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New homeowner - permaculture interested  RSS feed

 
Lori Whit
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Hi guys!  I bought my first home last year, and I couldn't be happier about that.  It's a small house just right for one person (and her cat), and I finally have my own land to play with! 

I've been interested in permaculture type things for a long time, but only recently came across the term.  I love fruit trees and convinced my parents to let me put in two fruit trees when I was living with them.  They're both doing really well--apple and cherry, I just picked a couple of the greenish apples today.  I love the idea of a food forest, but I definitely have to start small and not outplace my limitations.  I work from home, and I have more time than energy to putter.  (Have to pick my projects, basically, because of my health.)

My ultimate goal is to replace the lawn with things that are more useful and interesting: veggies, maybe flowers, fruits, trees, etc.  I already put in two dwarf fruit trees (pear & peach). I'm not sure if I can fit in more trees, since I can't plant over where the stumps are, or next to the house. 

The entire land is ~0.2 acre and that includes the house, patio, car shelter & drive, and flat stones that have been arranged into a kind of courtyard square over the septic tank area.  The small yard already has a full-grown Japanese maple tree, which I don't plan to cut down, and you can see where two more used to grow but were cut down.  I don't know if I can fit more than the two fruit trees in without having them crowd up against the fence or each other.

My goal is lots of berry bushes, some raised veggie plots, and after that, we'll see.  Eventually I'd like to replace all the grass with either things that grow, or pathways to walk between the beds, that sort of thing.  I do have some physical limitations, can't do any very heavy lifting or hard physical labor, so I have to pace myself.  I'm watering my trees by myself, and I even managed to plant one of them without any help at all, as well as start my small garden projects.  I have to pace myself, though.

I live in a good climate (Pennsylvania) and a good neighborhood (mine seems to be the smallest property; used to be an old chicken coop that was converted and expanded through several other lives before becoming a single-person dwelling).  It's ~800 feet, extremely spacious and nice for one person, but might be difficult for more than one because the bedroom is so tiny, everything is connected in an odd way, etc.  I got a good price on it for that reason, and hope to have it paid off in five years or less.

Because of the risk of lead from old paint that can leech into the soil, I don't want to plant anything edible right up against the house (there are rose bushes there now anyway). 

The lawn is "infested" with good things like violets, tiny flowers, and clover.  It's hilly, uneven lawn, the soil with lots of clay.  Right now I have a human-powered push mower, which I hope to use till I don't have a lawn anymore.  My guestimate is at least 3-5 years to convert from lawn to other growing things.

My goal is to have lots of fruit, and asparagus.  I have a blueberry plant I haven't gotten into the ground yet.  A number of birds live on or near the property, and it seems to be a very friendly area for them.  I definitely want them to have more things to eat, not less, when I'm done with my projects.  I see bees every day pollinating things on the lawn, so that shouldn't be a problem.  The neighborhood has quite a few squirrels (too many), and there are no deer.  I saw one groundhog so far but he hasn't been digging holes on my land, at least.

Right now my only gardening stuff is in a raised bed purchase online, and a couple of containers I converted into growing spots on the courtyard area.  Maybe next year I can get a real, permanent raised bed in, but a lot depends on me being able to physically do whatever work is required.  I'm philosophically against hiring someone to do it, not that I could really afford to anyway right now.  (I'm hoping to pay off the home as soon as possible, and my earnings vary quite a bit sometimes.)

I feel like I'm in a very good position to do interesting things with this land, something I've wanted to do for a long time, and if it was much bigger, it would probably be too much for me.   I'm not planning to be a true homesteader in the sense of living off my own land, but it sure would be nice if I could eventually grow at least some of what I eat, make the place beautiful and welcoming to wildlife, and generally contribute to a less grass-oriented world.  It would be lovely if I could be less dependent on money in the lean times, though that might be asking an awful lot for such a small space.  Mostly, I'm grateful for the opportunity to try new things and grow fruits and veggies!

Whew, this got long.  I really only have two questions at the beginning here.

