Sunday, June 6, 2010

Garden update!

A few weeks ago, I showed you this picture and told you all about my big plans for the beds I had built to house my garden this year (see the original post here).  

Well, the time has come (after one very long Saturday with The Man out of town) to reveal my finished "garden"!  (An alternate title for this post could be "Makin' Mama Proud".  I'm sure she's squealing with delight that her daughter finally got the kick in the back to get started on her own brown thumb transformation.  Hey mom! Thanks for making me want to die work out in the garden all those years to cultivate my own love for seeing things grow and thrive!)

At the end of the last gardening post, I left off with the second layer in my lasagna-style garden: sticks and twigs (as you can see in the picture above).  One thing I forgot to mention, however, was the real reason behind building and filling these monstrosities instead of just taking out part of the back yard.  The obvious reasons are pictured above with dirt on their noses, but the lesser known and bigger reason is that I want to grow blueberries, which require very acidic soil (pH of 4.5 to 5.5) and live in an area where the soil is very alkaline or "basic" (the pH in my back yard is 8).  So I set out to develop an environment I can control to see if I can have success in raising these plants which have been deemed "ungrowable" for this area. (There are a few people around who have them, so this isn't a new thing.  But by and large, most people who have tried have failed.  And I refuse to be a statistic.  At least where blueberries are concerned.  Thank you.)  So this post shows the layering process I'm using in my "lasagna garden", but focuses more on just one of my two beds - the one in which I'm trying to change the pH of the soil.

So to bring us back to today's topic, the first two layers I showed in the last post were bark to provide a barrier and base layer, then twigs and sticks which will decompose over time to help feed the soil.  The next layer would be a little bit of dirt, and, surprisingly, this is what has taken so long to get this project finished!  Yesterday was the first dry day we've had in a long time... So I took full advantage - with or without The Man around to help!
The boys and I headed out to the farm to get a pickup full of dirt (hey Mom and Dad C.!  Thanks so much for all your help!  And for letting the boys chase some cows and roll around in manure for a while!)  

And then we got busy!

This may be a good time to mention that "busy" means different things to different people.  I used a shovel to transfer dirt from the truck into the two beds, and the boys used their paws and noses to... who knows.  They definitely looked busy though! (See evidence on noses pictured above. Thank you.)

Notice all the weeds?  If they're making you itch and scratch to see them in soil intended for gardening, you're not alone.  I won't complain for free topsoil though!  I picked them out of the top layer of dirt, but wasn't as concerned here, where this one is so far down.
After the first thin layer of dirt was thrown in on top of the sticks and twigs, I added some sulfur to both beds, to speed the decomposition process.  Sulfur is acidic and will come in handy in the higher layers of the berry bed, but I added it to both in this step.

Remember these?
Well, they've had a few weeks to sit and get nice and stinky!

Next is the layer of grass clippings, followed by pine needles. 

Here's the grass layer:
 See that fuzzy white spot?  That's the source of the stinkiness.  No problem though, it should help break things down faster!

And here are the pine needles.  These are a mix of Spuce and Bosnian Pine:

The next layer is more dirt.  One problem with working with only dogs around, is that they don't have opposable thumbs, and thus there is nobody to take a picture of you breaking your back shoveling dirt. 
And sometimes you forget to take the pictures after the layer is done and get too impatient to move on to the next thing. 

So for this no-picture part, I added more dirt, until I was about 10-12 inches from the top of the sides.

Then I mixed in some of this stuff:
Peat moss is really great stuff for all plants, trees, shrubs, you name it!  And it's especially good for this particular project, because it's acidic!

With the peat moss, I also mixed in a can o' joe:

Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on what brand of coffee blueberries like the best, I just went for the label that said "strong" which happened to come on this can, made by Kraft.

Coffee is another natural acidifier.  I may add tea bags later, if I still need to bring the pH down.

I mixed both the peat moss and whole can of coffee into the soil with a cultivating tool, then added another layer of coffee to leave on top...

...followed by another layer of peat moss, also to be left sitting on top:

This picture shows the peat moss up close and personal, in case you're not familiar with it:
You can see all the natural fibers and things that have broken down to make it.  It's really good for drainage and water retention at the same time - it works to absorb the water so your plants don't drown, but also holds it there for when they need it.

Then, because I'm wanting maximum acid in this soil, I mixed in one more layer of these bad boys:

I ended up pulling out some of the longer needles though, because they were too much to work into the soil.

