That Darn Grass

I’m starting a new garden bed this year, and it is in an area where our lawn is typically very lush.  I was going to do a lasagna-style (layered) garden, but I don’t have enough dirt for the top layer. The garden is going to be 10×30 feet in size.  So in mid April I decided to try to cover the grass to kill it, which would make tilling it a lot easier, and prevent me from having to dig up all that grass.

I marked the corners of the bed, and then used what I had on hand – large cardboard pieces, plastic tarps, and even a big sheet of metal.  I placed rocks and pieces of wood on top to hold everything down.

Here is what it looked like with all the supposedly-grass-killing coverings:

Here is the bed with tarps, cardboard, and even metal trying to cover / kill the grass.
Here is the bed with tarps, cardboard, and even metal trying to cover / kill the grass.

I uncovered it all today because I’d like to start getting it ready – I have plants waiting to go in.  I could tell over the last month that there were areas I’d still have to pull grass out from.  I found out today that the plastic tarps acted more as a greenhouse for the grass than as a grass killer.  The cardboard was the best thing – those areas are almost bare – the soil will be a lot easier to till.  The metal sheet worked well also.  Sheets of plywood or particle board would work as well – I found this out by accident when we left some scraps out a few weeks ago in an area where we didn’t want the grass killed.

I’m not going to be doing any tilling for a couple days, so I took the cardboard pieces and placed them over the still-very-grassy areas, in an effort to at least keep the grass from getting any bigger in those spots.  Here is my bed now:

Here's my garden bed as of today.
My garden bed as of today.
Darn grass!  Here's a small strip I'll have to dig up.
Darn grass! Here’s one small strip I’ll have to dig up.

Once I get it all tilled, I will be fencing it in, and then planting!  I think this little guy is excited too:

Chipmunk on our flower barrel, waiting for sunflower seeds to fall from our feeder so he can steal them.
Chipmunk on our flower barrel.

Waiting (and getting ready for) spring

A crocus in our yard from last spring
A crocus in our yard from last spring

Winter has seemed pretty long, even though we are having a relatively mild winter this year, here in the U.P.   We have a lot of snow, although definitely not as much as last year, and it doesn’t seem like we have as much as I remember us getting when growing up here.  The temps are still pretty harsh, but at least we get breaks in between the REALLY cold days  (if you can call 15-20 degrees above zero a break – I do).  This is always the time of year that everyone is tired of winter and just ready for it to be over.  Just like most gardeners, I have been busy planning my garden for this spring.

I went all out with my planning for this year.  In the past I usually have not been as organized – I usually plan some,  but get a lot of stuff spontaneously later in the spring.  I’m mostly used to gardening down in lower Michigan, but the Upper Peninsula has a shorter growing season.  Our winters can be 6-8 months long (I have actually heard of snow in July here, although I don’t remember ever seeing it).  I have grand plans of canning a lot of food for next winter, so I want to have everything ready, and make sure I have enough time to harvest everything – and have it all grow in time to be harvested.  I learned a few things about this the hard way last year – I put in Tomatillos in July (they were just over pea sized by the time everything else was dying for the fall).  I had a pumpkin plant that only produced one very small pumpkin, because they need 110 days – I just don’t have that long here.   My tomatoes would not ripen on the vine – I ended up bringing them in and ripening them in a sunny window. (My mom said something about cutting the suckers off the plants to ripen them, which I’ve never had to do – the tomatoes I was growing didn’t seem to have these “suckers” that I could find).

I went through my box of seed packets that I already had – some were leftover from previous years, and some were new “on sale” seeds I bought last fall. I figured out what I wanted to grow from those, and I looked online to see how long different kinds of seeds can last.  Depending on the plant, seeds can be viable anywhere from 2 to 5 years.  I actually had some really old packets from 2007/2008 – those got tossed.    I ended up with a decent assortment of vegetables and flowers, but there were things I wanted to try this year that I needed new seeds for.  So I got to ordering.

Last summer I got a nice catalog from a company called Horizon Herbs, and their catalog had lots of really good information about their seeds and a good variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  So that is where I ordered my new seeds.  They had some different “Ancient Grains” seeds, so I am going to try to grow Amaranth this year – it’s supposed to be good cooked up as an oatmeal kind of thing, and for bread.  And I figure if we don’t end up liking it, the chickens probably will.   I also found out that artichokes can grow as an annual, so I’m going to try to grow some – I don’t know how big the artichokes will actually be, but it’s worth a try.

I was careful when picking seeds out, from both my old supply and the new order, to make sure they are shorter maturing varieties.  I have some white corn seeds that are 90 days, and I found one (yellow corn) from Horizon that needs  70 days (called Fisher’s Earliest).

I had made a rudimentary drawing before my order, but then because of some things not being available, and some changes to what I decided to grow, I redrew it. The new drawing actually plans for how big everything will get, and also has space so that we can actually walk between plants.  (My son got mad at me last year trying to get around in our garden because it was a jungle without actual pathways between plants. He’d get trapped behind tomatoes trying to get to the zucchini).

garden plan
Here is my main garden plan for this year.

The plan above is actually only one bed – a new one I’m planning.  We built a fenced-in area for our dogs last year, and this will go next to it, utilizing one wall of fencing from the dogs’ area. I didn’t have space to draw it as one big 10×30 grid, so the drawing is split in half, side by side. I drew it on graph paper, making each square foot of the garden = 4 graph paper squares (so I could actually write names of plants in).   I have another bed that will have acorn squash and watermelon, and onions, and some other stuff.

I also ended up ordering a few fruit plants for this year – raspberries and strawberries and elderberries – I’d like to try to make elderberry wine.

One other thing about gardening where I live is that I definitely need to fence it in.  We have deer that will hop anything less than an 8 foot fence, I’ve been told.  My garden last year was left alone by animals though, even though my fencing was pretty crude –  I only had a 4 foot fence and it was made of old fence scraps I found around the yard (we didn’t have money at the time to buy new fencing).  I found some snakes and toads in there (they helped me with bugs), but I never saw evidence of rabbits or deer. For this year we have some leftover 5 foot fencing (from making the dog fence in the fall) that I believe will be enough to close in the new garden bed – I’m hoping the fact that my dogs run around a lot in their enclosure, actually next to both gardens, will help to deter deer from jumping in.

Now I just have to wait for all my new seeds, and spring to get here!