1) Should I or should I not water my brand new peach tree every day?  I've never put in a tree that didn't need watered every day for the first few months, but the guy at the nursery said "twice a week."  Will it thrive on that?  (My pear tree went in late May and is already faring really well.  I water it every day and occasionally fertilize w/ the good ol' yellow gold). I want the peach tree to do just as well, and I'm not convinced twice a week will cut it.  Thoughts?  Anecdotes?

2) Any ideas for how to start a compost pile?  My parents used to compost in a big pile at the end of their property, but mine isn't big enough for that.  I need to either find a spot where the neighbors won't have to smell it (and NOT right under one of my windows either!!), or figure out how to do an unobtrusive, non-smelly compost pile.  That, or I'm gonna be stuck buying all my compost material forever, as well as trashing all my potato peelings, etc., which is what I'm doing right now, unfortunately. 

Is there a way to make an unobtrusive, non-stinky compost pile without investing in something really expensive?  This is a pretty nice neighborhood, and everything I do on or to my lawn is very, VERY visible to everyone living near here.  I'm not saying they'll get the zoning people on me if I make changes to my land...but at the same time I don't want to push it.  Slow, pretty, and nice-smelling is what I'm aiming for.  (Well, I'd move faster if I could, but there are limits to what I can do anyway.)

Looking forward to learning a lot here,
Lori
 
Dale Hodgins
garden master
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Hello, welcome to the Forum.

If a plant is given a very shallow watering on a regular basis, it will only develop shallow roots. If it is watered more heavily, with several days between watering, then it will develop nice deep roots. The fellow at the garden shop was correct. Shallow-rooted plants always need watering, when things dry out. Once a tree has deep roots, it can withstand quite a bit of drought without your help.

You may consider putting your compost as the center of a keyhole garden. This will allow it to be smaller and to not have any wasted walking space around it.

https://permies.com/t/12429/Interesting-keyhole-hugelkultur-design
 
Lori Whit
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Ooh, that sounds pretty and useful!  Thanks

Would you consider 2 big water cans filled at a time (1-2x / day) shallow watering?  I can't use a hose and just soak it because I have city water, aka bleachy water.  I fill the cans and let them sit for a few hours before watering my trees or garden.

More ideas welcome!
 
Michelle Bisson
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Location: Quebec, Canada
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You can get a lot of fruit trees in a very small lot if you prune them small.

If it was my lot, I would try to get a fruit tree every 10 feet along the property line, or as many as I can fit.   Any branches that are facing towards the fence gets pruned off.  Many people espalier their fruit trees along the fence. This can be a lot of fun and very practical for small yards.   Prune when your branches are young.  They are quick to prune at that stage.  I would put bushes in between my trees.

You will have to consider what trees & scrubs need mostly sun.  Some can tolerate more shade like many of the scrubs since they are naturally understory plants.

Your young trees will need either wood chips or dried leaves as mulch.  This will conserve water.  After a few months, once you see that your trees are growing well, you will likely be able to let the rain take care of watering and only water if you have drought conditions.

I suggest that you read the book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture  http://tobyhemenway.com/book/gaias-garden/
 
                                  
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At my house, I dig a hole in the garden and bury the wet household waste.
Living across the street from a factory chicken farm, I try to avoid attracting their flies.

When you start accumulating yard waste, just pile it anywhere that you want to plant something.
Yard debris doesn't smell.

After the debris pile turns into soil, I just level it out a bit.
Or.... Maybe plant stuff next to it while I'm still piling stuff up.
There's extra moisture there.... Extra nutrients...

Lots of ways to get started growing something that doesn't involve major efforts.
Do you absolutely have to now?
The less mowing we do, the more pollinators... And so much easier to turn into a garden!
 
Lori Whit
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Michelle Bisson wrote:You can get a lot of fruit trees in a very small lot if you prune them small.

If it was my lot, I would try to get a fruit tree every 10 feet along the property line, or as many as I can fit.   Any branches that are facing towards the fence gets pruned off.  Many people espalier their fruit trees along the fence. This can be a lot of fun and very practical for small yards.   Prune when your branches are young.  They are quick to prune at that stage.  I would put bushes in between my trees.

You will have to consider what trees & scrubs need mostly sun.  Some can tolerate more shade like many of the scrubs since they are naturally understory plants.