And then it was time for some planting!  This went WAY fast, compared to the filling of the beds!

The first thing I did was map out where I wanted to put everything I had.  You'll see this representation is very accurate and most definitely to scale:
(you can click any picture to enlarge it)

The skinny bed down the right side is one I'm planning to build very soon to house those items I wish to grow which require mounds. It will be the same height (just under 3 feet) as the others, and just as long as the length of both 4x4 beds and their walkway, but this one will only be 2 feet wide (maybe 3... depending on the size of the mounds I decide to create...)

Everything is planted, except the strawberries. I left room for them on the end of their designated bed, but I haven't bought them yet.

If you looked at my drawing, you know I had 4 blueberry plants and intended to plant them, staggered, in two rows, which I did.  One thing about fruit trees and shrubs is that you need to have more than one so they can cross-pollinate. I was told that with blueberries, it's best to have them come from different varieties, so of the 3 varieties the nursery offered, I bought 2 of one variety, and one each of the other two varieties. I planted the two that were the same in the second row, and the other two in the front.

Once I planted them, I went back to the map to add which variety I put where, as well as when to expect the fruit (e.g. mid-season).so I don't end up wondering which plant did well and which didn't later on.

After I planted the blueberries, I planted the raspberries.  These are a thornless variety called Canby.  They don't look anything like the raspberries my mom used to raise, but hey, they don't have thorns either!
(And they were free! Bonus!)

Once that whole bed was planted, I went back over it with another can of coffee grounds.
I wasn't shy about getting some of the grounds on the leaves.  These babies are going to need all the acid they can get in this environment!  I also watered it down so the coffee could begin to soak into the soil.  (The other thing I'm doing for this acid-lovers bed is mixing some vinegar into the water I water them with.  Our water is also very alkaline, and a local source told me this is what he does to help combat the alkalinity.  The nursery also told me I could use distilled water, but that costs more than a little vinegar. :)

And then I got to plant the rest of the herbs and vegetables, which I hardly even had to dig holes for.  Coming from someone who has only ever planted trees and shrubs, which all require big holes, that's pretty nice. 
And I'll tell you what - it's my kind of planting!

I planted two varieties of chives and parsley - regular and garlic chives, and regular and curled parsley. 
So much for diversity in my herb garden, but we don't use enough of anything else and I don't want to waste it.

I planted Walla Walla Sweet Onions, and they're looking a little wimpy at the moment. They likely just need some sun and a chance to soak up a little water, and then I expect they'll perk right up!

The peppers look nice and hardy.
I planted two varieties of these.  We're wimps, so they're both just plain old green peppers, but one's a sweet variety, and the other is a traditional bell pepper.

The tomatoes are also looking a little droopy.  Perhaps they need to be tied to a pole.  Any suggestions?  Or is it possible they just need to adapt to their new surroundings and get some water in them?
The space to the left of the tomatoes is what I've reserved for a few strawberry starts. It's a little bigger in real life than it appears to be in this picture.

And there we have it, complete with the dandelion forest behind it!  Look out lawn - you're next!


Pam said...

WOW, that is SO impressive! We have two old wood pallets I dragged out back and set our large, ugly black plastic containers on. Then we squeezed supersized tomato cage legs between the slats for the cukes and tomatoes. It makes it a heck of a lot easier to mow around.....but I love the raised beds for saving the back. Plus, all the layering.....those plants are sure gonna eat good before they're eaten. :) Pam @ Sallygoodin

Jo said...

I have been doing raised bed and sq ft gardening for abt 20 yrs and love it!

Atticmag said...

Most impressive and commendable. It will be fun to see it from time to time over the summer. Please stop by and comment for our glass vessel sink giveaway if you haven't already. Jane F.

Lacey said...

I'm am totally impressed!!! I too am wanting to change the color of my thumb, but so far all I've done is bought the book, "Gardening for Dummies." Someday I'll be as cool as you. Hope all is well.

Stephanie Lynn said...

You have done a fabulous job on these. The raised beds look amazing. Thanks so much for joining the Sunday Showcase Party! I greatly appreciate it. Hope you are haveing a wonderful week! ~ Stephanie Lynn

freckled laundry said...

Love your raised bed gardens. I'm so jealous! Thanks for a thorough post, I appreciate it.

(found you through tip junkie)