More Earth to Tend!

20131001_134750The newly started beds in this picture were started on Sunday this week. We have the great privilege (and don’t get me wrong, chore too!) to take over yet another 800 square feet of land in our garden club. What, are we crazy? Yes and no. We’ve been bitten by the gardening bug.

We now have 1600 square feet to manage! But let me show you what we were faced with before we made a decision.

I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Wow, that is an ugly picture. It looks like nothing but a tangle of weeds.” If you think that, you’re right. That’s what it is. The flowers on the left is the south side of our first plot. The grasses are probably three feet tall and were spewing seed all over our cultivated plot!

This mess of weeds is an abandoned plot. Someone was assigned it, they rototilled once and abandoned it. When asked to mow it, they never replied. When asked if they wanted to keep it, they said no. So, we decided to take it over, but not before giving it careful thought and being encouraged by others.

20130918_104040Ugh, the thought of cleaning up another plot, not a happy one, but a determined one. It really helped that so many people in the club were supportive and urging us to take over the plot.

20130929_175625I’m standing by the car to take this long shot of both of our garden beds after mowing. We have the “corner plots” – what was once 20’x40′ is now 40′ x 40′ – 1600 square feet! That’s bigger than our house! What did we get ourselves into!?

20130929_175705Here is the new plot, after both brush mowing and lawn mowing. The piles are from the remains left behind. Building up the soil with various layers (lasagne gardening) should raise it to keep the beds from flooding. We believe that’s one reason the plot was abandoned. They either didn’t want to put in the effort to make raised beds or life circumstances changed and they changed their minds. It’s hard to know.

20131001_110251First to layer. I spent several hours in the garden on Monday, adding soil amendments (lime, gypsum, bone meal and blood meal – all to add organic nutrients plus soften the clay), then adding a thin layer of manure. I used the manure to etch out where the beds would be prior to laying down cardboard.

Where did I get these great sheets of cardboard? Another person in the garden club volunteered to bring us cardboard, explaining it came from TVs that were packed with cheap cardboard that used cornstarch glue. No (or almost no) printing or colors were on it!

Tuesday was sheet mulching day!

I spent five hours in the garden! It was windy, so keeping the cardboard in place was tricky. I punched holes in it & watered it down, then onto the next step…

20131001_134731Adding manure and leaves to keep the cardboard down, then watering it all. This is how it looked when I left in the early afternoon. Still a lot more mulch needed to be added on top, but this was a great start to the new garden beds.

The flowers and beds beyond that is our first garden area. Whew, what a lot of work!

When my husband got off work Tuesday evening, we both headed to the garden. I napped in the car for an hour (it was an exhausting four hours alone in the morning and early afternoon – there is still heat and humidity here in Illinois too) while he hauled wheel barrows of manure to cover the cardboard (20 to be exact! This was in addition to the seven wheel barrows I hauled earlier that day).

When the manure was nearly finished being hauled, I then woke up. I found my second wind. I raked it all evenly, then added another scattering of lime/gypsum/bone meal/blood meal. Then I watered all of that.

Finally, we covered the beds with a thin layer of wood chips. Then watered those! We’ll probably add a bit of hay or possibly another smaller layer of manure, then hay, or maybe even fall leaves. We’re winging it.

Once we’re done with all this, we can let the beds rest until next Spring. By then, we’ll have some newly made soft and fluffy soil to dig into. Since these beds are in a very wet part of the land, we may grow crops with big leaves and vines – like squash and watermelon. Someone joked we should grow rice.

We’ll have all of Fall and Winter to begin planning our next round of seed ordering. If you have suggestions of what to do with a wetter soil, we’re happy to hear. This is still our very first year of gardening! We’re striving to use permaculture design techniques and companion planting preferably.


    • Awesome that you’d replace your lawn. If we owned our house, we’d do the same. We’re fortunate to have a garden club with community plots.


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