The weather here in Georgia has stayed very springlike for awhile even though we’ve had a few days of 80 degrees or so. But it has held off from being really hot unlike last year when by now it had already turned to summer.
Here at Hillside Gardens we have added a bunch of new trees and plants to the garden and food forest. I wish I could give you pictures but my camera broke and I haven’t selected a replacement yet. However, I wanted to touch bases with you.
Because we are on a steep hill (thus the name Hillside Gardens) we have disadvantages (tough walking on it, have to build beds which flatten out the terraine so the water doesn’t all pour out when raining, and pathways needing to be secure so they don’t wash out) and advantages (the terracing style of beds actually capture rainwater quite well and keep heavy rains from eroding the hillside). By putting sufficient mulch around established plants this further captures and holds moisture including dew.
I am always looking for sources of organic matter either for soil building, composting or path mulch. In the fall I go to our nearby town where people rake their leaves into big piles along the streets, and collect leaves by the van load. I try to pick piles that have been picked up by mowers because they are already crushed and broken up. But if that isn’t available, I run them through our chipper.
I use heavy duty black contractor bags I get at Home Depot in 32 bag boxes. They are so strong I use them maybe 20 times before they break down. I carry a metal garbage can which these fit right into, and use this system to make it easy for me to pile in the leaves, then remove the bag and put in the next one. I use two leaf rakes like a pair of tongs. Boy you can really load up a lot of leaves in a hurry that way.
Then in the winter I use those bags full of leaves as insulation around my container beds and nursery stock to protect them from really cold freezes (I also pile on extra wood chips over the planters with trees to further protect them). But in the spring, those bags of leaves become prime top mulch around baby seedlings or added into sheet mulching to create soil.
Sheet mulching wisdom calls for 75% brown (dry organic matter like leaves, wheat straw and the like) and 25% green (nitrogen rich organic matter like kitchen waste, used coffee grounds, high nitrogen compost, unsprayed grass clippings, and mowed cover crops like rye grass) in layers about 1 to 3 inches deep. Into that mix I also add crushed granite for the worms (their little gullets need that to break down roots and such they eat as they move through the soil) and for the minerals in rock dust.
As we have added trees to the food forest on the east side of the property near the street, we have been creating irregularly shaped beds for added usefulness of the space. First we surround the space we wish to make into a bed with rocks or blocks, then we sheet mulch about 8″ deep. When we are ready to plant, we take our trowel or machete and make an inverted cone in the sheet mulched material. Into this we add a couple of handfuls of compost or topsoil from the garden or a mixture of compost and nitrogen rich amends like alfalfa pellets, corn gluten pellets, worm castings, crushed egg shells, used coffee grounds, and perlite or vermiculite – whatever we have on hand. This acts like a rich fertilizer and base for the new seedlings or perennial plants to initially sink their roots in.
Later the roots help to break down the sheet mulched material around that plant and by the end of the season, the whole bed is rich black loam. Every season after that I add a few layers of such sheet mulched material because the soil will sink as it breaks down, as the plants feed off of it, and as it is mixed by worms. It needs to be re-sheet mulched a few layers each year until the level of it remains fairly stable. Then I just add compost into it to keep it fertile.
I also add bio-char I make using Korean Natural Farming techniques (see prokashi.com) to increase the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil and to sequester (hold) carbon. The little pores in the charcoal once infused and fermented with micro-organisms act as a holding and protecting space for the microbes and the roots actually will wriggle in there and absorb nutrients infused into the charcoal. This process also neutralizes toxins. The charcoal absorbs them drawing them out of the surrounding soil and then neutralizing them using the microbes.
I plan my garden beds using the ‘guild system’ – companion gardening on steroids. This is a system which recognizes that certain plants help other certain plants and that when they are planted close by each other in this system, they become pest protected, self fed, and helped in other ways. I have done a lot of research and work on this sytem and I hope to have a small book on the subject written soon. Meanwhile, there’s a fairly good sized book on the subject called “Carrots Love Tomatoes”. My book is specifically based on Permaculture but this book is a wonderful resource.
So far in the annual beds I have growing 4 kinds of kale, garlic, 8 or 9 kinds of lettuce, ornamental kale, spinach, carrots, beets, Swiss chard in many colors, parsley, purple dead nettle (wild), 3 kinds of dock (wild), cleavers (wild), chickweed (wild), dandelion (wild), henbit (wild) all of which are edible and medicinal, and several kinds of perennials which are nitrogen fixing – red clover (medicinal), marshmallow (medicinal), thyme, catnip, and a few other medicinals.
The raspberries were pruned in March and are coming back gangbusters. Likewise the blackberries. Last year I didn’t know to prune the canes and got miserable yield. This year I think it’s going to go nuts!
The blueberries are heavily laden with green berries. I have apples forming in the apple tree, some peaches forming in that tree, and loads coming in on the pear tree. We put in a service berry two weeks ago and it’s already showing berries too. We only lost one new small tree and replaced it already with a gifted fig tree. Everything is thriving. We’re getting blue flowers on the spiderwort plants and lots of iris are blooming along with other flowering plants. The bees are happy this year.
I hope you are planning to put in a garden this year. If you need help planning or developing your property, I am available for consulting by phone and internet. Right now I’m working on a fairly good sized project in Alabama. If you have a camera and a phone, I can help you get the most out of your property using Permaculture Design.