For as long as I can remember, I've fantasized about growing our own vegetables.
Many years ago, when we bought our first acreage, it came with a little garden plot where my husband and I attempted to grow a few carrots, potatoes and such. While we were far from experienced gardeners, we did manage to yield a small crop. After that first year though, the garden never really seemed to do all that well. As the the years passed, I became increasingly frustrated with the disappointing yield. Finally, the fall that the darn deer decided to eat my entire crop of carrots and beans, was enough to deflate my gardening ambition and I surmised that I wasn't going to do it anymore. We ended up moving that winter, to a house in the city that didn't have a spot for a garden and that pretty much sealed the deal. I haven't had a garden since.
The thing is though, I still seem to fantasize about gardening. I just really want to grow my own food. I want to eat organic vegetables that have not been contaminated with toxins and pesticides. I want to feel the raw earth in my hands and smell it's rich tangy aroma. I want to plant tiny tomato seeds and witness their transformation as they grow into strong, fruit producing vines. I want to dig in the dirt for potatoes. I want to pull carrots from the soil, wipe the dirt off on my bluejeans, and eat them as fresh as can be. I want to experience the simple joy of reaping a well earned harvest.
So, while I'm definitely intimidated by the prospect of growing our own veggies again, my desire to pursue a simplistic, more intentional lifestyle, has prompted me to set aside my inhibitions and try again.
Enter, project: Let's Grow Our Own Food!
We built our current home on a five acre parcel a few years back, and we have a beautiful spot for a good sized garden. While my husband and I are very much beginner gardeners, this time around, we are taking the notion quite seriously. Obviously, the first step in vegetable gardening is preparing the beds. We want to give ourselves the best chance for success, so after lots of online research, we have decided on a moderately sized, yet manageable, raised hugelkultur garden. We created our own design that we felt would best meet our needs and capabilities for the present, but with the option to expand on it at a later date.
Wikipedia defines Hügelkultur as;
a composting process employing raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials.
The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds.
The finished garden
This past October, we began construction. We staked out the garden and decided on the exact measurements. My husband worked through the dimensions and figured out the materials our design would require. We chose untreated, (because it's chemical free and safe for growing organic veggies) and rough cut (for it's lesser price) 2x8 planks. We ordered and picked up our materials and then began assembling the beds. It was a lot of hard, but very rewarding work.
After the completion of the raised beds, we lined the boxes with landscaping fabric to help protect them from premature rot. Then we began the hugelkultur assembly. Right on top of the sod, we placed a cardboard layer to help to block the grass and weeds from growing up through the garden. The next step worked out really well for us. We had quite a few dead trees that needed to be taken down, so we cut those up and placed the larger pieces on the bottom, and then we filled in the gaps with smaller branches. Yard clean up and garden prep all in one!
Next we stuffed small twigs into any openings we could. Then, because we constructed our hugelkultur beds in the fall, we had the opportunity to mix fallen leaves with a little soil to fill in the empty spaces. (About half way through this process we had a brainwave and decided to run the lawnmower over the leaves first, thereby mulching them before we added them to the soil. Mulching the leaves allows them to decompose more quickly, releasing their beneficial nutrients into the soil that much sooner.)
We poked and prodded and banged, to allow the dirt and leaf mixture to settle down into all the nooks and crannies left from the wood pieces. Then we layered on a moderate amount of well decomposed horse manure as compost.
Finally, we combined black dirt, crushed leaves, and more compost to use as our final layer. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow...........It was a loooonngg process, but eventually, Viola! The raised hugelkultur vegetable beds were complete! Well, almost......we still have to build a chicken wire fence around the garden to keep the deer from eating my beans and carrots again. That will happen as soon as the snow melts. :)
After the winter, the beds should have settled nicely. With a little more dirt and compost added in if necessary, they should be perfect for planting vegetables this spring. Then, the real gardening will begin!