Monday, January 27, 2014

January Conservation Tip

Easy Raised Plant Beds 
Applied Permaculture for Horse(wo)men

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a gardening book:
" Gaias's Garden" by Toby Hemenway. This is not your common gardening book...It's about permaculture on a home scale. I just had heard about permaculture, a fascinating and very natural concept, so I bought it. 
Leafing through it I would like to have started a garden right away, but for some reason I never got to it.
This last March we were lucky enough to be able to attend a permaculture workshop here in Kimberley led by no other than the author of my book: Toby Hemenway

To describe permaculture here would go way beyond the scope of this blog, let me just quote one of the "founders" of modern permaculture:
"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system " 
- Bill Mollison

After the workshop I was seriously ready to get my hands dirty! But I needed to build up some compost first. For how I did it please follow the Hot Composting link below.
With two horses no problem, just a matter of time...;-)

Since the soil here is very rocky, after all we are living in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, I had to build up the soil first. And I wanted to do this in raised plant beds for easier access and maintenance. An how-to article in the Organic Garden Magazine from 2012 gave perfect instructions for an easy way to build some.

And here is how I did it: 
First I prepared the wood for the boxes, for a 8' by 4' box I used three 2-by-12 boards, 8 feet long, one 2-by-4 board, 8 feet long and galvanized deck screws. I sawed one of the 2-by-12 boards in half, these 2 pieces became the end pieces, the two uncut boards became the sides. The 2-by-4 board I sawed into one 4foot piece, which ended up being the center brace, and four 1foot pieces for corner support.

Since the elements here are rather harsh on the wood I wanted to treat it for protection, but not with anything that would seep into the soil and/or plants. After some research and with the help of the local hardware store I found LifeTime wood treatment. It's a tiny package of non-toxic, eco-friendly powder, that you mix with water. Painting the boards with it felt like painting with water, I am curious to see how it holds up.

Assembly was easy, I just screwed the boards to the corner support 2- by-4's to make a box. Instead of assembling the whole planter box, I only did it half way, so that I could fill it easier.
I also watered the ground where the planter boxes were to go up very thoroughly the night before the assembly. 

Now the process of filling theory you can just fill it with good, compost-rich, expensive soil and be done with it. But where is the fun there?...;-) So I followed Toby Hemenway's instructions for sheet mulching, since I had all of the "ingredients" at hand anyway, thanks to the horses.
There are plenty of different ways to make your sheet mulch with. If you don't have access to free horse manure, get "Gaia's Garden", the author explains the whole process in much more detail, with lots of alternatives. I just had all this, hence the title "permaculture for horse(wo)men"...;-)
The ingredients I used are:
horse manure
big sheets of card board, since I had planned this since quite a while, I kept plenty of the moving boxes
compost, which I had "hot-composted" out of horse manure
old hay, 1 1/2 to two bales per box
straw, 3/4 of a bale per box

First came a thin layer of horse manure on the wet lawn, to attract worms and other "soil aerators".

The manure I covered with a layer of thick card board, which I had saved from the move. A thick layer of newspaper would have worked, too. I had to make sure the card board overlapped and covered the whole area in order to successfully inhibit weeds and existing plants to come through. Then another good watering was called for.

On top of the wet cardboard I put another thin layer of manure. At this point I also finished assembling the box by closing it with the help of the two remaining corner support 2-by-4's and adding the one 4 feet long center brace.

The next step was adding a eight to twelve inch layer of bulk mulch. I had some rained on and rotten hay that I used for that, breaking it up in flakes and covering the manure with it.
At this point I gave it another good watering. The goal was to get it damp but not wet. Kind of the same wrung-out sponge feel that one would want for compost.

Speaking of compost, that was what came next, about two inches of it.

The final layer should be a couple of inches of weed- and seed free organic matter. As you can see I used flakes of straw, but bark or wood shavings would have worked, too.

This is how it looks right now...

According to "Gaia's Garden" one could directly start planting, but the productivity will be strongly enhanced after about six months. So all I have to do now is to wait for spring, late spring for my climate here, and then the planting can begin!
I will keep you posted.


Hot Composting

Build a Raised Bed by Organic Gardening Apr/May 2012
Unfortunately the article is not available online. If more instructions are needed, please feel free to email me

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