Lisa Bondurant

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I spend my time raising kids, gathering eggs, cutting wood, scoping out trees for tapping, making syrup in the last days of winter, watching my garden NOT grow in the summer, writing, wishing that there were more hours on the clock for sleeping.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Building a Layered Garden

To have a garden in the mountains is a challenge, and I do mean a challenge! The sunlight does not come over the mountain till at least an 11/2 hours after the valley below us is bathed in full light. Then the sun sets earlier as it slips behind the tallest mountain to the west and darkness floods in. The season in general is much shorter, with a frost date that is the same as areas of Pennsylvania. Then there are the animals! Over the years we have built a fortress of  electric fences and deer netting. The fences may work one year, then the critters figure out your defensive strategy and you must change and adapt. A fence that keeps out a deer will not keep out a ground hog, a fence that keeps out a ground hog, the rabbit squeezes through. One year I built chicken wire cages that went over every row, a 3 sided box. How could anything get through that I had thought!
 The first year it worked, plants grew safe and happy beneath the fortress of wire, I had baskets full of veggies.
 The second year they stomped a bit at the cages, but still all was well.
The third year the deer laid on and rolled over the cages till the vegetables poked out and they ate till their heart's content. Never again did the cage method work.
Then there is the changing weather. In the mountains we have almost always enjoyed a wet and lush summer, with gentle rains almost every evening. Not any more. Our climate is changing into a warmer, drier weather pattern with more severe storms. For at least 4 to 5 years our mountain garden , if saved from animals, it has then been lost to drought and insects. Terrible, earth cracking drought that sets in just after the heavy spring rains. No fence can save us from that enemy, but perhaps a lasagna garden can. The idea behind this is to build up a thick, nutrient rich, raised bed that hold moisture, prevent weeds and feeds your garden and also eliminates the need to till. I like that!!!

A year ago I attempted the lasagna garden (Lasagna Garden by Patricia Lanza) in a small patch of about 6x10 feet. After the spring rains ended and the earth cracked to bits, the only successful garden left growing was my small test patch.
 I had 25 huge bushel gourds, from one plant, at the edge of that garden. The gourd was so healthy that it nearly took over the entire garden and most of the chicken field.
 The layers preserved moisture, fed the plants and the weeds were minimal. This year it is all or nothing, the whole garden goes into a layered garden. I could get into how each layer is suppose to work, but you would be better off looking it up online or reading the book.
I will just try to show the layers as I built them...

The Layers as they happened!

We laid down thick layers of news papers and cardboard and junk mail, ( it was gratifying to trash the junk mail this way) wetting them as we went to keep the papers from blowing away and to start the breakdown.

A couple of tiny helpers with a water squirt er from the dollar store really helped.
On top of this a layer of composted chicken litter and bedding was added.

Leaves from last fall were then piled high on top of the chicken litter. Looks neat doesn't it? Well not for long...

The laying hens escaped from their hoop house and decided to help out!
After raking the beds back into shape we added about 2 to 3 inches of compost from a dairy farm.

Next- bring in the straw, leave the chicken!
Everyone wants to be involved...


A thick layer of straw down will make 5 layers.

Ashes make six layers, this will apparently help with neutralizing acids that maybe added with layers such as leaves and shavings.
At this point you can plant or let the layers "cook" or begin to breakdown. As the book points out the newly built garden can be covered in plastic to quicken the cooking process.
We have a few weeks till our frost date so this will be "cooking", but till then I have planted onions and cabbage in another layered patch.

A lot of work, but what garden isn't! The great idea behind this kind of garden is the work is all done in the cool spring and then you pretty much let the garden take care of it's self  through the hot summer
 In fall you add more leaves or compost. 
Next spring part the layers and plant. No tilling. 
Keep adding layers and watch the garden bed build up rich and thick!
But for now...
... we wait and watch...will it grow?
The next problem to solve it insects!!! 
I know a couple of ducks that may help with this problem!
 That is another story!

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