The phrase “working mother” is redundant.” ~ Jane Sellman
Being a mother of four brings any self-respect I have down a few notches. There’s practically nothing I won’t do when it comes to caring for my kids (think all things excrement or hygiene), and I surprise even myself at just what passes muster with my eyes, ears, and nose.
When it comes to caring for my garden, I may have lowered the bar even more.
My favorite day of the week isn’t Saturday anymore, or even Friday or Sunday like most others. It’s Trash Day, though not for what you might think. I am hyper-conscious creating trash for the landfill (they call me Trash Nazi). Our bag of curbside waste is now so small, it doesn’t even warrant being walked to the curb. I drop it instead at the gas station bin when it’s time to fill up the van. Much more convenient for me.
The reason Trash Day is so important for me is that I pick through others’ curbs to bring their trash home for my garden. One man’s trash is another
man’s chick’s pleasure, It’s my nasty little secret that ain’t so secret anymore.
Purchasing soil and compost is expensive. And even then, you never really know exactly what you’re getting for $20/cubic yard. Our nation’s limited peat bogs are being depleted to be sold in gardening stores. Trees are being taken down to make way for more human development — some returned to the earth as carbon dioxide (burned), occasionally chipped on an industrial scale to be sold back to consumers. Compost is made from various organic sources, but energy goes into bagging it to be sold at gardening stores for about $3. That’s not to mention the energy input in the form of fossil fuels to make this all happen for us — magically, it seems.
Soil — like air and water — is and should remain free of charge by nature’s design and thanks to our earth’s complex (though still delicate) systems. We must each take responsibility in our own way to keep it that way.
Though making free soil is relatively easy to do, some aspects of my method may require a certain confidence — and a healthy dose of going against the grain. Collecting other people’s waste is not a generally accepted practice where I live (yet). To maximize my time and yield, I pick the trash day immediately following weekly yard service crews. And to minimize neighborly exposure to my habit, I do it in the morning right after the kids get on the bus (and after adults have already left work).
There is a limit to how much I can do to recycle waste. It pains me to drive by bags that I have no room for, but it happens more often than not. Don’t even get me started on how few recycle anything in my suburban neighborhood.
This as my contribution to reducing landfill waste. It costs me nothing really, save a bit of gasoline and a regular drive through the neighborhood. Even better, my neighbors have already fronted the bill to have others cut and collect all that waste, just so I can then transfer organics from their yards into mine. So very generous of them.
I do it for my kids. The things I do today affects how it is they will be living in the resulting environment with their families in the future, long after I’m gone. Or at least that’s what I tell them. (They don’t need to know the real truth, do they?)
Lasagna In The Garden
Compost gardening is not about more work — it’s less. It’s about getting out of the way or and helping to let the trillions of underworld beings do the work for me. It’s my preferred method now having won over all the others that I’ve tried; lasagna gardening is in tune with my organic ways. There is no longer need for gas-powered equipment, pesticides, herbicides, or manures, and produce is always safe to just pick and eat right where I stand. Just knock the dirt off and pop it in your mouth.
Gardening the lasagna way is more than taking advantage of nature’s processes. It’s about being a steward of the soil, rather than simply tending or gardening it. It’s recognizing opportunities and seizing them, like re-purposing neighbors’ waste.
The last time I took you through a lasagna gardening escapade, summer was coming to a close, and fall leaf-drop was already well under way due to a few weeks of triple-digit temps and no rain. By the end of the year, the grass stops growing, the garden is done, and I find myself spending less time outdoors in nature and more time indoors with school and holiday activities. That’s the time that green is rare and brown is down — down on the ground in the form of leaves.
I don’t particularly enjoy raking 1.5 acres in the fall, but I do like to tractor-mow. Leaf-drop from 125 trees gets put right back into the ground beneath them, where they are free to feed on their own leaf litter — their preference. You might have guessed from last week’s post I really love my trees. Leaf litter it wants, leaf litter it gets. And I can hang up the rake.
I turn then to house gutters, french drains, and storm sewers for debris. Maintained hedges usually have a bit of debris as well. These regular maintenance chores contain more opportunities to organic waste. The kids help me load these into the wheel barrow for storage near the leaf bags for later use.
