May 21, 2012

Garden 2012: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Sometimes I feel like I'm getting nowhere with my garden. I'm not talking about visible progress, like planting, harvesting, preserving, or terracing my garden beds. I'm talking about progress that seems to be illusive because it never goes away, like battling the weeds.

Before - garden partly mulched, partly not.
Where it didn't get mulched, weeds are a problem

This will be our 3rd garden in this spot. The first two summers we tilled, last summer we switched to permanent beds. Ours aren't exactly raised, but with our garden on a slope, I would call them half-raised or terraced. As much as Dan loves his tiller, we hoped it would be less work to not till every year. Theoretically this is true, but the tiller also killed or deterred a lot of weeds, which now grow unhindered in the garden.

After - I mowed the center aisle, Dan tilled the lower part.

What I don't need is a harder routine. What I do need is a smarter one. Now, I'm not talking about "easy," you know, where I go out and buy all sorts of labor saving devices to do the work for me and then go buy a membership to the gym so I can get some exercise and stay in shape. I think physical work is good. It's good for us physically, good for us mentally, and good for us emotionally. It gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. ("Adam, till [עבד , 'abad = cultivate, work, labor, dress, serve] and keep [שׁמר, shamar =  observe, heed, guard, preserve, protect] the garden.")

The mulched beds remained relatively weed free

The answer to this is deep mulch. Our main homestead resource for this is leaves, some of which come from dynamic accumulators and so enrich the soil. My goal last winter, was to mulch it all. Alas, I did not achieve that goal. I suppose telling you that we have 26 beds in the garden, all approximately 4 by 24 feet might explain one reason why it didn't get done. But that makes me sound not very diligent. If I add the fact that we had a mild winter with lots rain so that everything just kept growing all winter, well, that might be another reason too. Really though, we've been putting most of our time and energy into finishing the kitchen. The truth is that I often feel like I'm pulled in two directions, the house needing so much repair and updating, and trying to establish our homestead. There isn't enough of me to go around.

I did make progress. The beds that did get mulched are still relatively weed free and the few weeds that do grow there, have spindly stalks from trying to push up to the sun from under all that mulch. The beds I didn't mulch are another story, as are the pathways between the beds. I didn't mulch those either. And since there are so many of them I don't know if I'll every get the entire area mulched of a winter.

Now that it's time to plant, my work smarter plan has been this.....

Raking back the much in the bed

I'm raking the mulch from the beds, and piling it onto the aisle

Leaving the mulch in the pathway

That should help smother some of the weeds growing where I want to walk, and give my seeds a chance to sprout. Once they're big enough, I'll rake the mulch back around the plants.

The ends of the beds is where the wire grass wants to creep in and take over. I have already accepted that I cannot eliminate this stuff. I can only hope to slow it's growth enough to get what I want out of the bed. I've been covering it with the paper feed sacks I've saved all winter.

Feedbag mulch to deter wire grass. I'll cover these with more leaf mulch.

Bed is ready to plant

I'm hoping all this will at least enable me to stay ahead of the game so that I can find the seedlings I've planted. Problem is, the weeds grow faster and anything that looks like progress is soon lost. If I can just keep my head above water this year, maybe next year will be better, after the kitchen is done.


Sue said...

Boy, do I understand that feeling of working hard to get nowhere. Tilling seems to bring more weed seeds to the surface, so I gave that up years ago, but the grass seems to grow better in my beds than where I want it. Having to take care of everything since my sweetie passed hasn't helped; a lot of stuff had to give, at least for a while. Figuring out how to work smarter rather than harder is the ticket. I've got the sheep pens set up now so I can catch them all up without assistance, since that was a priority. Next up is all the gardening beds which have been pretty neglected. At least the beasties appreciate all the goodies I pull out and deliver to them! Best of luck with your gardens.

Woolly Bits said...

compared to you I have a small area to look after - but I still don't manage to keep on top of the weeds:( I think for the time being (until most of your essential renovations are done) you have to live with the fact that the days only have so many hours - no point in running yourself ragged by trying to do everything perfectly.

Bernadine said...

That's a lot of beds to care for, 26! Wow! No wonder you didn't get to them all. I've got only two and I'm not always diligent about weeding. I wish I could offer suggestions but you're far more ahead of the curve than I am. Still, what you have done looks great. Best wishes!

Sarah said...

This is where we are- trying to find a free mulch source so we can stop tilling and get a handle on the weeds. Feed bags! I never thought of that, I bet that would be a whole lot harder to get through than newspaper and we have lots of them!

Shannon said...

Don't be discouraged, your garden beds look beautiful. We till ALOT too, and then there are the weeds in the rows. I've been there... remodeling, while gardening, and never able to get it all done. Just remember "This too shall pass".

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I tried to mulch part of the garden in beds a couple of years ago and must have done something wrong as I was soon over run with slugs, not that slugs run but they sure did plenty of damage moving slow. I finally had to go back to tilling the organic material into the ground. My latest plan looks bad but I leave areas of weeds which seems to attract bugs and even deer away from my plants some of the weeds are amaranth, the huge kind with red roots.

