If you want a new bed for your vegetable garden or flower garden and can’t do the deep soil preparation, you can let nature do it for you if you’re willing to wait a while.
Last summer I decided that I wanted another bed in our back meadow. There’s no way that I could fit in the deep soil preparation necessary for great success more quickly. But I knew I could get the bed done if I enlisted nature’s help. And I was perfectly willing to wait the 2 or more years to get the bed ready.
Of the two hours that it takes me to do my garden tasks everyday (check bugs, harvest, plant, tie up tomatoes, or whatever), I decided to allot 10 minutes every other day or so towards starting the new bed.
I wanted the bed to be approximately 5 feet wide and about 20 feet long. In the allotted 10 minutes, I could dig out sod in a 1 to 2 square foot area. Starting in September (2013) and at a very slow pace, the job was finally finished by the first week in November.
I decided to plant winter rye for several reasons.
- The roots can penetrate (dig) the soil deeply.
- The stubble acts as a weed barrier and as mulch through out the following summer.
- The roots decay by late summer and a different cover crop can be sown directly into them without any extra work.
A few old limbs that had fallen from our trees, I placed at the end of the beds. My thought was to bury them at the edges of the bed when I finally had some time to dig. They’d serve to hold a bit of extra water as they decayed and then finally add more organic matter to the soil. As you can see in the various pictures below, they’re still on top of the ground waiting for me to get to them.
By May (2014) the rye really looked good and I cut it when the pollen was hanging on the heads. The biomass was placed on top of the stubble. In late June or early July, I put more mulch (straw) on top.
It had been my original intent to plant squash into the stubble. When planting time came, I was desperate for another place for tomatoes, so I planted one tomato plant at each end of the bed. A pepper plant in the middle hasn’t done as well as the tomatoes.
If we had had the high temperatures and the drought that we usually have, I doubt that these tomatoes would have performed as well as they have in soil that nature has only be working with for one year.
I broadcast cowpeas in the bed the other day and will broadcast another cover crop (or crops) in September. I’m considering oats, alfalfa and/or fava beans. The more diversity the better.
Next year (2015) I’ll probably plant a warm weather vegetable into the stubble of the cover crops. If the soil looks good by September and is loose when I put a garden fork into it, I’ll consider the bed for planting onions.
A note about weeds.
As you can see I only had a piece of creeping charlie and few pieces of wire grass in the bed. The secret is removing the sod (all wire grass, grass, etc.) before you plant anything. Grass will infringe on the bed from the edges, but when you’ve prepared properly, it’s a piece of cake to keep it out.
If I have time this fall, I’ll remove more sod from the edge to widen the bed. When width reaches 10 feet, I’ll make a path down the middle and I’ll have two nice size beds. All this with no more than 10 minutes of work from me here and there throughout the seasons.
Just walk in the direction of the way you want to go and never underestimate the power of a little. You can get huge jobs accomplished just doing little by little. Especially true when you work with nature.
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