Your young trees will need either wood chips or dried leaves as mulch.  This will conserve water.  After a few months, once you see that your trees are growing well, you will likely be able to let the rain take care of watering and only water if you have drought conditions.

I suggest that you read the book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture  http://tobyhemenway.com/book/gaias-garden/


Thanks for your suggestions, and for the book rec! 

I'd read somewhere that wood mulch spread diseases, so I hadn't planned on putting any around my trees.  Sounds like I'd better break down and buy some!  After I get paid next... 

Espalier sounds pretty intense...I'm a wuss about pruning, always afraid I'll kill my little trees!  But I'll look into it.  If I can get more variety into my yard, it could only be good.  Sometimes one thing won't take off, and it's always good to have plenty of chances for success.

I'd love a small almond tree (though I know it will just encourage the squirrels!), and if I could fit one in, an apple tree wouldn't go amiss.  And there's always other trees it sounds fun to experiment with, if I had the space and money.  Different varieties, unusual fruits, etc.

I planted a current bush at my parents' place years ago (I'm not sure it was really a current bush, but that's what it was called by the seed company), but although it's still stubbornly alive, it didn't really take to this climate, and the birds and animals won't touch its fruit, not sure why.

(I will say I do not want any mulberries.  They're lovely trees and they smell delicious, but they're such a mess, and I never could take to eating the fruit.  It's a waste to grow something that makes that much of a mess, if you're not even going to eat it.  Even the birds seem to get fed up with mulberries after a while!  Even the birds who are feeding their babies and desperate to find something to shove into their beaks to shut them up for five seconds get fed up with mulberries.)



 
Lori Whit
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I love the look of the keyhole garden.  It's so visually appealing, even the more rustic ones!  As I look into it, though, it seems like 1) there's a lot of labor involved in setting them up, and 2) they're great in hot, drought-ridden areas.  Here in PA there's generally lots of rain, very few droughts, and, although we have hot days, it almost never gets up near 100 (although with the humidity you'd think it was). 

stone thegardener wrote:At my house, I dig a hole in the garden and bury the wet household waste.
...
Do you absolutely have to now?
The less mowing we do, the more pollinators... And so much easier to turn into a garden!


Thanks for your thoughts.  Maybe making a garden bed where I can bury some waste would work for me, at least for now. 

(I know compost is a powerful thing, by the way.  My parents did it for years, before finally giving it up as too much to keep up with, and my apple tree, planted next to where it used to be, is an incredibly productive tree, surprisingly healthy considering it receives no special treatment.  It's thriving on those years of soil improvement, I'm sure of it.)

As for mowing...I'm afraid I do.  It really hurt when the neighbor mowed down the first violets of spring, sprinkled all through my backyard!  My neighbors (relatives of the previous homeowner) did my mowing for a bit, and I gave 'em a token payment, but it was difficult for me to be near all those gas fumes.  They're really bad for my health. 

Doing my own mowing without gas is a much better option for now.  And I was only able to take it over after I got myself a push mower and convinced my brothers to put it together for me.  Even then nobody believed I could do it.  If I stop mowing, the neighbor will be back, there will be multiple "I told you so's" and nobody will believe I just decided I'd rather let the grass grow waist-high.

Nor do I actually want to.  I've lived near a meadow and in Pennsylvania, meadows are horrible tick magnets.  I need to be able to go outside without the threat to Lyme disease hanging over my head.  No, I want to convert the yard into food and flowers, maybe even a back-to-nature paradise if I'm lucky, but I can't just stop mowing for that to happen.

This is a good growing climate, so I have that in my favor!  The main thing will be building up the soil, hopefully without hauling in a bunch of paid-for stuff.  That seems...well, expensive, but also kind of wasteful.

The other good thing about the push mower is that it cuts the grass very small, so there's no raking, and it goes right back down to decompose and hopefully keep the soil as healthy as possible while it's still in lawn-mode.  And I'm letting it go longer between mowings when the weather's really hot.
 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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Have you read Paul's article on lawn care (https://richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp)? Also, a compost tumbler doesn't look too hard to make. They seem to be kind of common in urban gardens and it doesn't look bad to me, although I'm not sure how "normal" people would feel about it. 

