Saturday, July 31, 2010

Expanding the Garden: Veggie Section

Today I took advantage of the break from the scorching heat and did some heavy work in the garden. I have been scheming for a few months about expanding the garden for next year by getting rid of the useless strip of grass that was in the back yard. I schemed and plotted, and called in a landscaper to rip up the layer of grass so I could get a look at what we were dealing with underneath.

Before... this photo was taken in late June. As you can see, its pretty useless, as far as a grassy area goes. Not enough to play on, and obnoxiously narrow to mow. Its also already nicely boxed in by the cement border lining the driveway... a perfect expansion to the garden.

And after...  I know it doesn't look like much of an improvement, but at least we don't have to mow it! ;)

This is the back area, the farthest part of our property. We planted 2 evergreen bushes in the back that will grow to about 6 feet high for privacy. This, eventually, will be a flower garden with a winding stone pathway, a gliding bench, a trellis running up the side of the garage with flowering vines, thick hydrangea bushes and much more. But for now it remains barren. I'm turning my attention to the expanded veggie garden area first.

The dirt underneath the grass is pretty sad. Mostly clay, very dense and tightly packed. I don't think I'd have much success with a thriving garden in this environment so I did quite a bit of research online and came up with a plaAAAannnnn.... and here it is.

~~~ Fixing the Soil ~~~

Step 1: Add lots and lots of compost. This was much easier than expected. My township offers free compost that can be picked up from a few locations. After a bit of calling around, I found out one of these giant piles of compost was right across the street from my house! I packed up a few giant rubbermaid tubs and a shovel, and drove across the street. It took me 3 trips and god knows how many gallons of compost, but I finally got enough to cover the expanded veggie area only.

I raked the compost evenly over the surface of the sad, sad soil, then proceeded to turn the soil. Working in rows, I dug in a shovel full and flipped it over to the right of me. Get to the end of the row, move to the next, and repeat.  I found quite a few things in there - old plastic bottles, some aluminum siding, lots of rocks, and what I can only imagine are hunks of fence piping so deep in the ground that they decided to saw it off rather than extract it. I worked on one for about 20 minutes and realized why they were still there...and why they would remain so ;)

Step 2: Rake, rake rake. I took my garden rake and went nuts, breaking up thick clods of dirt, throwing out rocks and any weeds I could find. I tossed in some dried leaves that had been hanging around for a little while and leveled it off.  It already looks so much healthier!  All before & after shots are without water. Look how much darker that soil is! But I'm not done.

This area won't be used for veggie gardening until next spring, but I had to get it ready for the cover crop I am going to plant next week.


 Step 3: Plant the cover crop. I searched online and found that many varieties of clover are considered soil fixers - they grow over the autumn, winter and spring - and then they are tilled in to the ground 6 weeks before planting your crops. This does a few important things: Prevents soil erosion over the winter, and adds nitrogen & other nutrients back into the soil.  This isn't just a good thing to do in new areas like this, but its a great thing to do every year when you're done with your garden. Plants take quite a bit out of this soil, and this is an easy, organic way to add it back in without the use of chemicals. I chose Crown Vetch - its a clover that's commonly used for these purposes.

I bought the Crown Vetch Kit from  Silly domain name, but they sold the kit which includes a mix of crown vetch, some rye grass and an innoculant. I'm not entirely sure what the innoculant does... but it is suggested on more than one website when planting this stuff. So there ya go. That's the great plan in all of its glory!

Hopefully I'll get to the flower garden section next weekend, and do the same thing!

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