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


Experimental bedsI've been reading Harvey Ussery's permaculture articles in both Mother Earth News and Backyard Poultry Magazine with glee, and this article about creating a forest garden really caught my fancy.  I detest wasted space, and about half of our growing space right now feels wasted to me --- it's open, weedy areas between young fruit trees.

I've planted vegetables and berries between the trees in one half of the young orchard, but the other half has soil so terrible that I figure by the time I get it enriched enough to grow anything worthwhile, the trees will have closed in over my beds.  The area is also chock full of Japanese Honeysuckle and wild blackberries, making it difficult to grow anything.

Sunday afternoon I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to experiment in that awful soil area.  I'm trying three different methods (which you can see above.)

2008 Shirley poppyIn the foreground bed, I put down a couple of layers of roll paper which we get free from a printshop, some small branches to weigh the paper down, then all of the annual flower tops from the last year's garden.  When the ground dries up a bit, I plan to lightly sprinkle soil in between the flower tops.  In a best case scenario, I can envision the zinnias, cosmos, Shirley poppies, Mexican sunflowers, fennel, and asparagus self-seeding into the bed, creating a flower bed which also slowly rots down the old plant matter.  In a worst case scenario, the bed should kill out the weeds underneath it (especially since the chickens really did a number on that area already), and the plant matter should compost so that I can plant something there next year.

My second bed is perennial flowers/herbs which I figure might have a chance competing with the honeysuckle since they certainly take over in the main part of my garden.  I transplanted in catnip, spearmint, beebalm, evening primrose, and a mystery herb that a midwife friend gave me.  Then I put some paper around the edges and covered the paper (and the plants, lightly) with black walnut leaves.  I figure if my strongest garden perennials can't fight the honeysuckle, I'll just mow over the bed in the summer --- no harm done.

Finally, in the most honeysuckle-choked part of the area, I put down a "kill mulch" --- aka old carpets which we ripped out of the trailer.  These have done a pretty good job elsewhere of killing out everything underneath them, so I hope I'll be able to plant something there next year.

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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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What a challenge. Quite exciting. I planned something like this in my little orchard. Actually, I planned that the trees would shade out the lawn so I wouldn't have to mow it. Slow going.
Comment by Errol Mon Feb 9 08:30:54 2009
Yeah, it's a bit ambitious, but it's such a cool idea! I'll keep poking at it until something works.
Comment by Anna Mon Feb 9 19:17:16 2009
What chemicals are in the rugs that you don't want in your garden and produce?
Comment by Sheila Tue Feb 10 00:37:32 2009
From what I've read, as long as your carpets are old enough you're probably alright. Ours are decades old --- hopefully any bad chemicals have already been emitted!
Comment by anna Tue Feb 10 07:38:54 2009

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