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Preparing Perennial Spaces

 
Kevin Mace
Posts: 32
Location: West Virginia
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Last year I bit off way more than I could chew building annual garden beds on contour, building a hugelkultur mound (planted with strawberries and none of them produced. None!), planted 10 fruit trees (net and pan), planted 30 berry bushes/vines, and more. I had some successes but mostly failure, irritated family members, and no energy.

In order to ensure my success next year, these are the steps I plan to take to ensure better results:
1 - Define the spaces. This means create visible edges using bricks, wood, etc.
2 - Prepare those spaces. Cover crop, cover with leaves, etc.
3 - Plan what goes in them. Create polycultures, successive planting, etc.
4 - Plant stuff

Last year I planned, prepared, planted, and then tried to define spaces as I went.

What do you all think?

I want to focus more on perennials which are long term decisions.

Any advice for a beginner?

 
Veronica Shukla
Posts: 10
Location: Sioux Falls, SD zone 5
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I've been taking my project very, very slowly and have been wracking my brain over when to start the big stuff and how fast to go. I'm mostly posting to watch for any advice that comes to you. I want to plant all my trees and shrubs like last year, but alas, I only have so much time and energy and am waiting for the baby to get a little less demanding
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I'm becoming more and more a fan of self seeding annuals, which end up basically being perennial plants.
Things like turnips, radishes, tomatillos, ground cherries, arugala, lettuce will come up year after year if you spend a tiny amount of time dispersing their seeds.
In the mean time they fill blank spots in your spaces with things you can actually use and basically leave as cover crop until you decide to plant it with something else.
Also mulch is key for me, enough mulch allows for reduced weeding/watering which gives me more time to concentrate energy on designing the next steps.

As for the bigger trees and fruits, I'm really not getting production from many of mine yet either but things like that are a long term project and as long as things are growing they will eventually produce I figure.

 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1253
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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So why do you want to define your spaces? Did you not zone it or anything? I have various things in the works and none of them are defined as in edged with brick or anything. They are simply part of my landscape. So I'm wondering what you mean by defined.
 
Kevin Mace
Posts: 32
Location: West Virginia
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Thanks for replying.
What I mean by "define the space" would be the same as defining the edges. I'm on a 1/4 lot so it's pretty much all zone 1 and 2, though I have a tiny zone 3 area.


Danielle Venegas wrote:So why do you want to define your spaces? Did you not zone it or anything? I have various things in the works and none of them are defined as in edged with brick or anything. They are simply part of my landscape. So I'm wondering what you mean by defined.
 
Kevin Mace
Posts: 32
Location: West Virginia
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That is good advice. Thanks for replying.
I want to plant everything yesterday and also build a rocket mass heater, greenhouse, cob over, etc.

Veronica Shukla wrote:I've been taking my project very, very slowly and have been wracking my brain over when to start the big stuff and how fast to go. I'm mostly posting to watch for any advice that comes to you. I want to plant all my trees and shrubs like last year, but alas, I only have so much time and energy and am waiting for the baby to get a little less demanding
 
Tristan Vitali
Posts: 297
Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Kevin Mace wrote:That is good advice. Thanks for replying.
I want to plant everything yesterday and also build a rocket mass heater, greenhouse, cob over, etc.

Veronica Shukla wrote:I've been taking my project very, very slowly and have been wracking my brain over when to start the big stuff and how fast to go. I'm mostly posting to watch for any advice that comes to you. I want to plant all my trees and shrubs like last year, but alas, I only have so much time and energy and am waiting for the baby to get a little less demanding


You sound just like I did (and still do) I bought 14 acres last year and went hog-wild digging ponds by hand, trenching for drainage (wet property), clearing overgrown brush and planting/transplanting. I must have put in well over 90 hours per week for 8 of the last 12 months, planted well over 500 plants/trees/shrubs and spread something on the order of 150lbs of seed between grasses, flowers, clover, etc. What do I have to show for it? Blisters, callouses, an aching back, maybe a 50% survival rate and less than a 10% germination rate. We did get to eat 3 strawberries, a handful of tomatoes, a few salads and even 2 or 3 blueberries. On the other hand, I've cleared several acres of brush and so prepped planting sites for several years to come, built a 2+ ton rocket mass heater, have 2 hoop-houses with one currently devoted to generating compost, have well over 7,000 gallons of rainwater catchment in the ponds and have increased the diversity of plant species dramatically from what we originally had. Over this last year, its really sunk in how much work all this is!

