So many people have privately asked me for photos of our very much a work in progress garden and yard that I have decided just to post the photos all in one place.
Last week, I planted Moon & Stars watermelon seeds. Here’s trusting they will take, even with the recent near-freezing temperatures at night. They’re so very pretty, but we never had a long enough season in Madison, Wisconsin, nor did we have enough space. We’ve got plenty of space in Goshen, Indiana! Not to be outdone, Wisconsin is well represented, too, by Pride of Wisconsin cantaloupe for David’s mom.
Heirloom Melons. Sorry, the photo absolutely will not turn right side up!
I’ve also started some cucumber seeds from a delicious variety I grew in 2011, and then some Boston Marrow squash. Apparently, Boston Marrow used to be the winter squash of early America, with exceptionally tender flesh and no fibrous strings. I’ll be using some of the melon and squash plants as weed deterrents, while trellising others into a vertical garden. I planted them all in lime green milk crates lined with landscaping cloth and will eventually trellis some and leave others to spread across the yard.
I’m excited about the milk crates. We got 10 of them for only $3.57 each. Quite the bargain, and they look so cute with their brown landscape cloth inserts! I filled them with a half and half mixture of top soil and an organic compost and marine blend. Below you can see six of the crates huddled together, including some Acorn Squash starts I purchased from the new Whole Foods Market in Mishawaka.
Our yard has turned into a gardening laboratory. I’m testing so many different soil types, alternate in-ground and raised bed arrangements, and leaving my huge crop of dandelions largely untouched in the backyard. It’s too funny that I’ve turned into the mad gardening scientist.
Cubic Foot Gardening with the InstaBed … and protective gnomes
The above photo shows two of our three InstaBeds, which I am BetaTesting this year. I’ve already learned one important fact, which is that my “brilliant” idea of a modified hugelkultur (wood chips and compost instead of logs) in the unusable grow space under each successive tier was not the best forethought. The surrounding soil is definitely warm and rich; however, the under-tiers have begun to sink at a rate of approximately 2 inches per week. I’ve managed to add some additional soil to the top two tiers, but I have yet to figure out how to add more to the bottom layer, underneath the other two tiers. As a result, our backyard garden looks even more chaotic and hodgepodge than anticipated. In the future, I would recommend keeping a balanced ratio of soil under the tiers or else using actual logs for hugelkultur, since they will break down much more slowly.
I will say that I’m happy with the beds so far, though. The soil is dramatically warmer than that of the milk crates, and I barely need to water the InstaBeds, because the wood mulch inside has retained so much of the rain water. In that regard, they are a definite success. I do have them heavily leaf and wood mulched, because any uncovered soil in the garden would invite yet another dandelion takeover. I also have enjoyed the microclimates afforded by the round beds.
If I did it over again, I would have assembled them as concentric circles rather than a cascade. I think that might have helped with the sagging, uneven appearance, and I have found that this part of our yard gets so much sun that I really could have planted some happy plants on the dreaded North side. Watercress, for example, would have enjoyed the partial shade, and sometimes requires me placing a gnome on the tier at the sunniest point of a hot day. For colder weather crops, the black, foot deep, tiered InstaBeds will likely live up to their promise of extended growing seasons by warming the soil. I also like the Cubic Foot Gardening potential of staggering the plants so that the beds allow for more intensive growth. Larger plants can branch out in the different layers but still allow for a lot of expansion without as much overlap.
More Raised Beds and the Compost Bin
The above photo shows the other InstaBed, plus what I refer to as the “bed bed,” the repurposed frame of a retired (and very disappointing!) Sleep Number Bed. That bed only offers about 5-6 inches of soil, but we filled it with “Mel’s Mix” from Square Foot Gardening — a combination of 1) peat moss, 2) vermiculite and 3) five types of compost, all mixed together in equal amounts. That was quite the task! Thanks to David and my friend Susannah for their help on that project:
Mel’s Mix on a tarp
Everything else is in partial or total disarray right now. Take a look at our driveway:
Our third batch of free mulch
I spent yesterday mulching the side and front beds, including the front bed that will eventually be our herb garden:
Partially Mulched Front Herb Garden with echinacea, lavender, yarrow, creeping thyme, Fall asters, feverfew, chamomile, some kind of groundcover, forsythia and some evergreens planted by our landlord last Fall
On the other side of the front yard, I’ve got this partially completed adventure:
Front soon-to-be birds and bee friendly flower garden, partially mulched over landscape cloth
I planted a Bee-Friendly Blend and Lemon Queen Sunflowers in the front flower bed.
