings from my own lawn, but was given additional lawn waste from family members. My critical stipulation was that the clippings couldn’t have any traces of herbicide, as I didn’t want to poison my brand new garden for years to come.

I advertised on the internet and found a woman who offered me bags and bags of her garden waste. With this material I was careful to remove any weed seed heads and avoid anything that might infest my garden. I took nearly twenty bags of material from her yard and with a shredder I reduced it to the equivalent of two.

Leaves were the easiest to find – a drive down my back alley netted a dozen large bags.

I also brought home a dozen bags of washed up partially decomposed reeds from a beach in Manitoba which were rich in carbon and micronutrients.

I had wood shavings from a neighbour’s attic, a pail of chicken manure, a bag of bone meal, two bales of partially rotted straw and a bin of finished compost from my own compost pile to use as an inoculant.

I had shovels, a pitchfork, rakes and a hose ready to be put to work.

Claudia arrived shortly before the seminar was to begin and through the magic of modern technology we managed to project her PowerPoint presentation on my flat screen TV.

She presented a two hour interactive talk which covered everything from permaculture to soil-building. There was so much material to cover, but the participants were anxious to get to the hands-on portion of the course. After a brief break we found ourselves out in my front yard and it was time to find out if I had done enough preparation or if my efforts were to fall short.

Earlier in the week I had dug a swale along the highest point in my front yard. To the north of the swale was where the new bed would be created and the idea was to run water from my roof into the swale allowing it to ultimately reach the plants in the new garden. This eight-inch deep trench would later be filled with bits of old brick and covered with wood chips to create an attractive border for the bed.

After the students had looked over the area to be transformed, we began loosening up the sod with a fork, poking deep holes every six to eight inches. I had watered the area the day before, so the soil was relatively easy to penetrate. We spread an even layer of chicken manure followed by a dusting of bone meal, both high in nitrogen.

Courtesy of Wild Green Garden Consulting

We laid down a single layer of dense cardboard, filling any cracks or holes with several layers of newspaper and overlapping the cardboard by a minimum of six inches to prevent future grass growth.

After watering down the cardboard we added a two inch layer of grass clippings and fresh garden waste, also high in nitrogen. We followed this with a layer of leaves, then alternated layers of greens and browns until we topped off the twelve-inch lasagna with the nutrient-rich reeds I’d hauled back from Manitoba.

With everyone helping out the project took just over an hour, and I had enough material left over to make an admirable compost pile under my spruce tree. A few finishing touches to the border and we were done. Many hands make light work.

By building up instead of digging down, sheet mulching is a great way to develop a new bed without all the sweat and tears. This won’t be my last lasagna project. Mmmm….lasagna.

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Baked Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

At the end of the growing season I had a large container of cherry tomatoes (thanks to my very productive Tumblers) and decided that I needed to find a new recipe. I had simply been popping them in my mouth every time I opened the fridge door. At that rate I wasn’t going to get them all eaten, so I decided to try baking them and having them as a side dish. Here’s the delicious result.

Recipe:

Cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic

fresh thyme and chives

fresh ground pepper

1 tbsp olive oil, drizzled

1 tbsp lemon juice, drizzled

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes and enjoy

Winners and Losers in 2011 Growing Season

Meet my favorites and those I wouldn’t grow again

I sowed many varieties of both vegetables and flowers in 2011, and I know which I’ll be bringing back in 2012 and which will not be making a return visit to gardeninggrrl’s garden. In addition to direct sowing, this year was the first time in many that I started dozens of my plants indoors under grow lamps. I had some successes and some failures, and I’m happy to share my experience with everyone.

