I have come to realise that gardening is as much about making mistakes as it is about your successes. We have learned a lot over the last three years of having a vegetable garden. Enough to know that we needed to drastically overhaul our yard and the layout of the boxes. So here is what we did and why.
Oh my was prepping the yard for the overhaul a ton of work! I had to dismantle the spiral and move all the straw. Move all of the existing boxes and find a home for some of the soil. Rip up all the garden borders (which I JUST put in this spring). Then I had to take up the grass where the spiral and new boxes were going to go. And all of this work was done BEFORE my inlaws and dear friend came to help us on one fine September afternoon.
Just as a note – while my husband does enjoy beer, the bottles were actually an old border we had, not the aftermath of a party 😉
The timing of our overhaul wasn’t great (mid September) because many of our vegetables weren’t ready to be pulled up. I probably could have gotten a few more zucchinis and some more kale leaves, but unfortunately our cedar hedges had other ideas. After some online research I realised that we had to get those hedges trimmed soon. You want at least 6 weeks of time for the hedges to heal before the first really big frost hits. As you can see by our before picture above, our hedges needed to be trimmed badly! It had been over two years.
The complex that we live in usually trims the hedges for us but because of where our garden boxes are we have always declined because the clippings would fall into the soil, changing the pH and killing many of our vegetables.
So before we built any new boxes or rebuilt the spiral we trimmed the hedges and removed as much of the clippings as possible.
I’m so sad to report that our herb spiral experiment was a disaster. The placement was all wrong and we had a huge problem with drainage. In the centre of the yard all parts of the spiral received a lot of sun, cooking all of the shade herbs. Our drainage issues were caused in part by the tremendous amounts of rain we received this summer and the cardboard mulching of the grass (it didn’t allow for the water to drain out). Also the rain washed away what little soil we did have in the spiral (just pockets where the plants were) so everything died due to too much water and not enough nutrients.
That being said I am still determined to have a herb spiral. First we moved the location to two feet in front of our compost. That will allow the shady herbs to stay happy in the moist shade and the sun loving herbs (planted at the top) to bask in the sun’s glory! We also decided to make it a tad smaller (4 feet in diameter) to allow for larger garden boxes.
My friend working on the layout of the spiral. We did it right! Measured the radius and created a perfect circle. We also removed all of the grass and dug up and turned over the soil to allow for drainage.
Adding soil to the finished spiral. Because our original spiral was quite a bit larger we had some bricks left over. We smashed them and used them at the base of the spiral. This will allow for better drainage. We also added a bag of rocks on top of the large brick pieces. On top of that we placed our already composting straw and then filled the spiral with soil.
New Garden Boxes
This was the part I was most excited about! Forget about our little 4×4 square foot garden boxes! If we want higher yield then we need bigger boxes to maximize what little space we have. Our yard is small. It’s 23 feet by 17 feet. About the top 1/3 of the yard doesn’t get any sunlight at all (blocked by the house). This in combination with the fact that we really wanted to leave some grass for our son to play on, we decided to sheet mulch the lower 2/3 of the grass.
Thanks to my friend’s father in law, we got our hands on some extremely thick, sturdy and free wood. The right hand side of the yard receives the most sunlight. It is in this area that we can grow our tomatoes, beans, peas, zucchinis and other sun loving plants. The new bed is 10 x 5.5 feet. So much space!
On the other side of the yard we have a smaller bed, 6 x 5 feet where most of our greens and some root vegetables will go.
We have a 2 foot wide walking path in the centre of the yard and two feet of space on either side of the cedar hedges. This will give us plenty of room to tend the garden and harvest without feeling crowded out by plants. We left 2 feet of space between the hedges and the boxes so that the landlords could continue to take care of the hedges without too much of the clippings falling into the soil/boxes.
Our space rule was two feet. We wanted to allow for adequate walking and working room. I was so excited to see what we would be able to squeeze in a squash mound at the back of the yard! I had hoped we would reused one of our old boxes but the square shape made it cumbersome to work around. Instead we created a half moon shaped bed to grow bushing or semi bushing squash. Never once did I think I would have enough room to grow squash!
Cardboard and Mulch
The last step was laying down cardboard. We used tent pegs to hold it in place. We really want to ensure as few weeds as possible make their way through. Once our cardboard path was layed out we used cedar mulch to cover everything. This was the perfect time of year to get our supplies because everything is on sale!
And here is the finished product!