New here? Start with: “Can Permaculture Save My Garden? (part 1)”
THE PLAN, APPLIED
I got some cardboard. I took it out front, to my street-side garden bed. I spread it on the grass and watered it well. Next step, compost: I turned my pile to find out what I had cooking under there. Good stuff: warm, rank and sweet; soil in the making. But, since I don’t yet own a wheel barrow, I stopped there for the day.
Instead I turned to the vegetable patch in the back yard, where I stood a moment, looking at the grass weaving itself into the fence.
A sudden frenzy of inspiration hit. I started pulling it up. In less than an hour, the fence was clean and I had some big piles of grass in my wake. More food for the compost pile, I supposed – but as I started gathering them into my arms, inspiration struck again.
And here’s where my garden got redeemed.
CHANGE OF PLAN
All this grass? Why add it to the compost pile when it could serve a double purpose, right here? I started piling it on the beds, on top of the weeds, taking care not to smother the vegetables. When I ran out of grass, I did a quick pass on the overgrown walkways with the garden rake, combing long, thick bunches out of the dirt and into my hands. Then I did another pass, ripping strands out by hand. After that, the grass on the walkways was short enough to do a final pass with the reel mower.
Voila. Paths neatly trimmed. Beds piled thickly with rich, nutrient-packed cuttings. If you’d told me a week ago that an orderly garden was only an afternoon’s work away, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it was true: no more weeds. Anything still rooted in the beds was now composting under a mass of fresh, homemade mulch.
I had quenched the unquenchable.
And I hadn’t even followed Mitra’s plan. No need for cardboard; no new soil or compost trucked in. I did cover the cuttings with some ripped-up brown paper bags, and I did spread straw over the top of that, just to seal the deal. But that’s all, and now I’m happy to report that with the soaker hose at the bottom of the stack, things are already starting to decompose under there in the most wonderful way.
Mitra’s no-dig garden is great for building soil, if you’re starting from scratch. Even something unworkable (like rock) or unmanageable (like weeds) will turn into something good over time, with a layer of cardboard, compost and mulch on top. What I like most about his plan is that, when the cardboard decays, it allows what you’ve built to reach down into the ground below, later on, and open a dialogue with whatever good stuff you do have down there. This is worlds better than plastic, in my opinion, for that reason.
Downside: according to the guy I got my straw from, cardboard under your bed can dry out and keep things from penetrating it. He recommended paper instead. At the time, though, I didn’t believe paper would be a strong enough weed-deterrent for me, so I planned to stick with Mitra’s cardboard.
But in the end, it was easier than all that. Here’s the truth: I already had everything I needed, on site. My apparently irredeemable garden was actually bursting with potential in the form of grass. Oh, I remember what I said before: I don’t have time to weed all this. And believe me, I don’t have any more time now than I did when I wrote that. But I thought “weeding” meant I’d have to go through my beds by hand, excavating every last, stubborn root clump while somehow managing not to disturb the vegetables. I didn’t know I could get rid of those weeds in a much simpler way, by burying them. I didn’t realize I had all the raw material I needed, thriving at knee-height on the paths between beds.
This weekend, I learned something about permaculture. Yes, it’s about creating a self-supporting, self-maintaining system. But it’s also about using what you’ve got. It’s about realizing that what you’re working with is gold, if you only know how to apply it.
To revive a worn-out cliché, it’s about using every part of the buffalo.
Briefly put, everything is good. Everything is useful. The question is only how, where and when.