Summer 2009


We got a new shrub!  It is the first element for the alley renovation.  Hopefully it will grow nice and big and be a screen for the garbage can.  It is a Little Lamb hydrangea.

I should have taken a close-up, but wanted to give the feeling of the alley overall and its progress.  Shrub is up by the garbage can.

I should have taken a close-up, but wanted to give the feeling of the alley overall and its progress. Shrub is up by the garbage can.

We got so much done! So much! Yippeeeeeee!

Remember the alley? I shoveled the rock into three piles, pulled the weeds up, pulled the plastic edging up, removed some plastic. Next: lay pavers to have a pad for the garbage can and to access the behind-the-garage space. Then: slope land appropriately. Following that: sheet mulch the heck out of the whole strip. Here’s hopin’ for some black gold!

Alley before

Alley before

Alley now, although this picture doesn't do the work justice!

Alley now, although this picture doesn't do the work justice!

We also finished painting/staining birdhouses and putting them up.  Supa cute.  FINALLY!  This project has been hanging over me (hahaha) for well over six weeks.

Hard to spot them, but there are three birdhouses - one in the foreground tree, one in the background tree, and one on the garage.

Hard to spot them, but there are three birdhouses - one in the foreground tree, one in the background tree, and one on the garage.

Also marked the plants so I’ll know where they are in the spring, stockpiled green materials from SIL’s floral business (two doors away) for the above-mentioned sheet mulching, AND kept the kitchen clean throughout all of this.  If that doesn’t seem to fit, it does, because we still had to eat.

Yum!  Green garbage will feed the soil goodies!

Yum! Green garbage will feed the soil goodies!

Ah.  Labored all of Labor Day, but am all set for the first day of all kids tomorrow.

How could I forget one of the most important things?!  DH hung this cool old window for a decoration . . .

Window decoration.  Still has the glass.  Tres cool.

Window decoration. Still has the glass. Tres cool.

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

I am hot and heavy into Gaia’s Garden right now and there was one section I thought deserved further reflection.  The author, Toby Hemenway, outlines an “ecological design process” involving the following steps:

  1. Observation
  2. Visioning
  3. Planning
  4. Development
  5. Implementation.

I am totally in observation and maybe in visioning, and that’s good.  When I set my goal earlier this summer on 43 Things to “Make our yard a place we love to be while not bite off more than I can chew,” I knew that I needed to take this summer not to get too eager but rather to figure out the eccentricities of the yard, particularly the light situation.  I knew this wasn’t the summer to be putting in shrubs or trees, etc., or spending tons of money on perennials (plus I’m cheap 😉 ).  We knew we wanted a fence and so that is going in soon!  Once that’s done we can do a lot more visioning, or dreaming.

The other morning during a hard rain I got a chance (finally!) to go outside and observe how the water flowed on our property.  It was interesting to note what was going on.  Rain puddled in areas I didn’t know it would, and that gives me some ideas for making mini rain gardens or mulch basins or something to store that in the soil rather than having it run off.  Particularly along the edge of the boulevard, the rain gushed along that grass and ran off.  If we kind of sank that edge down and made a mini swale and berm type system, or even some raingardens (I once read a raingarden shouldn’t be located in a boulevard, but have also heard it’s fine, so not sure – but we are going to a class on raingardens in a few weeks!).

I am also visioning (dreaming) a lot about next year’s garden, particularly the edible portions.  Berries on the back of the garage, shrubs (hopefully also with berries for the birdies) along our new fence, using our vertical space better and also our sunny front yard for something other than grass, how to best (and legally) use the boulevard, since we’re on a corner lot and it comprises a lot of our surface area, what kind of soil amendments would be the best to do this year to make some of this a possibility for next year.  Lots to think about!

I will tag my entries according to these phases of the ecological design process to help myself organize these thoughts.

I don’t have photos right now, but in keeping with the journaling idea of this blog, I’m going to make a little update anyway.

  1. Hostas: Added several lovely hostas to the back bed, the one I sheet mulched a few weeks ago.  Three are ones with huge leaves, like elephant ears.  I hadn’t planned to use this bed this year, but needed a place for these beauties, so broke down and did it.  The layers of this bed are decomposing nicely, though I have doubted my wisdom in using the wood chips.  They will take a long time to decompose.  On the plus side, they will help the soil stay loose as well as retain moisture throughout the soil.  So while I don’t think they are bad, I think I will try to stay away from them in the future, at least as a layer.  Maybe they’d be best only as a topper.  Of course, my dream is to get it to the point where you don’t care what your top mulch looks like because the plants are so thick in the beds you can’t see it anyway.
  2. Rock edging:  My parents found a rock pile on their property and we are the lucky recipients.  Woohoo!  So now a full quarter of a bed is edged off 😉  Maybe in the fall when the crops are done we can steal some from by my aunt and uncle’s property.
  3. (Drum roooooooooooooll please) Fence!!!!:  We paid for a fence today to be installed by September.  It will be a four-foot high semi-private fence.  We (especially our dog) are very excited.  I would love to line both sides with shrubs, especially shrubs that make berries for birds, or berries for us.
  4. Reading:  Of course, I continue to read.  In addition to the reviews I’ve already posted, I’m now on Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway.
  5. Dreaming: The alley really bothers me.  It is horribly ugly, but we have moisture problems in our garage, so hubby is less than enthusiastic about ripping up the plastic and rock he installed.  Dreaming of berry bushes for next year.

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!!