The Side Yard Project Begins

seed starting

“Broke ground” on the side yard project yesterday, though of course since I’m using permaculture methods, I didn’t actually break any ground but instead started building on top of it with cardboard, newspaper, compost, and mulch — the process of sheet-mulching.  I had to scrounge and even buy some newspaper and still got only about 1/4 of it done with the newspaper I had. My supplies of cardboard and compost are both going to run out before I finish, and obviously I need to find a good newspaper source. I’ve got enough bark mulch, since I bought 2 yards of the dark, untreated, finely shredded stuff recently.

I realised yesterday, mid-shovel-throw of compost, that I can’t really use bark mulch for the vegetable planting areas, because vegetables don’t grow in mulch but need good old-fashioned dirt. So the veggies need their top sheet-mulch layer to be loam, compost and maybe some seed-free straw.

So I am rethinking how I will go about this.

Here’s what I have so far, with a close view and then the wider view:

1/4 of side yard bed sheet-mulched 1/4 of side yard bed sheet-mulched

My plan now is to plant the 2 elderberry bushes, the butterfly bush (buddleia),  the 2 hazelnut shrubs (coming 7 May), some of the plum and green gladiolus bulbs, and possibly the dwarf tart cherry tree in either this finished spot or an identical one that I’ll sheet-mulch on the other end. In between those two sections, I’ll sheet mulch a bed for veggies, with no bark mulch but lots of compost and loam on top (and perhaps the straw, if I can get some).

I am especially looking at shrubs, herbs and perennials that deer don’t especially like for this bed (other than the veggies, of course), as this south-facing garden spot is on the deer thru-way in our neighbourhood, and I already know deer spend time many evenings in the yard. (The dwarf cherry is unfortunately a plant that they do like to munch, which is why it may not end up in this bed.)

I had planned to put an electric fence around this bed, but for a number of reasons — cost, unattractiveness, high visibility from the road, worry over neighbours’ cats and children getting zapped, worry about lightening strikes — I’m thinking now of 5-6-foot bamboo poles (acquired a lot with this house) with fishing line (spouse is a fly-fisherman) strung across at least every foot from bottom to top. It won’t keep out groundhogs, but in the 4 years we’ve lived here, they haven’t been a problem. Chipmunks are a bit of problem but I can’t think of anything that will reliably keep them out. I am hoping the fence will deter deer, and my back-up plan is to plant a lot of things deer don’t like along the perimeters (without blocking sun) so that the veggies are somewhat hidden.

A word on sheet-mulching: Usually, people sheet-mulch in the fall so that through weathering and time, by April or May the bed has deteriorated enough to be able to plant right into, but I never seem to plan that far ahead; so I am in the unenviable position of wanting to plant right into the undeteriorated sheet-mulched bed, which means that my veggies will need a few inches of added dirt into which to send their roots this year. I also don’t have enough dirt and compost stored up on the property yet to do this project, so I’ll need to buy some. Here’s a good photo-essay on sheet-mulching.

seed starting
seed starting

For the annuals (veggies, herbs and flowers) in this side yard garden and anywhere else I can fit them in the yard, I’ve got 172 plants started in little seed-starter cells:

  • flowers (2 kinds of zinnias, a lot of cosmos, vanilla marigolds, gazania),
  • herbs (Italian Genovese basil),
  • vegetables (Red Pear and Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, Marketmore cucumbers, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Spice Spinach, Green Arrow Peas, Black-seeded Simpson lettuce), and
  • a coleus mix for shade areas (inside another fenced area).

I also plan to plant out:

  • peas (tomorrow),
  • bush beans,
  • nasturtiums,
  • dill,
  • cilantro,
  • parsley,
  • arugula,
  • calendula,
  • a wildflower mix for part shade

I will probably also buy or trade a few annual later on.

And, perennial-wise, in addition to the elderberry, buddleia, and hazenuts, I’d like to also plant some vervain, Sweet Cecily, echincea, milkweed, bee balm (monarda), and whatever else strikes my fancy at one of the 5 or 6 large plant sales I’ll attend in the next two months.

Somehow, I need to find sunny, deer-deterred spots for all these little vegetable plants. First, maybe a little nap.

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