Today is November 20th, 2012. For the past 6 weeks I’ve experienced something novel: Life at the farm, enrolled at MUM, and not in class. I’ve been blessed with the freedom to create my own schedule with a self-directed study to prepare for my senior project. I’m writing this to reflect on the value of this time, show-off some of what I’ve done, and draw out lessons learned to help me as I continue the permaculture design process.
To be honest, most of the time has been spent gardening; double digging new raised beds, sheet-mulching garden pathways, and putting the existing raised beds “to sleep” for the winter. These are all “grow-biointensive” style gardening practices and i’ll explain their function/reasoning (in a nutshell):
1) Double Digging – this is a labor-intensive method for forming new beds; ideally, a “broad fork” is used to break the surface of the soil and de-compact the virgin soil (in our case, clay) to about 2 ft. dept. Then, a flat shovel is used to dig out the de-compacted soil and pile it on top of the forks-worth that you turned up 2 feet earlier; This allows air, water, and plant roots (hopefully they’re plants of your choosing) to penetrate more deeply, which sets the conditions for healthier plants with more soil and nutrients to gobble up.
2) Sheet-Mulching – this is a labor-intensive method for suppressing grass growth in the garden. A double layer of cardboard is put down to cover the entire area of path; next, a 6-8 inch layer of wood chips are added on top of the cardboard to form the floor of the pathway; this thickness of wood chips prevents light from reaching the soil (understanding that the cardboard will decompose eventually) and prevents existing grass and dormant grass seed from establishing roots. A grass-free garden reduces competition for soil nutrients, root-space, and water.
3) Putting Beds to Sleep – this is a method for adding natural fertilizer to the garden bed before winter; ideally, a biologically active and balanced compost is added across the top of the existing raised bed; this addition of carbon material and microorganisms will add life to the soil and replace some of what was taken out by the plants that grew there during the spring, summer and fall. Super-ideally, a layer of cardboard is put down on top of the compost to cover the entire bed like a blanket. Finally a 6-8 inch mat of straw or leaves is added as the final top layer to hold down the cardboard and provide even more carbon-rich material to feed the soil microbes and add nutrients. Its important that the compost and cardboard be wet or soaked with water during this process so the microbiology can thrive and decompose everything faster. By spring, the bed should wake up feeling recharged and full of fertility!