Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A New Appraoch

Finally, it is going in! This year we are trying a new approach to planting. If you have ever gardened, you know that there is a lot of prep work before you can even begin to put in a plant or seed. Several years ago, the spot we chose for our garden was a lawn. Around these parts, lawns are generally Bermuda grass. This grass is a very tolerant grass. It tolerates heat, drought, and traffic. Unlike fescue and rye, in the winter it does not remain green , but turns brown and goes dormant. It is not dead, just resting for the next season of longer days and warmer temperatures. It can grow thick and lush and just about anywhere that isn't full shade. It spreads through runners as well as seed. These runners can be a great thing for filling in bare spots, or they can be the bane of your existence when they get into a flower bed or garden. Bermuda is in fact not just tolerant, it is hard to kill!

Anyway, back to the garden spot. Having been a lawn of Bermuda, we knew we would struggle with keeping it under control in our garden. If you just till it under, all you have done is make it stronger. It sends it's roots deeper into the soil and the runners that are now underground become like anchors. I have pulled these out of our garden that are over two feet long. Our solution? Roundup! It seemed to work like a dream. The summer before we move the garden we would spray the area about once a week. Roundup only works on the green plants, so we would have to repeatedly spray to get the grass that was still dormant or that hadn't made it through the ground up to the sunlight. The next spring we fertilized with chicken poo, tilled it in and planted away. Things looked great until about June. That's when it happened. The Bermuda that had made it through our genocide on grass and a thick layer of straw, came back with a vengeance. Now rooted deeper than before and angry, it was not nearly as willing to give up the fight as we were. By mid July it just became a job of keeping it somewhat controlled while we harvested what it hadn't taken over-tomatoes!

After a couple of years of this battle, we tried a new tactic last spring. Cardboard. Yep, cardboard. We had read about a lady who uses newspaper to cover her garden and then she covers that with straw. Granted, she lives up north where Bermuda and other runner grasses are not used much, but we thought we'd give it a shot. After covering the garden with composted horse manure, we loaded up on cardboard boxes and laid those over the garden. The next thing we did was put wood chips over the whole thing. After the ice storm the year before the electric companies were trimming all the trees around power lines to lessen the damage and wood chips were free for the taking. They even delivered them. I was skeptical. After all we were battling Bermuda, but to my amazement, it worked! We had a few stays come in here and there but they were easily eradicated. We had pretty much a grass fee garden for the first time ever!!

So why a new approach this year? Well, decomposing wood chips drain your garden of nitrogen. Therefore, we have a grass free garden, but also a nitrogen poor garden. Half of it we have turned over to the ducks. They will turn the wood chips over and they will continue to decompose. The ducks will keep the grass rooted out (check out how well they have kept the grass and weeds away from the garden's edge) as well as any grubs or other undesirable pests. This fall we will plant a nitrogen producing ground cover and then till it in the next spring. For the half of the garden we are planting, we are using another no till method. Planting in bags of potting soil. Mother Earth News says you can do it, so we are trying it out. We'll see how it goes!

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