 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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This looks even easier, you'd just have to make sure it didn't get too heavy for you to handle.

 
Lori Whit
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Thank you.  I will watch them both when I'm on a faster connection!    The article seems great as well.
 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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Lori Whit wrote:Thank you.  I will watch them both when I'm on a faster connection!    The article seems great as well.

Ooops sorry. I tend to assume people have a connection at least as fast as mine since ours is slow for our area. Here's an article by the guy in the second video: http://pallensmith.com/2014/02/27/trash-can-compost-bin/
 
Michelle Bisson
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I'd read somewhere that wood mulch spread diseases, so I hadn't planned on putting any around my trees.  Sounds like I'd better break down and buy some!  After I get paid next...


I would try to avoid spending money on store bought mulch and try to find some free resources. 

For example, if some of your existing plants & trees can use some pruning, then you place small branches & leaves at the base of your young fruit trees.  Over time you add more cuttings to your base of your trees to provide a natural mulch.  You can lay your weeds (without the weed heads full of seeds) as mulch.  In the fall, gather your leaves and they can be used as mulch.  For leaf mulch, I like to have it first in a pile and let it start to decompose over the winter, then use it as mulch in the spring as in the fall the leaves usually blow away.

I have also gathered some clippings from when the neighbour trimmed their hedge.



 
Lori Whit
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Thyri Gullinvargr wrote: Here's an article by the guy in the second video: http://pallensmith.com/2014/02/27/trash-can-compost-bin/


This is amazing and looks very doable and unobtrusive.  Thank you! 

Michelle Bisson wrote:
I would try to avoid spending money on store bought mulch and try to find some free resources. 



As luck would have it, I pruned the Japanese maple the other day.  Maybe snipping up some of those leafy branches will work for now.  Thanks! 
 
                                  
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Lori Whit wrote:I love the look of the keyhole garden.  It's so visually appealing, even the more rustic ones!  As I look into it, though, it seems like 1) there's a lot of labor involved in setting them up, and 2) they're great in hot, drought-ridden areas.  Here in PA there's generally lots of rain, very few droughts, and, although we have hot days, it almost never gets up near 100 (although with the humidity you'd think it was). 

stone thegardener wrote:At my house, I dig a hole in the garden and bury the wet household waste.
...
Do you absolutely have to now?
The less mowing we do, the more pollinators... And so much easier to turn into a garden!


Maybe making a garden bed where I can bury some waste would work for me, at least for now. 

(I know compost is a powerful thing, by the way.  My parents did it for years, before finally giving it up as too much to keep up with...

As for mowing...I'm afraid I do.  It really hurt when the neighbor mowed down the first violets of spring...

it was difficult for me to be near all those gas fumes.  They're really bad for my health. 

I want to convert the yard into food and flowers, maybe even a back-to-nature paradise if I'm lucky, but I can't just stop mowing for that to happen.

This is a good growing climate... The main thing will be building up the soil...


Wait.....
The compost was too much to keep up with

How much work can it be to carry the stuff out the door and toss it on the pile?
I always cold compost...
I don't have the time or energy to waste turning compost.
Cold composting produces 2 or 3 times as much...

Not sure how setting up a "keyhole garden" can be any work...
I didn't even know there was a name to piling up compostables and then planting the stuff that required more water than could be provided elsewhere in the garden...
I thought I invented the common sense use of the pile to keep alive plants that otherwise died in the landscape.

Those gas fumes are bad for everyone.
Much better to keep the pretty violets... Sucks that the neighbor subscribes to the theory that a yard must be 1 inch in height, no matter what.

Not sure how you even can build a pollinator garden while keeping it mowed.
The butterflies rely on the plants that you are cutting.
No caterpillars, no butterflies.
 
Lori Whit
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stone thegardener wrote:Not sure how setting up a "keyhole garden" can be any work...


If you follow the links, yes, there is work involved.  I looked at a couple of videos and sites that were linked here.  The keyhole garden seems to involve a lot of building and filling before it's at the stage of just water and add compost to the middle sections.  (Not knocking it--seems great especially for drought-ridden areas.)  What you said about burying compostables sounds pretty easy to do without building anything first. 

