Zero waste gardening in the spring ~ A walk through the garden
This blog has been like a relative I haven’t gotten to see often enough. I was behind anyway, and then our twelve year old son passed away rather suddenly. He was terminally ill with a rare disease and his death was expected at some point, but the timing was out of left field and hit us hard.
Shock and grief eat time. We woke up at the end of May to realize that a month of our life had disappeared. Slowly, we’re reemerging but grief is a little bit like the weather. We’ll set aside time to complete a certain task and then be hit with the storm all over. The gardens all need to be finished to plant the strawberries, potatoes, raspberries and asparagus that I’d ordered beforehand. Also the seedlings were anxious to be planted after being started a little too early inside because I was eager. All of which is requiring a ton of work outside. It is both the first and the last thing I would like to be doing.
I got the gardening bug last year sometime. My mom planted a small garden which yielded some of the best tasting food I’ve ever eaten. On a random Wednesday afternoon I met a woman named Noami while in a swimming pool, who has grown a huge organic garden with her husband for the past 20 years. She offered a tour and recommended some books. Through these experiences I realized that the closest thing to zero waste you can get is growing your own food, and after that I fell fast down the rabbit hole.
This is my super fancy seedling cart that I used extensively. I got it because Naomi said that serious gardeners grow their own seedlings because garden stores don’t sell the really interesting varieties. I’m an aspiring serious gardener with many children including a toddler who undoes any chore I attempt, and thought a seedling cart on wheels would make the hardening off process about 5 million times easier. Plus, I can grow things inside over the winter. So I spent way too much money on it, but it’s one of my favorite things in life.
Super fantastic gardening resources
First a disclaimer. I don’t actually know anything, but I’ve read a lot and I’m hoping that counts for something. Naomi recommended the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Four Season Harvest and the Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog.
The Vegetable Gardner’s Bible talks about having wide raised rows with narrow walking paths and using a no-till method. The wide rows are more space efficient in a garden, where space is at a premium. It’s not used in farming because the equipment is standard sizes, but in a garden, the equipment is a non issue. Wide rows allow you to grow much more in less space. Similarly, not tilling preserves the soil structure, helps improve earth worm populations and reduces weed growth by preventing new seeds from finding light. Another big take away is top coating with manure or leaf mold every year to add nutrients back into the soil.
Four Season Harvest is mostly about season extension techniques in Northern climates (like ours), including extensive use of cold frames and row covers. The main idea behind this is planting crops in the fall and then covering them as they go dormant, extending the harvest for hardy vegetables as late as December. Similarly, it allows you to start planting as early as March. He also talks extensively about succession planting – a concept that I understand hypothetically but have a really hard time planning in my brain. Hopefully by the end of the season I’ll get it.
No container was safe from being used as a pot.
I went with Johnny’s Selected Seeds based on Naomi’s recommendation. The difference between their seeds and the generic ones from Home Depot are shocking. I swear their germination rate is very nearly 100%. Everything survives – every asparagus, nearly every strawberry plant, and pretty much every seed I planted came up happy and vigorous.
Another key seed starting tip is that the medium you use is incredibly important. I had really good luck with Johnny’s Seed Starting mix, but I don’t know if their peat moss use is sustainable or not. I felt like I couldn’t tackle sustainable peat moss harvesting this year.
Installing the beds
I didn’t really have a plan except for exactly where the beds themselves would go, but the specific planting plan was pretty random. Some were tilled, some not, some had well rotted horse manure, others had leaves I’d stollen, others had less rotted horse manure, and some had really terrible “top soil” from a reputable garden center near us.
My take away was this – avoid paying for dirt when you can. The best dirt of all was the well rotted horse manure. Here are some things that sort of worked for us:
- I collected leaves in the fall, in the cover of darkness, from the end of people’s driveways (yes my family teased me, I did it anyway)
- We contacted a nearby horse farm and asked if we could have their horse manure. We were fortunate enough to find a barn that would load it into my father in law’s trailer for $5.
- We picked up free mulch from our town’s mulch program. It’s not pretty, but it worked well for the walking paths.
Here are some things that didn’t work for us:
- Buying compost – it was really super terrible quality.
- Buying top soil – it was also super terrible quality.
I totally had access to a free trailer and someone willing to drive it around for me. I know people may not have yards, not all places have deciduous trees, horse farms, or town mulch programs. The point here is more about thinking hard about what resources ARE available to you and then using them.
The take away: zero waste is about utilizing the resources you have available to you. Your resources will be different than mine!
We’re growing actual wheat grass for entertainment purposes. Once it’s ready we’ll have some little red hen action.
This is the cold frame. It needs some design improvements and the whole set up is a little pricey, but it’s another one of my favorite things in life. I was super excited about the idea of growing canteloupe in them because they love heat and I live in a place that doesn’t. A cold frame is essentially a self contained greenhouse.
I’m not really sure why I’m growing peanuts since they also like heat. We’ll see what happens.
I learned that real gardeners use concrete remesh instead of tomato cages you buy at garden supply places. Tomatoes are huge plants, and those aren’t nearly big enough. I started mine too early and didn’t harden them off slowly enough, so the leaves they grew in the house died outside and the new ones are happy but now the plants are leggy. Ah well.
This is celery growing in really super terrible soil. I’m going to need to move it and redo this bed.
Garlic, I love you. You taste good and you grow so happily.
We had to buy a 125 foot roll of remesh and I was disinclined to spend a cent more on the garden (but somehow it keeps adding up – how does that happen???), so decided to use the remesh for anything that needs trelissing. These are sugar snap peas and snow peas.
This is a view of the back forty feet.
This is a view that shows the front forty feet (asparagus and another vegetable bed), with the cold frames and the random bed of wheat grass that we’ll move out of the way for easy trailer access.
So that’s what I’ve been up to! More blog posts to come!