One question that I am asked quite frequently when I am holding workshops for beginner vegetable gardeners is how to create the garden itself. Many new gardeners are overwhelmed with all the possibilities as they are bombarded with concepts such as square-foot gardening, straw-bale gardening, lasagne gardening or raised boxes.
The first thing that I tell beginner gardeners is that the basic requirement for most vegetables is a minimum of six hours of direct sun (afternoon sun preferred!). When I am looking at a site, I visit it several times a day to determine how much sun the proposed site receives at different points during the day. One clue to the best site for a vegetable garden is to identify where the snow first disappears from your yard.
After reviewing the available sunlight, the next step is to develop a plan and decide what approach to take. The available budget is a critical parameter. My strong preference is for an in-the-ground garden – it is by far the cheapest, the most flexible and requires much less water.
That being said there are many circumstances where other approaches may be a better choice. If there is site contamination, a raised box with no contact with the native soil will be the best option. If there are mobility or bending issues, a raised box again gets the nod. If the only site available is a paved driveway, a straw-bale garden may be a very reasonably-priced option. If only a small quantity of vegetables is desired a square-foot garden may fit the bill. If there are a lot of organic materials available, a lasagne approach may be the best choice.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to help create a space for a reconciliation garden at an Almonte church. This garden will provide a space for gardeners to grow indigenous plants and share wisdom about growing food and living sustainably.
The space is about 600 square feet. A sunny site was located; the centre marked with a stake and a circle with a 25 foot diameter was marked. A sod-cutter was rented and the existing grass was quickly cut, ready to be rolled. The sod-cutting machine weighs a couple of hundred pounds and is somewhat awkward to operate, but is an incredibly cost-effective way to prepare a site. At a cost of about $80 we were able to prepare sites for four similar sized gardens in one day. With the right soil-moisture conditions the sod-cutting goes very quickly.
Once the sod was cut, it was rolled up and moved to a location where the grass can compost and then eventually be added back to the garden. Pathways were marked with stakes and twine and dug out to a couple of inches. Meanwhile four cubic yards of mushroom compost had been delivered and dumped close to the garden. Volunteers with shovels and a wheelbarrow spread the compost on the areas that will be the growing beds. The final steps were a rototilling to mix the compost with the existing soil, a levelling of the beds and then spreading of straw on the pathways.
The whole process took about five hours spread over a couple of days. Up to a dozen volunteers were involved – many for shorter periods of time. And if truth be told, the volunteers included a photographer, one woman with a wrist in a cast, and a fair amount of time standing chatting and drinking coffee and eating some delicious home-made muffins!
Next week the planting will begin with corn. In a week or two this will be followed by beans and squash.