*edit* I think they were linked here...but maybe I got sidetracked on YouTube.  Anyway it seemed to involve a lot of bricks (or cob, etc), building up a wall in a circle with a walk-in space to reach the keyhole/compost area, then filling the insides (minus the keyhole) with lots of soil.

stone thegardener wrote:Wait.....
The compost was too much to keep up with


Well this thread is supposed to be about me, not my parents.    They're not avid gardeners by any stretch, and I've probably talked about them too much already.
 
                                  
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Lori Whit wrote:
stone thegardener wrote:Not sure how setting up a "keyhole garden" can be any work...


If you follow the links, yes, there is work involved.



OK, we don't seem to be talking about the same thing at all.

What I was encouraging you to do....
Was the minimum work necessary to get maximum benefit, and worry about how it looks after proof of concept.
If it doesn't work, all that work is avoided.... If something does work.... Pretty it up when you have the time, money, and inclination.
 
Michelle Bisson
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The key is to start doing small things and do more as your time and your health allows.   Remember, the turtle won the race, slow, steady always progressing.

 
Lori Whit
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Yesterday I snipped up the prunings from the maple tree, and you're right, they seem to make an excellent mulch!  They look just fine around the base of the peach tree, and they seem to be as effective as anything I could buy.  (Nice!  I also know they're not from diseased wood, which is a plus.)

Next I'll start seeing what I can so about digging a future garden bed, getting my blueberry bush in, getting some compost started.  As you said, small things as time and health allow. 

Thanks for the encouragement.
 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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One other thing about keyhole gardens. Although there are a variety of reasons that they are usually raised garden beds (hugelkultur or not), part of the point seems to be to make the best use of the land without have to have too many paths taking up valuable space. The idea is to be able to easily reach the middle of the bed from the keyhole and from the outside. Raised beds also make it easier to pick, but in the spirit of doing a little at a time even doing a keyhole shape as a flat garden would help. They can also work as sun scoops to provide a warmer microclimate in the keyhole when they're raised. You could get a similar effect for picking things by planting plants that grow taller in the middle (between the keyhole and the outside) and things that are gradually shorter toward the edges. Distance from where you stand to the middle of the bed should be about arm's length or a little less and the "tall" stuff should need harvesting around shoulder height or a bit less., think "ergonomic". At least that's my understanding. All theory, no practice.

By the way, how much gardening have you done before? Paul generally recommends getting started with Square Foot Gardening if you're a new gardener, then graduate to Gaia's Garden to get started with Permaculture, especially for small, urban spaces. Both are probably available at your library.
 
Miles Flansburg
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I built a compost tumbler out of one of those plastic drums years ago. Good compost goes through two levels of heating up. The second, hotter level , melted my barrel so I do not recommend using plastic to make compost.

Look up vermicomposting or composting with worms. They do a great job and make the best compost !

And yes anything that you can compost can just be buried in the garden, easy peezy.
 
Lori Whit
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Thank you for all the advice! 

I've gardened since I was a kid, on and off and depending on factors like health, but I'm not an expert by any means.  I've just always been interested and dabbled a bit.    I've looked into square foot gardening, and it's pretty neat.  Right now I'm growing just a few veggies in containers.  They're pretty crowded, but I'm getting enough to suit myself at the moment: lots of lettuce, some tomatoes, and squash on the way.

Miles Flansburg wrote:I built a compost tumbler out of one of those plastic drums years ago. Good compost goes through two levels of heating up. The second, hotter level , melted my barrel so I do not recommend using plastic to make compost.

Look up vermicomposting or composting with worms. They do a great job and make the best compost !

And yes anything that you can compost can just be buried in the garden, easy peezy.


Mm, thanks for telling me!  I'd have had to buy something for that anyway, so I'll start with the free option. 
 
Ken W Wilson
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Deep watering trees once or twice a week is great advice in general. Sometimes new trees don't have enough roots to benefit from the deep watering. If it's hot and dry, you might need to water every day for a while.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Before giving up on planting around the foundation, you might get the soil treated for lead.
 
Lori Whit
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Ken W Wilson wrote:Before giving up on planting around the foundation, you might get the soil treated for lead.


I think I'll just let the roses grow there.  They're very pretty!
 
