State of the Garden Address

State of the Garden Address: 5/31/19

What a dreary, rainy week it’s been! Luckily, the sun poked out from behind the clouds long enough this morning for me to snap a few pictures and give you all a State of the Garden Address (the first since there was snow on the ground!)

As a refresher, here were my goals for this summer’s growing season. I’ve already knocked a few off my list!

  1. Balance gardening with the rest of life
  2. Pick mostly easy, low-maintenance seeds and seedlings
  3. Buy seeds and seedlings
  4. Put in two more raised beds
  5. Plant my seed garlic and potatoes
  6. Put in a picket fence and plant flowers along it
  7. Get some raspberry canes established.
  8. Finally, plant my wedding flowers.
potted thyme and mint
As you will notice, both the thyme and mint have been sentenced to a life in pot prison. This is because I don’t particularly feel like them turning into rampant weeds next year. I suggest the same if you have either of these two and don’t want to constantly prune it back!

Two weeks ago, my local county extension office had our Master Gardener Plant Sale. Is there a more glorious day of the gardening year? Hundreds of plants were for sale, all cheap, in great conditions, and from local gardens. And 100% of the proceeds go to support the non-profit work the office does! The thyme above, along with most of the other things I planted in the last week or two, came from that sale. (The chocolate mint came from a local guy.)

I’ve achieved #2, pick mostly easy, low-maintenance seeds and seedlings, thanks to that word “mostly” I threw in there. Through the plant sale, farmer’s market, and FedCo Seeds, I’m all set! All told, I’m growing the following vegetables/edibles this year:

  • onions
  • thyme
  • chocolate mint
  • orange bell peppers (4x)
  • green pepper
  • Tomatoes, Amish paste variety
  • Cherry tomatoes, sungold variety
  • garlic
  • Potatoes, kennebec (or maybe Katahdin) variety
  • Carrots, scarlet Nantes variety
  • Shell beans, Taylor Dwarf variety
  • Raspberries, everbearing
  • Snow peas
  • chives

In addition, I’ve got the following flowers to incorporate into my different flowerbeds:

  • peony (no idea what kind. It’ll be a surprise!)
  • Bearded Iris (violet)
  • Solomon’s seal
  • Hydrangea
  • Sedum
the allium family- chives, onions, and garlic
The Allium section of one of my vegetable plots. From left to right: big chive plant just starting to flower, a row and a half of onions (I don’t know what variety, as I accidentally lost the little popsicle stick with that info. Can I blame Mom brain?), and four rows of late-planted garlic.
Also, do I need to weed my edges or what?

In addition to the plants I introduced to my yard, I’ve had two noteworthy volunteers:

wild strawberries

Finding those toothed leaves in sets of three with the little white flowers made me jump for joy, originally. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve got the coveted WILD strawberry, which is the most delicious berry in the world, or if I have his WOODLAND strawberry cousin, which is not delicious at all, even if its not poisonous. Time will tell!

Lily of the Valley, or Our Lady's Tears

Anyone recognize these lovely ladies? Lily of the Valley, also known as Our Lady’s Tears, jumped the fence over the winter, and now both my neighbor and I have some growing in our yards! This completes half of goal #8, plant my wedding flowers. Hopefully, I’ll have a blog post for you next week about getting some lilacs started, and then I can cross that one off, too.

The last thing I’d like to mention is goal #7, get some raspberry canes established. Though I wouldn’t say they’re established yet, I do have raspberries planted! I happened upon two buckets of everbearing raspberry shoots at the plant sale and immediately jumped on them. I separated the mass of growth into individual shoots, lined them up in a trench filled with finished compost, and said a prayer.

Hopefully, these primocanes (first year growth) will establish themselves this summer, maybe give us a few berries this fall, and be ready for a hearty harvest come next summer!

everbearing strawberries
I’ve definitely got to mulch the area around these guys. I don’t want the weeds overtaking them!

So that’s what I’m up to recently. Phew! Please, I’d love to hear what kinds of plants, fruits, and veggies you all are growing. Let me know in the little box below!

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Lasagna Gardening

Hooray! We’ve made it, ladies and gentlemen. The last frost date of spring has passed here in my corner of zone 5b, and the season has officially begun!

Today, I’d like to show you my preferred method of putting in new garden beds. Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet mulching in the permaculture world, is a technique of layering ingredients on top of each other like a lasagna to form a rich, nutrient-filled soil that will nurture your plants for years to come. I put in a bed this past week* and took some pictures along the way to show you all the steps.

This is the bed I put in last fall. If you want to plant root crops, make sure you give a sheet-mulched bed plenty of time to break down beforehand! The beds I show you how to put in during this post will not be mature enough to handle root crops this season.

To start, carefully pick your location. This bed should be a place that you’ll nurture year after year, so put some thought into where you’re putting it. Mine is going right next to its twin which I put in last fall, as will the subsequent beds I plan on putting in this year. You don’t need to worry about killing whatever’s growing there now; that’ll be taken care of in step two.

Next, mow the lawn/weeds on your chosen plot so they’re as short as possible. Then, water the ground you’ve chosen your bed to be on (or wait for the day after a soaking rain like I did). Both of these steps will help prep the ground for decomposers, which you’ll need to help break down all the materials you’re about to pile up.

After mowing and watering, you’ll lay down a layer of weed barrier directly on top of the ground and/or lawn. I’m using a combination of cardboard and multiple layers of non-glossy newspaper pages. I’ve been collecting these materials all winter for this very purpose, and they did not disappoint! Make sure when you’re putting down your weed barrier you don’t leave any gaps or holes in your barrier, as that will give the weeds (including unwanted grasses) a chance to break through the barrier and take over your bed. As you can see in the picture, there are a couple small holes visible around the edges when I took this picture, but I patched them up before I went on to step three.

weed block barrier in sheet mulched garden bed
This bed is 3′ x 7′. The other one above it is more like 5′ x 8′.

Step three involves using any number of materials to add organic matter to create a beautiful soil structure in your garden bed. Organic matter comes in three forms, as my mentor would say: living, dead, and very dead. Living organic matter includes roots and microbes. Dead organic matter is anything that’s recently died, but still recognizable in its previous form. This can include things like manure, leaf litter, and kitchen scraps. Finally, ‘very dead’ materials are things like fully decomposed compost or manure, where the contents are unrecognizable when compared to their original form.

partially finished compost in sheet mulching garden bed
My first layer: partially finished compost from my backyard pile. If you look closely, you can see half rotted banana peels, egg shells, and pine cones.

You’ll want to use a combination of these three types of organic matter to build up your new garden bed. When I attended a lecture on permaculture in 2016, our speaker, a woman from the Portland Maine Permaculture club shared with us her founders ‘fantasy’ sheet mulch recipe: a layer of seaweed (hey, it’s plentiful and free here in Maine!), followed by layers of rotted manure, fresh grass clippings, and leaf mould. Someday, I’ll try out her method, but this week I had to work with what I had.

The best thing about sheet mulching is that you can use or collect whatever materials you have on-hand for free! Use the same “what not to add” list from my post on composting, or else you might get unwanted weeds, toxins, or vermin in your bed. Aside from that, your only limit is your imagination. I used fresh grass clippings, leaf litter, and a generous layer of totally finished compost from last fall. By the end, the pile was a rich black color and about five inches thick.

So that’s my method of putting in new beds! Questions? Comments? Let’s start a conversation!

*I put in the bed while wearing my newborn daughter. Thanks for your patience during my two month long blog maternity leave!