We moved into our new house last May. It was built for us, and I cut a deal with the missus: I’d give her more-or-less free reign over the living space, but the garage, basement and yard were mine. To be honest, I didn’t have a whole lot of leverage; she’d make most of those decisions anyway. But I digress.
We had the yard landscaped right away to avoid several issues, including fighting the everpresent weeds that immediately spring up over any patch of bare dirt, my inner procastinator, and the rock-solid deadline imposed by my homeowners’ association. I asked the landscaper to include as many native perrennial flowers and bushes as possible, so we got some serviceberries and other fauna-friendly plants to go with the usual lillies and other decorative plants. These plants were put into some wide garden beds around the house that were otherwise empty save the coating of chipped wood mulch. The bare spots were to be filled in later by yours truly. We inherited two stands of three pine trees each in the back corners of our lot. These trees are currently between 6-10 feet tall. The city planted a silver maple in the front yard as a ‘boulevard tree’, and we added a clump of birches in the front, and two shade trees for the back yard, namely a linden and another silver maple. The linden was planted fairly close to the SW corner of the house to act as an eventual shade tree. I’d eventually like to create some small permaculture guilds around the two trees in the back, but that will probably be a year or two away.
My main task for this coming year is to establish a vegetable garden in the back yard. My wife was initially less than thrilled by this idea, but a summer of eating fresh, locally grown produce from the area farmers’ market has changed her mind. My 4 year-old son is also very excited by the idea of daddy growing some green beans, so that probably helped the cause as well.
I’m a novice gardener; my only previous experience, beyond acting as forced labor for my mother and grandfather in my teenage years, was growing some tomatoes and peppers in containers in 2005. The 2006 season was wiped out by both our move and the birth of our daughter. I know I want to grow an organic garden, for it provides (in my opinion at least) healthier and better-tasting products. To this end I’ve gathered a small library of books dealing with organic gardening, permaculture, and other related topics.
Armed with this knowledge, I’ve been trying to devise a plan for the garden in the backyard. I would prefer to not do raised beds, for that means having to buy and move a lot of black dirt into the backyard. After reading both “The New Organic Grower” and “Gardening When It Counts,” I think I’m convinced that having beds in the ground makes more sense from both a cost and labor standpoint. The major problem with this strategy is that the soil is terrible; like most new suburban developments, the dirt in the yard is mostly fill with little to no organic matter, except for the sod, which is only a few inches thick. I’ll have to till in some humus of some sort, and I’d prefer to not use power tools if I can avoid it. With my luck, I’d accidentally run across either the phone line or one of the sprinkler lines and turn it into hamburger with a rototiller. With that in mind, I’m looking at doing some honest hard work (which my out-of-shape butt could use) and hand-mixing in some organic matter and then planting some green manure of some sort. With the soil starting out in such rough shape, I’m not expecting great things this first year. Just getting the beds started and doing what I can to improve the conditions will be great, and any yields I get will be a bonus.
I’m shooting for probably two beds 40-42″ wide and between 15 and 20 feet long. I’ve got a large enough strip of sunny land in the backyard to handle that without dominating everything. I also have an area to plant some raspberry cuttings I’m getting from my sister (that were originally from my late grandmother) and some hops vines.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten on the planning so far. I know more or less what I want to grow, but I’ll save that for a later post. I like salsa, my wife likes fresh herbs, and my son likes green beans, so that gives you an idea as to what I’m shooting for. I’ll be fleshing out this post and posting it on Groovy Green later this month. In the meantime, if anyone has any hints or advice on the whole raised bed/no raised bed argument or anything else I’ve mentioned, please leave a comment. I’d appreciate the help.