Winners

Beans Straight 'N' Narrow

Green Bean Straight ‘N’ Narrow (T and T)

-high rate of germination

-more beans than I can eat

Pepper Serrano del Sol (T and T)

-10 days to germinate

-high rate of germination

-lots of hot peppers per plant

Pepper Jalapeño Mucho Nacho (T and T)

-10 days to germinate

-high rate of germination

-4-5 hot peppers per plant

Onion Candy Hybrid

Onion Candy Hybrid (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-large, flavorful onions

Tomato Tumbler (T and T)

-6 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-dozens of cherry tomatoes

-early tomato, still producing until end of August

-great in containers

Eggplant Hansel

Eggplant Hybrid Hansel (T and T)

-19 days to germination

-high level of germination

-lots of eggplants per plant

-needs a ton of heat and sunny spot

-plants with only moderate heat never flowered

Lettuce Romaine Baby Star (T and T)

-3 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-extremely tasty lettuce

-should have started more a few weeks later

Lettuce Esmeralda (T and T)

-3 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-excellent butter-type lettuce

-lasted long before bolting

Oriental Greens Mix

Oriental Greens Mix (Harmonic Herbs)

-excellent mix of early greens

-bolt quickly

Leaf Lettuce Mesclun Mix (T and T)

-excellent mix of early greens

Carrot Nantes Scarlet Coreless (Seed Centre)

-excellent rate of germination

-very sweet carrot

Petunia Shock Wave Denim

Petunia Shock Wave Denim (T and T)

-9 days to germination

-low level of germination

-extremely prolific flowering plant

-excellent in containers or beds

Sweet Basil (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-low level of germination

-prolific production once established

Cosmos Double Click

Cosmos Double Click (T and T)

-moderate level of germination

-huge plants with tons of blossoms

-lasts for almost two months

Viper’s Bugloss (Bedrock Seeds)

-11 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-lovely early flowers

Morning Glory Carnevale (T and T)

-moderate germination

-prolific flowers for over a month

Impatiens Super Elfin Blend

Impatiens Super Elfin Blend (T and T)

-10 days to germination

-moderate level of germination

-slow to develop

-lovely once established

Dahlia Unwins Dwarf Hybrid

Dahlia Unwins Dwarf Hybrid (T and T)

-6 days to germination

-moderate rate of germination

-lovely flowers for well over a month

Peas Sugar snap (McKenzie)

-high number of pods per plant

Cucumber Early Russian (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

-excellent production

Losers

Cucumber Early Mincu (Pike)

-low level of germination

-low production of cucumbers

Tomato Prairie Pride (T and T)

-11 days to germination

-high rate germination

-poor number of tomatoes per plant

Tomato Centennial Rocket (T and T)

-no germination on two attempts

Tomato Charlie’s Red Staker (T and T)

-8 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-poor number of tomatoes per plant

Swiss Chard Bright Lights (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

Spinach Catalina (T and T)

-low level of germination

-quick to bolt

Spinach Razzle Dazzle (T and T)

-low level of germination

-quick to bolt

Onion Evergreen Bunching (Pike)

-low level of germination

Sweet Pea Royal Family Mixed (McKenzie)

-low level of germination

-slow to germinate

Portulaca Sundial Mix (T and T)

-no germination

Coleus Wizard Mix (T and T)

-low germination

-no significant development of plants

Neutral

Eggplant Asian Ping Tung Long (McKenzie)

-16 days to germination

-high rate of germination

-none flowered due to inappropriate growing conditions

Beet Deep Cylinder (T and T)

-good germination

-small beets, uneven growth

Parsley Champion Moss Curled (McKenzie)

-16 days to germination

-low level mod germination

-prolific parsley once established

Peas Lincoln Homesteader (McKenzie)

-low number of pods per plant

-slow to germinate

Bean Pole Scarlet Runner (McKenzie)

-high level of germination

-non-edible beans (although Lucy ate some)

What’s Blooming in July: a Look at my Zone 3 Garden

Cosmos

A lovely bunch of bees have made my back garden a part of their evening tour. I’m flattered. They buzz from Dahlias to Cosmos, but particularly enjoy the Allium. Perhaps it’s the smell, or maybe the bright pink flowers that attracts them to this relative of garlic and chives. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as they enjoy my garden and make themselves at home. Buzz buzz.

 

 

 

 

Project: Silver Spoon Plant Markers

Basil marker

I saw a similar project online and decided to see if I could duplicate it myself with a few simple tools. I thought these might not only be nice in my herb garden, but would make excellent Christmas gifts.

