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Urgent questions about seeds, sheet mulch, new garden...

 
Cybil Opsin
Posts: 2
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Hi. I'm Cybilopsin. This is my first post. If I seem a little hurried, it's probably true. I'm in a rush, I'm frustrated, and I'm confused. What else is new.

I'm not going to waste time going over the whole history of how I ended up installing my garden in this particular way. My questions are pretty straightforward. I really need folks with gardening experience to help me out here. I have no gardening experience, although I have took a PDC a couple of years ago.

First, seeds. Is it too late, now (May 26th) to direct-sow seeds outdoors?
Here are some examples of the seeds that I'm trying to start:

Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica),
Scorzonera
Garden Sorrel (Rumex),
stinging nettle (Urtica)
a few species of Chenopodium (lambsquarters, etc.),
Miner's Lettuce (Mintia),
Giant Turkish Plantain (Plantago major),
Chickweed (Stellaria),
High Mallow (Malva sylvestris),
Lemon Balm (Melissa),
Burdock (Arcticum lappa),
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata),
Valerian
White clover


None of these species need cold stratification to germinate - I chose them because I though I had a reasonable chance of growing them out this year - but now things are getting a little late in the season for me to feel so confident. They are all self-seeding annuals or perennials. They have been matched to the appropriate levels of light. The directions for sowing them will be followed scrupulously: scarifying if necessary, tamping into soil, barely covering if called for, and given consistent moisture. Basically whatever the seed packet says. They won't lack for care and attention.

I'm in zone 6a (near Boston). Daily irrigation by sprinkler is available. The soil in this site is somewhat moist.

Another related question is whether any of these seeds can also be sown in the fall (say September) as a fall crop.


By the way, food production is not the main goal right now, although most of the above listed species are edible. The point is to get the garden started, begin generating some biomass, and get the living plants in place for a really successful spring next year.

Second question. Is it ok to sow these seeds directly into pure compost on top of sheet mulch? Ok, its not really sheet mulch, I guess, but I don't know what to call it so we're just going to call it sheet mulch.

The reason I want to grow into sheet mulch is that the area of the new garden is currently a grass lawn, and it also contains many roots of mature trees, including Norway maple (a notorious water hog with fine, shallow, aggressive roots). Instead of having to laboriously remove the sod and have to fret about the tree roots making life hard for my seedlings, I decided to simply create a barrier of cardboard on top of the sod, and put compost on top of that, then sow the seeds directly into the compost.

The final recipe for the sheet mulch looks like this: (layers are from the top to the bottom)
(0.) Mulch, which will not be added until the seedlings are a reasonable size.
1. Thin layer of compost mixed with coconut coir for seeds to germinate in.
2. 6" or so of compost. All my compost comes from the local transfer station, where it is is made by the ton out of yard waste. It was "hot composted".
3. an inch or two of wood chips, also form the transfer station. All kinds of wood, different sizes, twigs, etc.
4. Cardboard or sheet layer (to create a temporary barrier against tree roots).
5. Sod from the old lawn, undisturbed.
6. Original topsoil, including nasty water-hogging tree roots. It appears to be a sandy loam, with some organic matter.

Can someone please confirm that my seeds will be able to germinate and grow in this. Up here in Massachusetts, cardboard does not decay so fast. The plants roots will probably not be able to penetrate down below the cardboard layer until next year, so for now, they only have whatever is on top of the cardboard to grow in. Am I crazy for trying to do it this way?

In the fall I will also be sowing seeds of species that need cold stratification such as Smilacina and Polygonatum biflorum, plants which will in future years become the basis for a shadier woodland garden as the new trees and shrubs mature.

Any thoughts or questions about any aspect of my plan are welcome. I really need someone with more experience to weigh in here; I'm feeling discouraged because I wasn't permitted to do work on this garden earlier in the spring and now I feel like summer is practically here and I'm hoping I don't have to wait until the fall to plant anything. Just generally feeling very unconfident right now about what I'm doing. All this sheet mulching is a lot of work since I have to bring the compost myself from th transfer station using nothing but a minivan and a shovel. I hope it's not a waste of time.

Thanks so much for reading! I'm really glad to be here.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9452
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I would go ahead and plant them!
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 670
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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It will be fine, but don't put the wood chips inside the mulch, put them on top after the plants are growing. I plant into compost the way you are talking about all the time and it works well.
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 1105
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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It looks to me like you have a mix of warm and cold season plants there, but my idea of a cold season is much warmer than most. Especially considering you are trying to grow biomass and only incidentally crops, I agree with Tyler. Plant them ASAP.

You may be pleasantly surprised next spring even if they're no shows this year. If you end up with holes in you planting scheme, you might consider filling it with grocery store beans. They grow fast and vigorous during warm weather and are so cheap that's its not stressful to replace them if you find something you'd prefer.

If you taka a shovel or a knife and at least cut a slit in the cardboard where you place your seeds, you will give them a way to extend their roots further into the soil. This will increase the resources available to them, probably making the difference between survival and death for some plants. As the plants grow they will replace the cardboard's function in shading out the grass with their own leaves.

As far as your timing for planting goes, take heart. I'm in 8B and we're still direct seeding some crops. Our planting season starts in February here, so I'm sure you still have plenty of time. Just remember, you're not really an experienced gardener until you've killed a few hundred plants. It's all part of the experience.

 
K Putnam
Posts: 189
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
15
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The thing about getting gardening experience is that it is 50% doing what you're supposed to and at least 50% luck. You can do what you're supposed to and have it flop terribly for any number of reasons. You can plant something and neglect it only to have it thrive. So, quit worrying and start planting. It will either take or it won't. Half of gardening is correcting last year's mistakes and the other half is making new ones. Eventually, you figure out what wants to grow in your space and you help that along and quit worrying about the rest. So, get the seeds in, try to keep them irrigated this first year, and figure out the rest after that. Some of it will grow. Some of it won't. Observe and learn from the space. That's all there is to it.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 670
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
7
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Cybil Opsin wrote: I'm in a rush, I'm frustrated, and I'm confused.


I did want to add, if you're frustrated and rushed, you're gardening incorrectly. Gardens take time, seasons, multiple years to build soil, decades of learning. Very little, if anything, has to be done right this second. I used to stress over every seed, checking them constantly and getting stressed out if they weren't up yet. I discovered a simple lesson. Plants want to grow. More often than not, they will grow even if do everything wrong in all but the most harsh environments. Take a look at a rock cliff sometime. You will see plants and trees growing in what appears to be bare rock, with no way for any real amount of water to collect and no soil to speak of. If you look again in 5 years, some of the same trees will be growing there. Certainly they will grow better in your garden where they are tended, no matter if you plant a month earlier or later, or put down 5 inches of compost instead of 6. If something doesn't work this year, there is always next year, and the one after. If you are in a hurry, gardening isn't the best pursuit. Take a little time to enjoy it and instead of stressing every day a seed doesn't sprout, be happy to see each one that does. Life is much better that way.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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