Kamaar Taliaferro
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Hi Lori,
Congrats on the new-ish house!

If you haven't already, check with the park's department in your town. They might have a pile of arborist chips free for the shoveling.

While I haven't had any issues with disease from wood chips, I also don't have any trees or woody shrubs. But I have been told my the care-taker at the community gardens that wood chips couldn't be used for that reason. Being obstinate I looked into it, and the results swayed the care-taker's mind. https://puyallup.wsu.edu/lcs/

I'd second vermicomposting, after setting it up it's free.
 
Lori Whit
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I want to thank you all again for the responses and encouragement!  This week I've been slowly working on digging up a patch of lawn to become the beginning of a garden.  It's pretty small so far, but I've buried compost, green matter, and some bits of decomposing wood to decompose and build up the lower bits.  There's clay but the upper soil looks pretty healthy, and there are some worms, too.  It has partial shade.  I'm optimistic.  The local wren pretty much wanted to murder me for being so close to his home, though. 

I'm finding this place so encouraging!  I feel less weird for caring about the stuff I do now.
 
Michelle Bisson
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Where ever you bury compost matter, that is the best location to plant a tree or scrub or other. The newly planted plant will love it.

 
Lori Whit
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Michelle Bisson wrote:Where ever you bury compost matter, that is the best location to plant a tree or scrub or other. The newly planted plant will love it.



OK. I'll remember that for planting my berry bushes! 

By the way, I'm hoping to eventually grow all of my asparagus for the year (and some extra to share if possible).  I really like asparagus, so that's a lot!  I know it will take some time to get up to that much, & probably some big beds.  Is there anything I should be doing this year to prep the ground before I actually plant anything in spring?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Check out no-till potatoes. It's a simple way of killing grass, when you're looking to start a new vegetable patch where there is a well-established lawn. Of course it would only produce potatoes, the first year unless you wanted to intersperse some other things.

https://permies.com/mobile/t/40424/Killing-dense-grass-garden-Dale
 
Lori Whit
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Yesterday I did some weeding near the road, in the rain.  Big roots came up better that way.  Lots of ragweed to battle!  I also had to snip some saplings that were growing too close to the house and could have compromised the foundation if left unattended too long.  A couple of maples and some bigger saplings that may have been sumac.

I've been leaving the thistles to grow where I can, in odd corners here and there; the finches love them.  My goal is to weed judiciously, and let some areas stay a bit wild for the birds.  I'm often surprised by what they choose to snack on.

I've left a large patch of yellow oxalis in my yard, because it's rather pretty, low to the ground, and the bees like it.  Today I was going to reluctantly mow down at least part of it, but I just couldn't do it.  The sun was shining and there were bees every foot or two: bumblebees, little carpenter bees, and a few honeybees.  They were enjoying those little yellow flowers far too much for me to go through with it.  I mowed other bits.  (The skeeters have been nasty.  I got three bites in half an hour, and it wasn't even near dawn or dusk!)

I still haven't gotten much of the yard dug up, but the patch I did work on is now sprouting what I hope will be some late fall / early winter veggie for me.  Onwards! 
 
Lori Whit
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I finally got my blueberries planted!  (I got a second plant that was marked down.  I think I can keep it alive and it'll take off in the spring.)

Also discovered some encouraging permaculture videos from BealtaineCottage on YouTube.  (I have faster internet now so I can actually do more research + watching videos.)  I find them very encouraging, particularly because they're by a mature single woman who does it all herself.  She talks about things in a way that make sense to me, and make it all a little less intimidating.

I'm going to try to let part of the yard be devoted to wildflowers after all.  I've left a square (with the oxalis) unmowed and plan to sow some flowers there, too. 

Sometimes I get a little discouraged and think that I'm only about 10% of the way to where I'd like to be.  But then I just have to remember that I'm 100% further along than I was a year ago.  It's all pretty exciting for me to be honest!
 
What could go wrong in a swell place like "The Evil Eye"? Or with this tiny ad?
2017 Rocket Mass Heater Workshop Jamboree - 15 workshops in one event
https://permies.com/wiki/63312/permaculture-projects/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Workshop-Jamboree
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