The Best Gardening Method for Baby Boomers?

Let’s face it; we’re aging. Heavy work and tasks requiring a lot of bending or kneeling are becoming more difficult. Tilling, shovel work, hoeing, and all the bending required throughout the gardening season is heck on the body. Giving up isn’t in the forecast, so what method can we choose that will allow us to keep gardening into our 90s? I’ll tell you right now, I don’t have the answer, just some ideas. I’m a Boomer … Continue reading

Time to Get Proactive about GM seed

I just finished watching a documentary about Monsanto and GM seed. I was astounded by the corruption and dirty tricks that resulted in the contamination and control of the world’s food. I can rant and rave about this, blog about it and email senators and representatives. However, the best thing I can do is buy non GM, heirloom seed and learn better methods of saving seed from the food I grow. I’d like to take it a step further and involve my farming friend down the road in saving some seed. That’s the beginning of a network of farming friends all saving seeds from the vegetables that do well in our climate.
Watching this movie gave me the kick in the pants I needed to save something other than flower and herb seeds. You can view the documentary by clicking the link below. 
The World According to Monsanto
If you save seed or are part of a seed bank/network, please share tips or contact me if you’d like to be a guest blogger.

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Heavy Mulch No Till Gardening

Back in October, I blogged about my plans to trade-in my lawn for garden beds and how I hoped to accomplish that with sheet mulching. There was an instructional video included in that post. I failed, however, to highlight the benefits of heavy mulch gardening over tilling. This article addresses why tilling is counterproductive and why heavy mulch is a better alternative.

Why Eliminate Tilling?
Ruth Stout, the mulch guru, who successfully employed this method for many years, made this no-till gardening method famous. Heavy Mulch Gardening is a term that refers to the practice of laying down a thick layer of mulch before planting. The thick layer serves several purposes. It saves the gardener work, conserves water and improves the soil. The biggest advantage to deep mulch is that it eliminates the need to till the garden. Besides being hard, heavy work, tilling is not particularly good for soil health. Tilling causes soil compaction, erosion and can create lifeless soil.

Eliminate Soil Compaction
Continuously tilling the garden soil to the same depth causes the soil particles to align in the same direction. This eliminates the spaces that serve as channels for air and water flow. The soil just below the tilled layer becomes hard and compressed causing drainage problems. Compacted soil stunts plant’s growth. Roots have difficulty penetrating the hard layer and taking up nutrients. Laying down a thick layer of mulch inhibits weed and grass growth thus making tilling unnecessary. This eliminates the soil compaction caused by excessive tilling. The mulch must be 8” – 12” thick to be an effective weed barrier.

Comfrey in heavy mulch

Prevent Soil Erosion 
Tilling breaks up the top layer of vegetation to prepare a seedbed. It is a fast way to get a garden ready for spring and fall planting. The downside is that rototilling bares the soil and leaves it vulnerable to erosion from wind and rain. The soil is never bare when gardening with heavy mulch. The thick layer protects the soil from the ravages of wind and rain. The top inches of soil are the most precious in the garden and the most easily lost to erosion if left unprotected.

Preserve and Promote Healthy Soil
Beneficial bacteria and the microorganisms that make soil a living substance occur in the top three inches. These microorganisms make the topsoil healthy and better able to sustain plant life. Tilling mixes this good soil with the substandard soil from below. Not only does that bring the poor quality soil to the top, it submerges the topsoil. The microorganisms then die due to lack of water, air and sunlight. Repeated tilling causes the soil to lose vitality and become lifeless. Heavy mulch gardening serves a dual purpose in protecting and encouraging healthy, living soil. The top soil remains where it belongs under a blanket of organic mulch. As the mulch breaks down, it further enriches the soil and improves its structure.

Common Mulch Materials
Many materials can be used as mulch. Organic material such as leaves, hay and straw will return nutrients to the soil as they rot. Leaves can be gathered free in the fall, making them a frugal choice. Spoiled hay can be purchased cheaply. Thick layers of cardboard and newspaper can also be used to squelch weed growth and retain moisture.

References
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2004-02-01/Ruth-Stouts-System.aspx http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Disadvantages_of_tilling_and_bare_soil/
http://ag.udel.edu/udbg/sl/soils/Combating_Soil_Compaction.pdf

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Turning Lawn into Garden Beds With Sheet Mulch

Keeping the lawn mowed is a time consuming chore that is not high on my list of priorities. I do fret over the unkempt appearance when it’s overgrown, but it takes a lot of time and energy to keep it well-groomed. I’d much rather put that time into raising something useful like vegetables, flowers and herbs. A lawn is a lot of wasted space that could be grazing sheep or growing food and is contrary to the principles of permaculture.

So begins my journey into eliminating all the grass at the front of the house. Not only must the grass be killed, it must be replaced with good soil to support the food I hope to grow. It is a daunting task so I decided to begin sheet mulching the areas closest to the house and the water supply.
Autumn is the perfect time to make a bed or two for planting in the spring.

This instructional video demonstrates how easy sheet mulching is. Much easier than digging or tilling and it makes quite a respectable raised bed in little time. All the materials are free. We get cardboard boxes from the grocery store and from the hospital where my daughter works. If you don’t have livestock, many horse stables give manure away. It is yours for the shoveling. With fall upon us, leaves are everywhere.

Steps to Sheet Mulching
1. Mow
2. Lay down a barrier of cardboard/newspaper after removing staples and the glossy pieces
4. A layer of grass clippings or weeds
3. Pile on spoiled hay and barn sweepings
4. Add a layer of compost
5. Cover with a layer of straw or leaves
Water after each layer is added.

Paid Endorsement Disclosure: I may receive commissions/revenue from affiliates or advertisers for endorsements, recommendations, and/or links to products or services from this blog. It doesn’t change the cost to you and helps offset expenses on this frugal homestead.

Potager Today, Hooray!

Those of you who read The Frugal Homestead Blog are already aware that I’m very excited about this opportunity to learn a new gardening method. The Parisienne Farmgirl has generously offered to share her knowledge of  Potager gardening with any and all who are willing to learn. A potager garden is a French ornamental kitchen garden. Long a lover of all things dual purpose, I could not miss a chance to learn how to plan a garden that combines function and beauty. Won’t you join me for POTAGER 101?

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