I’m pleased to say that the yard shows evidence of some kind of progress, despite the massive mess right now. The InstaBeds already have various types of kale (dwarf, winter, and lacinato) growing; plus ruby red chard; zinnia, marigold and calendula sprouts; several types of tomato plants jalepeno and red pepper plants; a perennial called Turkish rocket; a perennial known as Egyptian Walking Onions, “regular” arugula; watercress; a collard tree (also perennial); several types of basil, oregano; parsley; cilantro; chocolate mint and peppermint; dill; green onions; chives; as well as dwarf jewel nasturtiums, New Zealand spinach (heat hardy), and Swiss chard, which have yet to sprout.
For in-ground, perennial planting, I’ve got Russian comfrey (which doesn’t spread as much as traditional comfrey) for soil/compost enrichment, lovage (think of a 6-foot tall, intense celery), and purple asparagus. I’ve already planted two goji bushes and have one surviving blackberry transplant. A farmer friend has also promised me some nettle transplants, which I will likely put in another lined milk crate, since our dry, sandy soil is not too nettle-friendly, and on the flip side, I’m wary of introducing another highly invasive plant to the out of control dandelion mix. This way, I can monitor the nettle growth a bit better, as well as take them with us should we ever decide to leave the laboratory!
Despite the extensive sounding nature of the garden(s), this perennial and annual experiment remains just that — an experiment. I have no idea which methods, soil types, locations, mulch types and plants will thrive and which will refuse to cooperate. I have no idea if the Lemon Queen Sunflowers will grow in that little soil out front, and I’m reluctant to pull back the landscape cloth due to some majorly aggressive dandelions out front.
I’d love to plant some 12-foot tall sunflowers behind the backyard beds so that I don’t need to look at a neighbor’s caved in garage roof, but I have no idea if those seeds will sprout in the ground, competing with well-established dandelions and wild violets. I had planted an “Elves Blend” of shorter sunflowers in the “bed bed,” but something already ate those sprouts. I may try again in large pots, or I may scrap the Elves Blend until next year. Some neighbors grew radically different sized sunflowers one year and wound up with mutant ones the following year (huge heads on small, short stems and giant stems with little, itty, bitty tops)!
I’d love to get some aronia berry bushes and fruit trees started, but I think the soil needs at least a year of deep wood mulch to clear some reasonably weed free spots for starting trees. I have a medium sized pile of pine needles out front in anticipation of making an acidic bog-like environment for yet to be acquired blueberry bushes. We’re also still in observation mode — an important step in permaculture. I will feel better about planting perennials when I know all the varieties of plants already occurring in our yard. One person, for example, insists that we probably have mulberry trees already growing here, because they’re like a weed. David and I have got to learn how to recognize some of the stump grwoth already happening, since we may want some of those old trees, rather than taming the wild yard with an occasional heavy duty lawnmower (David) and frequent weed whacking (me).
Oh, yes, I’ve graduated to a rechargeable power tool! I’m probably the only person I know who warns the plants and apologizes to them before I chop off their soon-to-seed heads, reminding them that we could avoid this ritual if they’d just kindly grow only in the backyard, away from car fumes and my intentional gardens. And, LOL, you should hear my faery negotiations: “Look, I’m planting lots of flowers. The dandelions are great out back, and I’m replacing the bee food out front. Work with me here…. I’ll give you goji berries and zinnias if you keep the dandelions out of my raised beds and the front yard.” So far so good on the raised beds — some progress on the front yard.
Right before my 1998 brain injury, I got a clear message to “quit my job, withdraw my graduate school applications, do spiritual work and become a poet landscaper.” I haven’t written much poetry since 2005, but it appears I’m on a crash course, wild experimentation, natural landscaping, permaculture and gardening extravaganza. We. Shall. See. I’ve always felt I would have avoided that car accident had I embraced the message rather than running from it. Curiously enough, the more I garden, the more Life continues to magically unwind any remaining bonds from the past 15 years of life. Nature appears to be hitting reset buttons on all the direct ties related to taking a wide detour from that spooky message in 1998. Kooky, crazy, and bizarrely true…
So, there you have it! When I say it’s a lot of work and a work in progress, I mean what I say and say what I mean. I’ve put in a hundred plus hours of hard labor, and the yard still “is what it is.” I love it, though, and I look forward to more learning, beauty, growth and harvests.