The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Redesigning forest garden beds

Kill mulch

Tomatoes in a forest gardenIn an effort to prevent myself from ignoring the forest garden again this year and letting it turn into a weed jungle, I'm making a lot of changes.

The first step is to incentivize working in the forest garden during the growing season.  To that end (and because our tomatoes did so well there last year), I'm making lots of new beds to plant tomatoes and butternut squash into.  You can see part of this year's tomato alley at the top of the page.

New raised bed

I built the new beds by simply wheelbarrowing partially rotted compost out of the chicken pasture and topping it off with straw.  There are very few perennial weeds in the areas I chose because the waterlogged soil is so terrible nothing can survive unless I raise the plants' roots up out of the wet.  I figure that making these extremely simple kill mulches now will ensure that most weeds have died by May, but I can always come back through and add cardboard beneath the straw if anything starts to poke up through.  (As you can see, I did add cardboard in select areas where perennial weeds were evident.)

Types of mulchSince they're in the forest garden, the new beds serve double duty.  This year, they'll be part of the vegetable garden, but each one is attached to a tree mound, and as the tree grows, more and more of the bed's growing area will be mulched with leaves instead of straw and given over to tree roots.  A modified version of this expanding tree mound technique has served me well in the forest garden island.

Keyhole bedsMy original plan involved building keyhole beds surrounding the fruit trees, but I've ditched that goal as I learned more about my own gardening style.  Yes, keyhole beds seem to make a lot of sense as a way of expanding a circular tree mound, but they're tough to maintain if you have to mow the aisles.  Instead, I'm making all of my new beds linear and leaving plenty of room for the mower to fit in between.  I'll probably fill in aisles as the trees overshadow them, ending up with solid raised beds in the seldom-trampled areas under trees.

In case this post makes the forest garden project sound well thought out, let me hasten to add that I was really just playing around in the sun Friday, making it up as I went along.  By the end of the summer, I'll know if my seat-of-my-pants changes made sense or not.

Our chicken waterer gives chickens to peck at during long, boring winters so they don't peck at each other.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I apparently hadn't seen your garden plan before, but I have to say, I'm glad I'm not the only one that has mapped out my future garden in such detail! I have an illustration very similar to yours (that I drew in Gimp on top of Google's aerial image), and after I finished adding all the garden beds, wildflower islands, fruit trees, ground covers, and paths, I stood back, examined it, and concluded that I had totally gone off the deep end. I don't have the botany expertise that you do to know what will work best for long-term permaculture goals, and admittedly, some of it is based partly on aesthetics, but I did stick to native and heirloom varieties and took both crop rotation and companion planting into account. I'm sure it will be modified as I figure out what works and what doesn't, but I've found that I do best in the garden when equipped with a detailed plan of action. And it's fun to plan!

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Wed Feb 22 11:57:49 2012
Mitsy --- Oh, I've got lots and lots of obsessive maps. The reality doesn't always end up looking like the maps, but they really help me wrap my head around plans (and to keep track of what I've done in past years), so I highly recommend them!
Comment by anna Wed Feb 22 15:29:04 2012

OK, I have to mention this because since you adore maps like I do, I'm guessing aerial imagery might be an obsession, too. I just re-checked our property on Bing maps (I like to consult Google, Yahoo, and Mapquest, too), and they've updated their aerial imagery with fantastic new resolution, so you might want to check it out. Now I must go re-do my garden planning using this new imagery, lol...

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Wed Feb 22 15:54:57 2012

Cool! It's interesting to compare Bing maps to Google's satellite feature. For our farm, Google is more useful since it zooms in further, but Bing is clearly more up to date! I can tell that google's images for our farm are from five years ago because I'm just beginning to lay out our berry patch, while Bing looks like it might be from this past fall. (You can see my cover crops in the back garden!)

Bing map of our farm
Comment by anna Wed Feb 22 16:18:17 2012

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