Gardening in Almonte & Carleton Place: Battle of the Berms

David

Local contracting genius Adrian Schut made short work of 45 cubic yards of soil and a couple of truck loads of wood chips to construct a berm that shelters and defines two sides of the Carleton Place Community Garden. The base of the berm was the rotting cedar 4 by 4’s and organic matter that was left when the Carleton Place garden was reconstructed and expanded last year. The following photos give a glimpse of the 150 feet of berm – it is about two and a half feet high with a footprint of about five feet. The next step will be to plant shrubs that bear fruit such as gooseberries, haskaps, raspberries and currants. The final step will be to plant clover to suppress weed growth.

Meanwhile back in Almonte, it was time for a makeover of the 110 foot berm that was constructed in the Augusta Park Community Garden three years ago. While most of the 35 shrubs are doing extremely well, the berm had become completely overgrown with quack grass. It forms a dense mat that is virtually impossible to dig out and the quack grass was moving into more and more of the garden.

It was time to take a stand and put up a border defence. We were really, really fortunate to have 11 volunteers from Tweed in Smiths Falls come to the rescue. These industrious folk worked a full day in the sun and heat last week. This was part of an initiative organized through the United Way of Lanark County.

The first step was to rent a sod-cutter and cut the offending mat of sod into a strip about an inch and a half thick and 18 inches wide. This was rolled up and stacked in a pile to break down. Grass and weeds close to the shrubs were removed and a circle of mushroom compost was added around the base of each shrub. Finally thick cardboard was laid on the bare soil and a layer of about four inches of straw was added. Other areas of the garden received a similar treatment – sod was cut and removed and collaborative beds were prepped and planted.

Why berms? Berms promote permaculture principles as they incorporate large volumes of organic materials such as sod, decaying lumber, straw and brush that are available at the site – I feel that this is a much better option than using fossil fuels to truck ‘excess’ materials to a dump.

Some clues as to how to make gardening more sustainable may be found in the principles of permaculture: defined as ‘a system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems’. Some information on local initiatives may be found on the website of Permaculture Eastern Ontario, based in Perth (livinghearth.net).

So to a very limited extent we have tried to incorporate some of those principles in local community gardens – the construction of a berm around community gardens incorporating organic matter from clearing the site and then planting perennial fruit-bearing shrubs.

A further major benefit has been the moisture-retaining nature of the berm. All of the organic matter acts as a reservoir for moisture and means that the shrubs are much more capable of surviving (and thriving) during dry summer days.