Preparing The Ground For A Permaculture Garden
I love dirt.
Yep. I’m a little strange, I know.
I love going barefoot and digging in the garden with my hands. No gardening gloves for me!
So, when gardening season rolls around, I am always pretty excited.
Since we moved to a new house last fall, I get to create a whole new garden this year!
I have tried several different types of garden styles, including raised beds, raised rows, no-till, and tilling, and I have definitely discovered which ones are my favorites.
I prefer a permaculture approach with no-till gardening that includes a lot of mulch. Otherwise known as lasagna gardening, or sheet mulching.
When I say mulch, most people immediately picture shredded wood mulch, but that is not necessarily what I am talking about here.
I am talking about things like chopped leaves, grass clippings, and straw.
Mulch helps to insulate the plants from the cold and heat, retain moisture, and suppresses weeds.
Think of the forest. The best self-sufficient garden around.
Is there any bare ground? No! A woodland floor is COVERED in a deep layer of leaves and pine needles that are rotting away, keeping the earth damp, and contributing nutrients to the earth.
I suggest using whatever type of mulch is readily available in your area for low or no cost. Here on our mostly wooded land, I have unlimited access to chopped leaves and pine needles, so that is what I am using. If you live on the prairie, straw or old rotting hay is probably the easiest thing to access. If you live on the coast, seaweed makes an excellent mulch!
Ideally, you would prepare the ground for your permaculture garden several months before you are ready to plant in it, but if that is not an option, you can still make it work!
Here is how I am preparing the ground for a permaculture garden space:
I cleared the ground of any large pieces of wood, had my husband cut down the two trees (yes I realize that I now have 2 big stumps in my garden area) and gathered my supplies.
If you have really tall grass in your garden area, I would suggest mowing or weed eating it down before beginning, but there is no need to kill the grass or dig it up.
You will need:
- Sheets of cardboard. My local dump has a whole shipping container full of broken down boxes that I raided a couple of times (with permission!). Most stores have some sort of cardboard boxes that they are always getting rid of as well, so just ask! *Avoid the waxed cardboard that they use to ship some kinds of food.
- Some combination of compost/top soil/ashes/old manure
- Your mulch of choice
- *you make need to add some lime if your soil tends to be acidic. Mine was very acidic because of the oak trees all around. I added extra lime to compensate for all the leaves I am using as mulch as well.
Spread your lime if it is needed, then lay the sheets of cardboard across the entire garden area. Overlap them a bit so weeds don’t sneak up through them!
If you live in a dry or windy area, spray the cardboard with a bit of water to keep it from flying away. Moisture also helps it to break down more easily.
My cardboard had been sitting out in the rain the day before, so I didn’t have to do that step.
Cover the cardboard with a layer of your compost/top soil mix. I used all the dirt from my old raised beds and the compost I insisted on bringing with us when we moved. All that shoveling is paying off now! Ha!
Once you have covered the cardboard with the dirt and compost, it is time to add your mulch. Cover the entire garden area with 6-12 inches of mulch.
I know it sounds like a lot, but it will settle really quickly. I tried to go for about 8 inches everywhere, and in just a few weeks, it has already settled this much.
On top of this, add at least 3-4 inches of topsoil, compost, or OLD manure on top of the mulch.
The cardboard will kill the grass or weeds by blocking all sunlight, then it will break down and help create a light and fluffy layer of soil, with the mulch on top to insulate and protect it.
The final layer of soil is what you plant your seeds in.
If it will be several months before you plant, go ahead and add a couple inches of mulch on top of the final soil layer.
In the spring, you can move the mulch aside, and plant your seeds and plants directly into that fluffy layer of soil. Once your seeds have sprouted and are well established, gently move the mulch back around them.
If you don’t have enough time to let it sit a few months before planting, you can just leave the top layer of soil bare until the plants are established, then mulch. You will also need to cut holes in the cardboard to allow room for the roots of your seeds or plants to grow directly into the ground below the cardboard if it hasn’t had a few months to break down yet.
Have you ever had a no-till garden? How did you like it?