Monday, 15 July 2013

A Garden Transformation

When I decided to move from container gardening to raised garden beds, an idea was planted (pun intended) to slowly, over time, replace my lawn with a vegetable garden big enough to feed my family.

It wasn't hard to make the decision to cover my grass with a garden, and raised beds were necessary because most of the existing soil is full of clay. The previous owners ensured that most of the gardening area has unusable ground. There was once a swimming pool in our backyard, and instead of removing the concrete and fill with soil when they no longer wanted the pool, they filled it with rocks then covered everything with a thin layer of soil and sod. The grass on top now requires a great deal of moisture to remain full and green. In our Wet Coast winter, when we have week after week of rain, my lawn is lush and green. In the summer heat my lawn becomes patchy and brown.

The two beds in late spring last year.

We started with one raised bed three years ago. In it I grew tomatoes that suffered from blossom drop for most of the summer, chard, kale, and potatoes. The second year we added another bed and expanded to peas, beans, radishes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, beets, zucchinis and pumpkins. In containers I grew carrots, lettuce and a host of herbs. And yes, it was all very crowded.

This year we increased our raised beds to four. I was excited about all the possibilities. I have added quinoa, garlic, mustard, some heritage greens, horseradish (in containers) along with increasing the amount of everything I planted last year.

The four beds in early May.

But I had even bigger plans than doubling our garden space. I wanted to create a definite garden space by mulching around the beds and creating some extra space for my current containers and a mini raised bed for my daughters.

This photo has nothing to do with my garden transformation, except that
it is taken near my garden. I just wanted to sharehow awesome my daughter is. 

It's funny how I have no eye for decorating my home. I cannot walk into a room and visualize how amazing it can be. I have always been envious of friends whose homes are spotless and stylish, seemingly with little effort. Similarly I cannot plan how to make a flower bed look full and colourful but I do have a crystal clear idea of what I want my veggie garden to look like in the long term.

Mid June

So I set about planning how I was going to mulch my garden area. After reading about green methods of mulching, including straw or layers of wetted newspaper, I settled upon using garden fabric (plastic). Neither the straw nor newspapers would be aesthetically pleasing for me next to our eating area on my patio, and although I have read that the newspaper would be very effective (for the season), and straw would reduce the amount of grass and weeds I would have, I wanted a more permanent solution. I spent a great deal of money on the bark mulch and I don't want to be redoing the things each year. In the end I think I spent about $350 in total on the mulch (the bulk of the total cost), the plastic fabric, mini garden bed kit for my daughters, some additional containers, another hanging basket of flowers and some solar lights. I could have reduced the cost by getting fine wood mulch, but I was worried about it getting tracked into my home on little feet or blowing away in a strong storm. I went with small and medium sized bark pieces.

Early July. Everything looks so scruffy to me because of the patchy grass.

Of course I picked the three hottest days over the past week to start. I realized that while I have a vision, I have absolutely no knowledge or experience. Laying the fabric, while time-consuming, was not challenging. As soon as I started trying to put dow the garden edging I figured out that it was pretty much impossible to dig deep enough in our lawn to place the edging because it is so hard and dry. I sat down, dripping in sweat and gave up. I started to cry because I had just spent two 7+ hour days getting to that point and I couldn't turn back. My daughter saw me and came out to give me words of encouragement and a hug, which made me cry a little harder. I decided to take a break, and after a long afternoon nap and subsequently staying up half the night fretting about what I was going to do, I figured it out.

You can see how awful the lawn in in this pic. I was happy to cover it up.

Thanks to a couple of hours of labour on my husband's part, we finished the edging and I could pack soil down next to it to ensure it was firmly in place. Over time the grass will fill there and it will look a little more finished. By the end of the day I had my daughters' garden area built, everything put back and my outdoor "room" decorated. It may not be perfect, or exactly what I saw in my head, but I am proud of what I have accomplished. The best part is that I now I have greatly reduced the amount of lawn I have to cut with my push mower, one of my least favourite garden jobs.

The mini garden bed kit was very easy to put together. My three year old decided that we would be garden fairies for the day so we wore fairy wings while we built it. She loved helping to bang the pieces firmly into place using a mallet while I screwed other pieces together. She's been banging things with her toy hammer ever since. 

It doesn't show up well in the photos, but the mulch has created a nice defined space for my garden. Now something that is growing food for my family looks, and smells great.

I like the extra space on the left side that I added for all of my container plants. I have tomatoes, horseradish, celery, basil, thyme, rosemary, strawberries and additional greens growing. I love how I don't need to move all the containers around to cut the grass, which is really more weeds and clover than anything now. 

The bark mulch has created a pleasing path around the beds. The bonus is that I don't have to use the weed whacker to get rid of the long grass that grows beside them. The space between them is too narrow for my push mower to fit. 

Here is one more gratuitous shot of my daughter, standing next to the quinoa, which is now taller than our fence. 

No comments:

Post a Comment