Like Veronica said, go slow. Don't be lazy, but force yourself to slow down way more than you want to. If this is important to you, you definitely don't want to burn out on it.

From what I've found, you're mostly right. It's best to draw out your plans first and foremost, though. Put down the shovel and pick up a pad of grid paper first. Lay out at least the majority of what you're doing, site-wide, before you even touch that shovel again. Go out there and draw it out on the ground before laying bricks or rocks or anything even semi-permanent - use ropes and hoses for edges, rocks and sticks for plants. Only then do you bother picking up the shovel or the bricks. Heck, I even leave the ropes and rocks in place as I work, only moving them as things get dug/built/planted, just to make sure I don't go off-plan too much and create more work for myself when I have to come back later and re-do or un-do everything I just did! You should plan on paper before you create those hard edges "out there". Until you start planning, it's hard to know how much space you need in each bed, where beds might need to cross-over into one another, etc. Ran into this with a bed I laid this summer with a hard edge (rock walls) and no plans on what I was eventually putting there. I now want to enlarge it and combine with an adjacent bed I had also laid out and started planting.

So my recommendation is to move your #3 to #1.

Now let's see if I can follow my own advice here Good luck
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1266
Location: Central New Jersey
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I think you left off your list the item that needs to be number one.

You feel you had many failures last year. Seems to me the very first thing to do is examine those failures. You need to know the parameters of those failures in order to avoid getting caught in them again this year. From what you say, there were a couple different kinds of "failure". Why did the strawberries not work on the hugelbed? Important to understand that to avoid another similar failure next year. Was it bad placement with too little sun, too much wind, too dry or too wet, not enough nutrition in the soil? There is such a long list of possible causes for failure, you need to get the best possible understanding and then plan to avoid it happening again. This will be vital in planning your plantings, which will determine the layout of your beds.

I think it worth emphasizing, choose what you want to plant before you decide the layout of your planting. What you want to plant will dictate much of the layout, so first decide what, then determine where to plant for maximum performance of each planting.

Another mode of "failure"you mention is irritated family members. Again, to avoid in the future you need to understand how things went wrong in the past. Perhaps not enough communication, not enough involvement of others... I don't know, it is your story, but those are two areas that commonly trip people up.

Your own energy... Yeah. Hard not to get excited and try to do thirty things, as each new idea wants to come out and play Right Now! This is something you really have control over and can really manage. It leads to what I would put as number two on the list.

Planning. First, consider the parameters of failure from last year. Plan with them in mind. What do you want to plant? Why? How much? Why? Prioritize the things you want to plant. Consider the time and effort involved in doing the process of preparing and planting. Evaluate how much of what you would like to accomplish is actually realistic. Adjust accordingly. When you have the list of what you are going to plant, work with the needs of the plants to determine where you will be planting them.
You might want family members involved in this process, getting their input as to what to grow (Brussels sprouts? Eww! Maybe kale instead?) helps them to be invested in the project. Plus, if you need their help with some of the work, or just invite the help even if you don't need it, more investment on their part and better acceptance if it can be negotiated a bit well in advance. Again, your story, so exactly what to do is yours, I am highlighting some possible courses that may or may not apply.

After you have the planting plan worked out based on the needs of the plants, you may have identified some needed projects. Perhaps a swale is called for, to hold water high on your property where it runs in from the neighbor's lawn. Maybe you are planning a bed of heavy feeding squash that will want some extra attention with compost and a nitrogen fixing cover crop. Whatever they might be, these items will need to be factored into your workload and the progression of building the design. It may even be that at this point you need to reconsider the scale, perhaps something needs to be dropped to keep it manageable or perhaps something you thought would not fit can actually be tucked in after all.

After you have thought it all through and layed it out on paper, then you are finally at the point of marking it out in place, and then starting in with your shovel, rake, wheelbarrow, etc.

It can be very hard to restrain the enthusiasm to get out and Do! Focusing on planning things out, thinking them through, analyzing what the different plants need, all of these things can seem like they are holding us back, keeping us from getting things done. They are not as exciting as digging a hole and planting a tree. But they are fundamental to being successful when we dig that hole and plant that tree. And knowing that the planting is being made as optimally as you know how, to give the plant its best possible chance for success and subsequent yield, that is pretty exciting . Planning may not be its own reward, but it will surely bring rewards that would not be realized without it.

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