Green material is there too, even late in the winter when turf grass is dormant. Annual weed seeds begin to sprout and out-of-place plants pop up everywhere. Clover I leave for the bunnies to munch (and my kids to search), dandelions are for my kitchen salads, but our HOA adamantly demands that the tall thistle-types have to go. I have a process for removal of these too and they help amend lasagna beds. It does require that others overlook their ‘ugliness’ long enough so they reach sufficient height for harvesting.
By the time spring rolls around and the turf grass is growing again with reckless abandon, I pull out the push mower and bagging attachment and catch some green. I use this to amend grassy areas that suffered last year as well as for the gardens. It’s easy to catch, manages hard-to-tractor-mow areas, and I get a bit of added exercise and Vitamin D to boot (a bikini top certainly helps).
If additional green material finds you, give your turf grass an added boost rather than buying and distributing petroleum-based fertilizers. Grasses feed on the bacteria that break down the green matter (their “leaf litter”), and no extra watering is required to start the process. This is why it’s best to just leave your clippings on the lawn (a/k/a/ grass-cycling) and ditch fertilizing altogether; the lawn then can do what it does best — choke out everything else out and make for a nice barefoot playing field — and no supplemental watering is necessary during drought conditions. Really.
The area where our above-ground swimming pool was last year became a highly compacted, lifeless circle, made that way by two years of weighted water and no sunshine. It was the perfect haven for weeds and competing grasses (here, that’s Bermuda). Combine a few plugs of grass — cut from the edges of /the espalier orchard — and harvested grass clippings and leaf litter, you can hardly tell now that there was ever a pool there before.
Organic matter really does work.
Gardening In The Compost
A lasagna garden is basically an in-place compost pile that is planted in. Ever notice how many seeds sprout in and around a compost heap? There’s good reason for that. The plant has everything it needs right there, so…why not just bring the plant to the compost, and not the compost to the plant?
Here’s what you need to build a compost pile, same as for a lasagna garden:
- brown — dry organic, like leaves, cardboard, twigs, etc.
- green — wet organic, like fresh grass and plants, kitchen veggie waste
- compost — the “activator” or soil food web that begins the breakdown process (bagged or not)
- layering and wheelbarrow skills — a/k/a your own free labor
- water and sun
Layering of those first three ingredients is more critical than actually what the ingredients are. Think lasagna — your garden will look a lot like a slice when it’s done. The soil microbes — my “people” — do all the mixing, aerating, fertilizing, and water retention required to make it into soil. Practically zero work for me.
Brown is easily stored in the off-season. Green is a whole ‘nother story; bacteria breakdown is a seriously smelly business. Once the spring madness begins, grass clippings abound (curb and otherwise), and my dirty party begins. This year, splitting time between an apartment and a house garden, I’ll be amending rather than building beds from scratch; the process is the same for both.
- Gather materials (see above) and locate near the garden area.
- Layer the ingredients: green, brown, compost, repeat. Continue until materials are used up.
- Recycle any plastic bag remains.
- Pull the bedding material aside and place any plants along with their starter soil into the ground.
- Gently push the bedding around them.
- Drop seeds and sprinkle a layer of compost on top of them, if you like.
- Water well.
- Do a spot water soak for 15-20 minutes every couple of days to establish the plants.
By the end of the second week, I quit regular watering and rely on Mother Nature instead. Water only as needed — lasagna beds are incredible sponges and the ground beneath it is rich and invites deep root growth.
Companion planting herbs and other plants, coupled with a crop rotation habit (tubers where feeders were last season, vice versa) aids moisture and nutrient retention, and helps minimize insect problems. Maybe a bit of mulch or other brown that’s hanging around.
And that is all, folks.
Less Work = More Time To Enjoy
My work is done for the season, save picking and eating the yield of my veggies. Now then. I have extra time to go take some photos of what is growing, in spite of me.
Thank you, little microbes.
Thank you, little plants and your fruits
Thank you, Mr. Rain and Mr. Sunshine.
Forgive me, Neighbors, for my wacky, hoarding, lazy gardening ways.
How does your garden grow?
Do you have a particular garden method that works for your lifestyle?