Nature’s Delight

Nature’s Delight

Img_0419

Earlier this week I worked a bit on cleaning up more of the yard by moving about 4 tons of heavy-as-hell flagstone around, creating paths to help deter the aforementioned black gumbo from making its way into the house.  This rock had been sitting on pallets for about three years.  Getting it moved really opened up the fence in front of the chicken coop and provided a nice space for a planting table and seed starting area.  More importantly, it gave me with two pallet sized areas of pure undisturbed nature.

Lifting the pallet, my first instinct was not to see, but to smell nature’s delight.  Inhale it deep into my very soul and extend my astral roots as far into its rich, organic lusciousness as I could.  When I brought myself to finally open my eyes, I discovered snails, spiders, millipedes, centipedes and rolly pollies – just at first glance!  Everything was so very alive and fresh.  My first thought was of Mark and his cardboard, deciding that was a very good idea.   Then I recalled the joy I found as a child, peeking under rocks and boards for the sheer surprise of what life I might find underneath.  It ranked right up there with horny toad hunting and crawdad fishing with bacon after a good rain.

I love nature.

With the recent passing of Imbolc, the wheel has turned yet again.  Now is the time to prepare our soil and consider the seeds we wish to nurture for the coming year.  Soon we will plant those seeds, the seeds of our intentions, deep into the dark earth and watch their magic, our magic, my magic come alive with Spring.   Oh, how my garden grows!

What is Good Dirt?

What is Good Dirt?

Img_0364

 

My educational theme for the week was dirt. What is ‘good dirt’? What makes good compost and where do you find it? How much of each is ideal for a vegetable garden? What do you really need to add to your beds and what is hype? How can organic soil amendments be organic if they come from a GE crop?

For me, the best answers to most of these questions were provided by Mark Painter, the garden instructor at Stonewall Elementary in Dallas ISD ( http://www.stonewallgardens.org/ ).  His wealth of knowledge and conservative approach to gardening falls right in line with our low cost re-purposing goals.

According to Mark, the black gumbo that I have spent a lifetime cursing is fabulous, nutrient rich soil that is easy to work, if you know how.  I was immediately inspired by his no fuss approach.

A big believer of natural gardening, he discourages wasting perfectly good lumber, a valuable commodity, to build raised beds and instead suggests using the black dirt we have so readily available.  Tilling the walkways in your garden area before heavily mulching them will supply you with more than enough soil (think – black molding clay) to elevate your garden.  But don’t till the garden he says!

What?

That’s right, no tilling!  Instead he uses more of a lasagna approach by first covering the garden area with cardboard, then a good 6″ of screened compost material.  The cardboard provides an active composting area for good bugs to live and helps to thwart the ever present Bermuda grass by starving it of light. The compost allows for quick and easy root growth and much greater ease in maintaining beds.

When asked about soil amendments and additives such as molasses, corn gluten and cotton burr compost he responded with an explanation that stands good reason in my opinion. “How much corn do you have to grow to produce corn gluten to amend your soil?” And I particularly like this one, “How can a genetically modified organism sprayed with poison, mass harvested, rigorously processed then repackaged as fertilizer be considered an organic approach to gardening?”

Wow!

So where can I find the compost I need to build up my beds without breaking the bank?  Mark referred me to the City of Mesquite ( https://www.cityofmesquite.com/solidwaste/compost_facility.php ) where Non Mesquite residents pay $10 per heaping yard – basically a truck full. With the help of our most excellent family and friends (with trucks and trailers) we will be able to collect enough compost to fill the beds we have built thus far. Thanks Mark!

On a side note, I cannot say enough about the Stonewall Garden program and intend on touring their facility very soon.  If it rests in your community, I whole wholeheartedly encourage you to get involved.  If you are a fresh food activist looking to support a good cause, your donations are well placed here.  This is a brilliant, hands on educational model that should be implemented in every school possible.

 

Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground

Well here I sit, peering from my kitchen window, witnessing the actualization of our urban homestead.  With the big garden tilled and ready to go, Rex moved on to building and preparing the raised beds.  Our hold up thus far seems to be finding good, reasonably priced topsoil and/or organic mix to fill the beds.  Thus far our only purchase for this project were the 2 x 6 x 5’s that we picked up – 100 for $50, as they were originally recycled pallet wood for shipping heavy equipment.

We took measurements of the entire yard and created a basic garden design.  Here’s the plan –

Yard-plan_back

Yard-plan_side

 

The Gardens

Basically we have a large garden area of 18’ x 50’ where we intend to plant the larger crops like okra, corn, peas and beans.

Img_0196

Being located on a corner lot provides us an additional back yard area of 25 x 35 that is perfect for our raised beds using the aforementioned 2x6x5’s.

Img_0167

With enough material to assemble 24 boxes, Rex got to work!

Img_0228

Admittedly, we had to modify our original design a bit from maximizing the space to accommodate the most beds to one that is considerate of the entire family.

Img_0236

While cleaning up the yard one hive in particular reminded me of the quintessential need to respect their space and give them plenty of room.  We placed them along the western facing fence, providing them with shade from the summer’s harsh setting sun, where plants would be less likely to thrive.  We also gave a good five foot of clearance between the hives and the nearest beds.

Odin needed space to run and declare himself as Lord of his domain to all passersby, so we pulled the beds away from the fence in hopes of thwarting the occurrence of sacrificial plants for the sake of our safety against the neighbor’s Chihuahua.

We chose to make half beds along the house and bee barn to create a center pathway for ease in maneuvering wheelbarrows and other equipment. Pulling the center boxes together helped to accomplish this as well.  Extending the flow of the walkways created areas for pots of herbs to be placed.

Img_0290

Our final count of raised beds in the back yard is 12 full beds, 7 half beds and 9 pots.  Beds along the large garden area will be constructed later as materials become available.  We need good dirt!  What we find will determine whether we pursue the additional raised beds along the driveway as notated on plans.

We are actively looking for pallets which we will use to build the chicken coop as well as the arbor and planting table.  I am really into the whole pallet thing and am completely inspired by the infinite possibilities they possess – And for no more than the joy of recycling and the time it takes to round them up!

As progress goes I’d say we are forging ahead by leaps and bounds.  Where’s the dirt?

Nature Knows No Bounds

Nature Knows No Bounds

The predicaments of life offer one an opportunity to shine through adversity.   Where our goals and intentions designed a life for us in a rural country setting, life, and its intrinsic volatility, had other plans and challenges in mind. We are effectively stuck smack dab in the middle of utter suburbia for a while.

As it is with all things, perception is 9/10ths of the law.  If we can’t leave the city, then we shall bring our farm to it – A true urban homestead complete with orchard, bee yard, garden, rain water harvesting and chickens!  It’s a challenge, but one we are eager and excited to tackle.  We have fantasized,  pontificated, plotted and planned, researched, reviewed, studied and read.  It’s time to just do it.

In the depths of winter we consider the seeds we wish to plant and ultimately harvest in the coming year. The soil here doesn’t know it is city dirt, but simply of the earth.  The sun shines for all who seek to bask in its rays, regardless of location.  The rain falls with no regard to structures or concrete and offers life to all those who seek it.

Nature knows no trepidation, nor does it hold any preconception of its success.  Nature simply IS – here, there, everywhere.

I am of nature.  I am here.   Here I shall grow.

Img_0147