Leigh said...

Sue, we found that to be true when we had our neighbor till our corn patch with his huge garden tiller. Later we felt we would have done better (for the 1st year) to have it deep plowed. Bare ground though, is a magnet for something to grow!

Sounds like you're making progress too. A lot of it is the preparation / establishment phase, like your sheep pens. That's hopefully a one time job with long lasting results.

Bettina, that's the conclusion I've come to. Hindsight is always 20/20 though, and probably, we just should have focused on the kitchen remodel this year!

Bernadine, we're all in this together, :) and I pick up ideas for folks at all stages. Ours is a case of being in learning mode, plus doing essential house upgrades. Too many irons in the fire!

Sadie, "free" is the operative word! A loader bucket of mulch costs about $20 around here and it's coverage is measured only in square yards. I've got too many square yards for that! Besides the feed bags, cardboard boxes work great too.

Shannon, LOL. That's what I keep reminding myself. The kitchen is probably the most intensive job we'll every tackle in regards to the house (not counting tearing down the old fireplace and making the woodstove alcove). Dan says after this, we're switching to outside projects for awhile. Yay!

Sunnybrook Farm, actually that's a good strategy about the weeds as insect distractors. Things like slugs are those unplanned pains. It's always something!

icebear said...

weeds were an absolute nightmare for me last year. my youngest daughter was two and my oldest was 12 and very unhelpful. i couldn't find time to weed, and they took over, i got almost nothing out of the garden. it was horrible. it was so bad it has still squelched my enthusiasm for this year. our daughters are now 3 and 13, hopefully the little one can self entertain and the older one will help me a little!

Melodye said...

Leigh, thanks for the comments on my blog. I read something this weekend (I only wish I could remember where!) that spoke about taking the long view. No matter what our circumstances we only have 24 hours in a day. We can't do it all when we want to or have to. Other things come up, priorites change. But as long as we keep plugging away, it will all get done. Cut yourself some slack, 26 beds is a lot! Congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished, then start again. It will get done, I promise. You're not a slackard or a sluggard, just a woman with a lot on her plate!

Unknown said...

We tend three separate large garden plots on our homestead farm..and love using leaves and heavy mulch to keep the weeds down...otherwise, we would never keep up!
You garden looks great..keep up the good work!

Akannie said...

Leigh, I have only 8 beds the size of yours, and it's a full time job this time of year. lol We mulch too...with leaf compost, with ramadial wood chips, with about anything we get our hands on. We have chooks as well, so there is always straw. I don't think it matters how much you mulch, you're still gonna have some weeds. If they flower..all the better. if it's something I can eat, like chickweed or purslane--all the better. lol

Sometimes this life of ours is all about perspective...

I love reading about what you guys are up to.

Leigh said...

Icebear, it's tough having to do it all by yourself! Having children too, is another matter, especially a 2 year old. Still, they're the priority, aren't they? Weeds can be so discouraging though. :(

Melodye, that's a good point. I confess we've never actually planted all those beds. Some were planted in buckwheat last year, which the deer devoured. Not sure why we chose that size garden, except that Dan wanted to follow Dick Raymond's year round eating garden.

Michele, thanks! Mulch makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it!?

Akannie, "anything we can get our hands on," I hear you! Leaves is mostly what we have here, but I like wood chips for herb beds. We've rented a chipper twice to deal with twigs and branches. It's expensive, but just maybe it tips the cost in our favor versus buying it by the bucketful(?)

Clint Baker said...

Leigh, I always stop by to check out what you have going on. But I don't always get to comment now that I am back to work full time. Everything is looking great around your garden.

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Good golly Miss Molly! 26 beds? It seems that's a whole lot of gardening to do if you had nothing else to do! You're doing an awesome job with all that's on your plate.

Sherri B. said...

Oh boy, the weed issue has been on my mind too. I don't want the problems I had last year when it got out of hand. Maybe straw, but it can bring along seeds, we don't have any leaves to speak of, so that's out for us.

Have a nice week! xo

Tami said...

26 beds?!? I'd say you're doing great!

Concentrate on what's working well this year and maintain it for next year. The mulched beds look great! Keep nibbling away at it. It's gonna take awhile but some of the best gardens I've seen are 10+ yrs old.

Jocelyn said...

I'm on the second year for mine, and I'm fighting grass as well. I completely sympathize.

As to the pulled in two directions, thing; I can relate. Between what the animals need and what the gardens need, there's not enough of me to go around. Some days I feel like throwing my hands up in the air. If you keep with it, I will too. Deal??

Leigh said...

Clint, thank you! I confess I don't get around to all the blogs I'd like to these days. I'm good if I can just return the visits from comments. :)

Janice, well, some of them have been badly neglected! Last year some of them were planted for critter feed: black oil sunflowers, cowpeas, broom corn.

