Well, we are off for a spring break trip to Miami on Monday.  Seems the temp will be the same here as in Miami.  Doh.

When we come home, we are going to start some seeds (esp. tomato) under our grow lights in the basement.  I also did some winter sowing, so I am hoping those sprout for us eventually, too . . .

I am also hatching a plan for how to get some of the aged manure from my parents’ house an hour away from here down to my place.  I would like to top-dress our new beds with this, but maybe I should just buy compost by the yard.  It is more expensive than free, but also we shouldn’t plant in the manure, right?

And then there’s the lawn.

Oh bah.  I am getting all confused.


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.

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

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Cover of Gaias Garden

Cover of Gaia's Garden

This book was outstanding.  It was a fantastic blend of how to make your yard into a lush food forest and why to do the things he recommends.  I loved the chapters on soil and water.  I also liked how he made mention of chickens and other animals but didn’t dedicate so much space to it like other books (not where we’re at with the process right now, so we just skip all the farm animal talk).  I loved how he presented, explained, and recapped his ideas at the end.  I can see how this would be a totally overwhelming book for a first book with these concepts.  Though far from an expert, at least I’ve read several related books in the last few months so the terms and ideas he presents are not totally unfamiliar.  Still, the gardens he’s talking about take lots of vision and lots of dedication to that vision.

I read the first edition, but just bought the second edition.  I don’t know if there are any differences yet other than the color used in printing, but am excited to find out!  ETA:  Yes, there is a whole exciting additional chapter called “Permaculture in the City!”  This is such good news – I am in a city!!  🙂  Plus within that chapter there is a whole large-ish section of advice on how to use what we in the Twin Cities call the boulevard, though he calls it the parking strip – that piece of land between the sidewalk and the street.  We have a lot of this land being on a corner lot, so I was so happy to see it recognized and get some real tips for it.  Plus, one of the ideas he presents is an idea I had already thought up all on my own for improved water harvesting (to lower the sidewalk a little along the sidewalk, like a mini-swale, to catch the runoff during stronger rains).

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.