I started with the purchase of a metal stamp letter/number set at my local Michaels. They are also available at Amazon.com (or .ca) and eBay. I also went to a thrift store and bought a few silver soup spoons – the price will vary with where you find them, but I paid a dollar apiece for these ones.

I pulled out my anvil (actually it’s just a vise with a hard flat surface that I can hammer on) and my hammer and my safety eyewear. Metal on metal hammering is responsible for more eye injuries than anything else, so safety first.

Flattening the spoon was easier than I expected. I began at the deepest part of the bowl, then worked my way outward. The rustic look is what I was going for, so it didn’t have to be perfectly smooth.

I then drew a pencil line across the widest part of the flattened spoon and beginning with the middle letter of the herb (that is, for Thyme I began with the Y) I hammered in the letter with five or six strikes. I then proceeded to move outwards with each new letter, trying to keep a reasonable balance and spacing.

When all of the letters were completed I used a black permanent marker to fill in the recesses and wiped off the excess with a cloth. Voilà – ten minutes each to create these nifty herb markers. Guess what everyone’s going to find under the tree this year?

Oregano marker

Cheapest. Greenhouse. Ever.

Cheapest greenhouse on the block

Ok, I’ve definitely saved a few bucks over the years by salvaging and re-purposing, but this time I think I reached a new record for the cheapest creation in my backyard. It’s my new “greenhouse” made from a metal shelving unit I found in my neighbor’s trash and two dollar-store vinyl tablecloths I bought for $2 apiece. Total cost = $4 for this amazingly ugly greenhouse which I will hopefully only need to use for two weeks while I harden off my seedlings.

BTW: those are my Dahlias enjoying the warm Edmonton afternoon outside. I planted them on March 25th and they are a good 6 inches tall already.

Dabbling in Dibbles

Insert the pegs and glue them in place

When I saw my first dibble board I thought, “Why haven’t I already made one of these?” It’s that kind of tool – a “duh” tool that should be in every gardeners shed.

A dibble (or dibber)  is a tool that makes a hole – ostensibly to sow a seed, but alternately for any purpose. They’ve been around since Roman Times.

Well, that’s all good and fine, but who wants to plant each and every seed by making a little hole one at a time? I wanted to take it to the next level, so I decided to make a dibble board.

As a square-foot gardener (for the most part) I wanted to create a board, or series of boards, that I could use to lay out a pattern for each individual foot of my raised bed. This meant that I would need one that made 16 holes per square foot, one that made 9 and one that poked 4 holes.

Square-foot gardening treats every foot of the garden as a separate patch in which you can sow any number of different vegetables or flowers. If you are growing carrots in that square foot, then you would sow 16 seeds. If you are growing spinach, you’d only sow 4. It’s a very efficient means of gardening, and if done correctly it looks great as well.

For sowing in past years I had made three cardboard guides with holes that I could drop the seeds through or poke a pencil through to make an appropriate hole. This was a bit lame, as they cardboard looked like heck and poking the holes in the soil was time consuming.

This spring I decided to make my own dibble board, so I began with a trip to Home Depot to pick up some plywood. I actually found a free piece of scrap plywood in their waste material that was exactly the right width for the project. All I had to do was cut three 12 x 12 inch pieces and I was ready to start making dibbles.

Using what I hoped would be simple mathematical principles, I drew out a pattern on each piece of wood and marked the location of the holes. I then searched around for something to use as pegs in each of the holes and decided that my collection of sponge paint brushes (10 for $1 at Michael’s) could spare an inch off the end of each brush. The handles were 3/8″ diameter and worked perfectly, although it took me some time to cut each one with the chop saw.

I drilled matching 3/8″ holes at the marked locations in the board and glued each of the pegs in place. Since I was using 1/4″ plywood, each peg stuck out just under 3/4 of an inch. This will make a hole too deep for some seeds, so that has to be considered when pressing the board into the soil. I don’t personally think that the depth of the hole is as critical as how much soil is placed over the seed once it’s been planted.

I tried out my new set of dibbles already, and I think they did the job marvelously. I was able to plant all of my carrots in no time. Of course, it snowed the next day – but that’s just part and parcel of growing vegetables in zone 3. Sigh.