While growing a garden is a great way to spend free time, both in that it provides healthy food and is good for the planet, sometimes it’s a project that seems a bit too daunting. There’s all of that tilling and prepping of the soil and the maintenance of weeding. Many people feel they theoretically want to grow some of their own food, but all that comes with it prevents them from trying.
However, with the right techniques, it’s not such a difficult thing to do. Permaculturalists work to make gardens low maintenance. They work to build soil rather than till it. They strive to prevent weeds rather than pull them. And, they adapt to whatever spaces — balconies, patios, suburban lawns or huge fields — are available for cultivating.
Building quality, largely self-sufficient gardens is a long-term investment of money and effort, but with very little of that, it’s possible to start growing some food right away.
The Compost Pile
Making compost at home is something we should all try to get into, if not for gardens then simply for the positive environmental impact of it. The problem is that, with regards to using compost in the garden, it takes months to get compost from the pile. However, for an instant garden, it’s possible to simply grow atop a fresh compost pile.
- It starts with saving kitchen scraps for a while. The more scraps, the bigger the garden, but a full five-gallon bucket is a great start. While saving up these kitchen scraps, let the space for the garden grow up in grass and weeds.
- Once the scrap bucket is full, cut the weeds and grass down and let them remain. Add the kitchen scraps to the weeds (and some manure if that fits your ethics and is easily available). Spread these nitrogen-rich materials over the garden area, creating a pile about two inches deep.
- Atop this pile of material put a layer of wet cardboard or several layers of wet newspaper. This will act as a biodegradable weed block that attracts earthworms as well. It will also absorb moisture, keeping it available for the plants.
- Finally, the bed should be covered with a three-to-four-inch layer of straw or seedless hay. Wherever plants are going to be cultivated, open up a space in the straw and use some quality potting soil or potting mix to plant in. Over the season, the whole bed will break down into compost-y richness for the plants.
The Straw Bale
Unlike the compost pile method described above, this technique doesn’t require kitchen scraps. Nevertheless, it’s a low-maintenance method that actually provides a lot of rich compost at the end of the season. This technique is also great for gardening on hard surfaces, such as concrete or stone.
- This time start by laying down a layer of cardboard a few inches wider and longer than the straw bale(s). This is especially necessary if attempting this on a grassy space. The layer will prevent weeds from growing around or into the bale, and on hard surfaces, it’ll absorb extra moisture and make tidiness a little easier.
- Leaving the straw (or seedless hay) in bales, they’ll need to be conditioned with a bit of organic fertilizer or compost tea. This process takes a couple of weeks and involves pouring liquid fertilizer onto the bales (urine actually works also). The rich liquid starts the bales breaking down into rich, plant-ready nutrients.
- Finally, where plants are to be cultivated, use a trowel to form a small hole in the bale. Fill this hole with potting mix and put the seeds in it. The plants will grow happily, and at the end of the season, a rich collection of compost will remain to be used for more gardening (or stored as the planting medium next year).
The Other Important Thing
Either of these gardens is good for creating nearly instant well-draining but moist growing environments. However, while watering and weeding won’t be nearly as tasking with either of these set-ups as they would be with typical gardens, there is no getting around needing the sun to spur the plants on into production. So, set them up in a sunny spot, and get into some gardening this year. It’s not too late!
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