Starting Over, All Over Again

sb158 | March 2, 2011


Got a new yard, just as tiny and uninspiring as the old yard. Concrete clay, no lawn…just dried out and ugly clay with lots of weeds. Here’s a stitched-together view of the yard right after we moved in. Ugly.

Ugly Yard

Since it pains me greatly to see my little piece of God’s wonderful Creation so sadly neglected and abused, I had to fix it. How could I not? I firmly believe it is every person’s responsibility to practice good stewardship of their own little piece of Planet Earth. I’m convinced that sustainable, organic, earth-friendly practices are the only way to heal the ecological disaster that “Better Living Through Chemistry” has caused since WWII. The possibility of Ecological Apocalypse seems all the more likely the longer we maintain the status quo. I’ll have mercy and hop down off my soapbox, but I do plan to create a page with links for your own research, if you’re interested.

Research and past failures gave me some idea of how to proceed. First I took a good look at the soil, sun, and climate, then set about finding a way to fix the bad and take advantage of the good. My goal is to combine the best features of wildlife gardens, edible landscaping, and conventional ornamental and vegetable gardens into a working sustainable ecosystem specifically designed for this place and our needs. I’m sure I’ll screw up more than once; we all know gardening is a long process of trial and error.

I started by trying to deal with the realities and limitations of the god-awful climate down here. Hot, humid, rainless, windy hell about sums it up perfectly.

Fortunately, the house runs north and south, so the afternoon sun casts a nice shady shadow over most of the yard later in the day. The garden-and gardener-will appreciate that as it gets hotter. The plants will get at least 6 – 8 hrs of full sun; that much Texas sun is more than enough! More sun-tolerant plants will be planted on the east side of the yard, while those that appreciate it can go on the shady side. I’m hoping windbreak plants, either vines on trellises or shrubs I’m growing from seeds/cuttings, will moderate the 20+ mph hot, dry, plant-murdering south winds that blow 95% of the time, and provide more shade. I’d plant some fruit trees for shade and to break the wind if this were my own yard; don’t think I want to spend all that money or effort on a yard we’ll be leaving soon as we find a house to buy. I hope I learned something from the past couple years’ fiascoes; can’t control Mother Nature, but you can try to reduce the effects of her temper tantrums if you learn from your mistakes!

I decided to go with building my beds by sheet mulching, aka “lasagna gardening“. After laying out the bed, scalp the grass/weeds/whatever as close to the ground as possible; just leave them lay. Since I’m dealing with concrete clay, I soak the area and let it sit overnight. To crack the concrete and allow for drainage, stick a digging fork in as far as it will go and just rock it back and forth every few inches across the whole bed. Then add a light layer of soil amendments, like organic fertilizer, lime, or sulfur. After that, lay sheets of cardboard (saved from moving boxes and household goods) over the area, making sure to overlap by at least 6″ to leave no slivers of light for the weeds to find. Thoroughly soak the cardboard, too. On top of that, make alternating 3″ layers with whatever “greens” and “browns” you happen to have handy. Cover this 6″ layer with a 2″ layer of your own or purchased soil. Sprinkle with a light dusting of organic fertilizer, then soak all the layers thoroughly. Repeat the alternating layers of greens, browns, soil, and fertilizer until the pile is a foot or so deep. To finish the bed, add at least 2″ of a “pretty” mulch, so the neighbors don’t complain.

Though it’s best to let the layers rest and cook for a while, I don’t have time for that. We just moved here, after all, and good growing time is slipping away! To plant seedlings, dig out a hole about 2 – 3 times as deep and wide as the root ball; fill it with compost or good potting soil. This helps the babies get established. For seeds, move the mulch aside and dig a little furrow about 3″ deep, which is filled with compost/seed starting mix. If you’d rather, you can add a deeper layer of topsoil or compost into which you can plant before adding the final mulch layer.

I used some of my compost, bagged composted manure, shredded newspaper/junk mail/ phone books, bagged soil conditioner/landscapers’ mix, sifted soil from a hole I dug, and bagged topsoil.

So far, it’s working. I’ve got one bed finished and almost completely planted. Nothing’s died yet, so I must be doing something right. I did another small bed today, which I hope to plant tomorrow.

I intended to take pics today, but by the time I was done, it was time to cook dinner. Those teen-aged boys do love to eat!!!

Melting, Paul James, and One-Straw-Revolutions

sb158 | June 6, 2010


Yea, I’m going to whine about the weather again. We’ve been under a heat advisory all weekend. It’s been miserable. Except for going out early morning and in the evening to water, the garden is on it’s own. I ain’t even going out there if I can avoid it. I even changed my desktop to rotating winter pictures for a psychological attempt at cooling off. Not working, but worth a try, right?

So far, nothing has died of heat stroke; I hope this mess ends SOON!

Okay, done whining; on to the important stuff. Have you ever watched Paul James, the Gardener Guy, on HGTV? He had the best garden show for real gardeners, but they dropped him and put on all those landscaping guys. All well and good to landscape your yard, but how do you grow all that stuff after the landscapers have gone? I found his website and went to check it out.

He mentions a book called “The One-Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka that inspired his gardening and changed his life. In the course of looking for that book, I discovered a concept called Permaculture. The basic idea is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem of your own, similar to the way nature would do it, only quicker. It’s all tied up with Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological disaster. I can’t say as I believe all the dire predictions; after all, who even wants to think about the kind of world it will be if all that stuff actually happens? Just in case it is even remotely possible, I’m going to plan my garden at my new house, whenever we actually buy one, to mitigate the ugliness as much as possible. Self-sustaining homesteads can’t be a bad thing, right? If you want to find out more, you can download The One-Straw Revolution here in pdf format.

So, once I’d discovered the concept, I needed to find out how one creates such an ecosystem. The book “Gaia’s Garden – A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” was recommended as being especially helpful. It has been an absolutely fascinating read! Download the pdf yourself and see. Gotta warn you, though, it is a big (34M) file. It tells you pretty much everything you’d need to know, in a very easily understood, entertaining style. You can buy both books, and countless more, all over the web. Gonna do that soon as I can!

If you’ve got the time and interest, a wander around all the permaculture links on the net can be very educational. Inspiring, too, when you see all the things these design principles can accomplish, like turning several acres of desert in the Dead Sea Valley into green, producing farms. Totally amazing!

Lovely, you say, but why post about it? Why not? It’s my blog, right? LOL. The point of all this is that, when we do finally find the right house, in the right place, I’m going to give this a try. I guess I’ll make a separate page for permaculture-related stuff, and try to document the process as we go along. Wish me luck!