Soil Projects


Wow, I see that it’s been over a month since I last posted.  That doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy, busy, busy in the gardens.

First of all, the alley.  Oh, how it has changed.  We have covered the entire 31′ x 7′ strip with cardboard to smother the grass and added layers of leaves and organic waste matter from my SIL’s floral business, which is conveniently located two houses away.  It’s a win-win because she has avoided surcharges on her garbage bill and I don’t have to haul the stuff in or pay for it.  Some patches of this still need more organic material, but we have plenty of leaves so it shouldn’t be an issue.  Then on top we have placed burlap sacks with the hope that they will assist in preserving the moisture needed for the organic materials to break down.  While they will help keep the moisture in, they will also LET more moisture in, something black plastic wouldn’t have been able to do (we also considered this).

My hangup with the alley is:  once all this beautiful material has decomposed and we are establishing perennials in it, will it get washed away?  Do we need to do some kind of edging or ground cover to keep it in place?  This is cheifly a concern down by the driveway.  Ideas?

The sheet-mulched alley

The sheet-mulched alley. Sheet-mulched because it has layers, or sheets, of organic material under the fabric, not because they happen to be bedsheets! 🙂

 

We have done a similar project in the front yard, but only with leaves, and I don’t think enough leaves.  We plan to have a flagstone path installed in the path-y looking opening next year.

New beds in the front yard that will get full sun.

These new beds will get full sun for edibles and ornamentals.

I am currently researching if we should mulch some of our leaves and allow them to remain on the lawn.  The unclear point is how many you can actually leave on and benefit rather than damage the lawn.  I guess what I have to remember is that the backyard grass is pretty darn junky anyway, with a number of dead patches – and I mean, bare soil dead – so if I kill off a little grass, it won’t be a big deal.  But clearly the preferred result would be healthier, greener grass.  Our backyard is the epitome of the term “green concrete.”  There is really nothing to that dirt.  It’s packed and pathetic.  Hopefully adding the leaf material would attract some beneficial organisms to the soil which would aerate, decompose the thatch, and make the grass grow even greener.  But I don’t hold my breath that one batch of chopped up leaves will have that all happening next spring.  Will keep researching.  At any rate it is raining and we are going out of town for the weekend so we have a few days to develop the game plan.

Also still thinking about and learning what to do with the boulevard.  Found a nice information sheet at the Union Park Council Website that has given me some food for thought design-wise.  I think we’d have to remove some soil if we were going to create richer soil lasagna-style in the leftover space.  And of course then you have to put it somewhere . . . so will continue to think about this over the winter.

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There are a lot of areas I’d like to plant up next spring, which would mean lots of sheet mulching this fall.  The gap between the fence and the retaining wall, the boulevard, a sunny mixed vegetable-flower bed up on the top of the wall in the front yard, the alley . . . . and now is the time to be sheet mulching these areas.  But what if spring comes and it’s too much?  What if I don’t want to or don’t get around to doing it all?  Then what?  But it’s such an opportunity to have the leaf mulch break down over the winter and improve our crappy soil . . . however, if I don’t end up doing a lot with those spaces in the spring and all I did was kill the grass, DH will be pissed.

In priority order, the spaces would be:

  1. Alley
  2. Upper yard bed
  3. Gap bed between fence and wall
  4. Boulevard

In fact, the boulevard could wait.  I am not as pumped about it and it feels like overkill.  On the upper yard, I could manage the quantity of work by first starting out with a portion of the yard and seeing how it goes.  Like a 4×8 area rather than the entire section.  I really do want to sheet mulch that area, though, because I feel like if I just plant plants in among the existing grass then that grass will just turn itself into an unwanted later on.  It’s better to dispense with it and let it build soil quality as it decomposes and then mulch, I think.

Alley, oh alley.  DH did’t want the plastic and rock to come up because of drainage issues.  However, the rock is full of weeds and so it is clear that something has to happen back there, and he acknowledges that.  But what if my idea of how to do it (sheet mulch and mulch thick with wood chips, use containers for some plants and plant the rest away from the garage) doesn’t deal with the drainage issues or even makes them worse?  Our garage was kind of a swamp and I think it was things like gutters and fans that improved the situation rather than the plastic and rock, although maybe that made a difference at the time of installation.

So basically, DH has kind of turned over the yard to me, and I don’t want to screw it up for him!  Eekers.

Where the areas in question sit on our lot

Where the areas in question sit on our lot

Today I put down sheet mulch or lasagna mulch in the bed back by our garage.  This bed was growing puny little wimpo plants and I decided it was time for an intervention.  The plants worth saving were transplanted to other beds.

I first learned about lasanga mulch in my current favorite gardening book, The Urban Homestead. Since then, I ran across it in several other books and started doing some research.  I finally settled on the method described by the apparent coiner of the term lasagna mulch, Patricia Lanza, in her Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces. Unfortunately, before doing all this research, we had already put down like a foot of mulch on the bed since we got a truckload from Rainbow Tree Care (For free!  Goody!).  So in order to do Patricia’s method, I had to take off most of what we’d put down.  No worries, it was put back on later.

So essentially in lasagna mulching you make a layered compost pile.  You layer green and brown materials and the effect is a rich gardening medium when the whole thing breaks down.  We had to obtain green materials, which I did through posting an ad on Craigslist and the Twin Cities Free Market.

After taking up the mulch, I laid thick wet newspaper to act as a weed barrier.

Newspaper layer of sheet mulch

Newspaper layer of sheet mulch

Next, I raided our not-quite-finished compost and laid a layer of it out.  I am somewhat nervous about having included all the kitchen scraps for animal reasons, but decided to take the chance.  It’s pretty deeply buried (though maybe I wouldn’t say that if I were a squirrel).

Compost layer

Compost layer

Third, I put down a layer of woodchips (the ones that had come up before).

First mulch layer

First mulch layer

Next came a layer of the wonderful weeds obtained through the online ads.

1st Weed Layer

1st Weed Layer

Repeated the mulch layer and weed layer again, then topped with a final thick layer of mulch.  I did the same on the other side, except used cardboard for the weed barrier since there was no more newspaper left.  So the final product looks like this:

Final Lasagna Mulched Bed

Final Lasagna Mulched Bed

We are going to just leave this bed alone for the rest of this year, although I am thinking about and learning about what role cover cropping may have to play in this scenario (not convinced it has any, yet . . . ).  The hope is that next spring, especially if we top off with leaf litter this fall, we will have far richer soil than what we had to work with this year.  Fingers crossed!!