Sherri, seems like we all struggle with one sort of weed or another. I don't use straw for the reason you mention, seeds!

Tami, you're right, it is slow but steady, isn't it? I think new gardens always have their issues. Hopefully mine will look great by the time it's 10 years old!

Jocelyn, deal! LOL It's a battle, isn't it? I realize though, that not having grown up in the lifestyle, we still have to get things established before we can settle into a routine. The weeds though, they almost seem like a real waste of time.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Yes Leigh, we all must do a better job...of giving ourselves credit for all we do !

But I dig your dilemma.

Ngo Family Farm said...

Oh, I feel you, too, Leigh! The wind here blows weed seeds everywhere something terrible. This year I've been mulching with old hay - just trying to layer it on the weedy parts, and putting cardboard on the walkways. No way I can weed everything - half the time I just hope to slow down the weed growth enough for my crops to outgrow them. I'm really having a hard time with the oats, as I can't distinguish them from the grass weeds right now. Grrr.

Mama Pea said...

You will recall that last summer when we did the bulk of our kitchen remodeling, I didn't garden at all. As much as we would like it to be otherwise, your efforts can only be spread so far.

Sometimes it seems we have to work harder while trying to find the smarter way to work! Your garden is still "new" and it truly does get easier each year. At the same time, you can get panicky worrying that you'll "lose" all the work you've put into it already.

Learning how to work smarter rather than harder is something we're still trying to attain after close to 50 years of having it as a goal. (Gosh, that's depressing to state it that way!)

How do you ever get your leaf mulch to stay in place? The leaves would be blown to the next county within 48 hours here!

Mama Pea said...

Geesh, I just reread the first paragraph of my comment above and I didn't mean it to sound like it did. I meant to say that here you are in the midst of your kitchen/whole house remodel and you're still doing your full-blown garden, too. I wimped out and didn't even try to garden while my kitchen was torn apart!

Leigh said...

Donna, I think we bit off more than we could chew this year. :) Ah well, live and learn!

Jaime, I reckon we all have to pick our battles. I've battle oat grass before too. Thought oat straw was perfect for my bunnies. Mixed with their manure it would be the perfect mulch, right? NOT!

Mama Pea, LOLOL. I have to admit I'm wishing I'd followed your lead. I wonder if we ever get the "work smarter" thing figured out. Seems like we're doing an awful lot of (unsuccessful) experimenting to get there.

Stevie said...

I have to admit, my garden looks shabby this year. I've only been weeding the beds as I plant them. So I only have to do a section at a time. I tell myself that I'm using the weeds to hold the soil in place :) The only good news is a lot of the weeds get so tall they pull right out eventually. But, you're right, the grass is the real pain. That's when a tiller is soooo tempting!

Life Looms Large said...

Your gardens are amazing!!!

For me, fighting weeds is a multi-year process. A new bed is weedier than a bed that's been in use for a few years....but I won't talk about what happens when I give up and let the weeds win!! I'm trying to be better about maintaining our gardens this year!!

Weed on,

Leigh said...

Stevie, I love it! Holding the soil in place. :) Grass is the toughest I think, no matter what kind it is. It seems to have the most tenacious roots.

Sue, good to hear from you! My garden has been terribly neglected. I keep hoping once the kitchen is done it will get better, because ordinarily I'd be in the garden rather than in the kitchen (until time to can. :)

Wendy Bond said...

I just discovered your blogs and love them! I have a large family of 14 children and 5 grandchildren under 5,, homeschool, and want to return to the ways of my grandparents
. I have had Kinders on a friend's property for 7 years, but driving back and forth twice a day to milk became too much.
I am patiently waiting for my husband to agree to a longer commute so we can have property. Our 1/2 acre has the neighborhood well on it, so I can't even have chickens. :(
I would really recommend that you watch about my midwife's husband. He is so inspirational and think his methods would work for you!
Blessings, Wendy Bond

Leigh said...

Wendy, hello, welcome, and thank you! I very much appreciate the position you're in, as well as the patience you must exercise. :) Love that you used to have Kinders. They are my dream goat but it's beginning to look like Surprise had a false pregnancy. Very disappointing. Thank you for the link to the film. It looks like a must watch!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a modified lasagna garden. I get cardboard (non-waxy brown only)free from the produce section at my local grocery or from the food pantry where I volunteer. In the fall put out cardboard between the rows and collect bagged leaves from around the neighborhood and pile them in between the rows. Do the same in the spring. Only be sure to do it before the weeds come out not only to keep them down but also to prevent getting crappy bags of leaves from around the neighborhood. After a few years you will have the best earth possible and it is Zero work to weed and if you get moderate rain you don't have to water. Good luck and thanks for the blog.


Leigh said...

Jason, thank you for the visit and comment. I agree that good mulch early means almost zero weeds. Sounds like you've got a good plan working for you. Almost makes me wish I lived in a neighborhood where folks bagged their leaves for pick-up! I'm looking forward to those later years when all my early hard work has paid off.