Edible Forest Garden – Practice Plot – Part 2

Site Preparation

The books – Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II have lots of suggestions for proper planting site preparation. These suggestions range from things done one or two years in advance to things done immediately prior to planting. I of course did no actual planning, so we didn’t do any site prep. The books also have a variety of methods and suggestions for actual planting. I decided to go with the sheet mulch option which has the following steps/layers:

  • Soil – amended with mineral powders (didn’t do that..) and heavily watered (did that!)
  • Stubble of existing vegetation, mown hard, cut as low as possible (did that)
  • Seedy mulch, hay for example (we have lots of that!)
  • Uncomposted manure, potentially weedy (we have lots of that too!)
  • Sheet layer, cardboard or newspaper with a minimum of 4-6 inches of overlap of seams (I thought we had lots of that)
  • Compost, seed free (didn’t have that)
  • Seed-free mulch (maybe had that…)

We opted for this method because (A) it is the least amount of work and (B) we already had most of the materials on hand so it would minimize cost, and some of these materials needed to be dealt with anyway, like the manure and the crappy hay so it was a win-win.

Looks pretty simple, shouldn’t take long at all, we’ll be done by lunch time!

Step zero – figure out where exactly this tree guild is going to go and get a fence up around it to protect our money and work from the deer and various other herbivores in the area. As soon as we actually stood on the spot I wanted to plant it I realized that my beautifully drawn circle was too wide for the space. We were hemmed in by the buried power line on one side and a planting of baby pine trees and a half-assed flower bed of day lilies on the other. Ultimately I shifted my circle design over and one of the existing baby pine trees is now in the middle of one of the dedicated walking paths (in an effort to minimize soil compaction you are supposed to have dedicated walking areas) and one of the lilies on the edge was ignored; maybe it will grow, maybe I trampled it, time will tell. The baby pine tree will be moved in the next few years, and I still have other paths so hopefully it will be okay.

One upshot was that since we were running into an already fenced in area we could just use that fence and extend it around to enclose the new planting as well. Of course we were short by about four feet of fence. I had purchased some additional fencing, but Fleet Farm didn’t have the same stuff (the previous fencing was purchased at Menards prior to my FF gig) so I decided to try chicken wire which it turns out isn’t nearly as rigid as the other fencing is. We still haven’t really fixed that, but it is secure enough that animals can’t get in. Eventually we’ll get it finished since the entire roll of chicken wire is still sitting up there in our front yard looking tacky.

Step one – the soil and existing vegetation. Since I didn’t really plan anything out and haven’t gotten around to soil testing yet we didn’t lay down mineral powders to improve the soil because I don’t know what it may or may not need. I did, however, water it really well and mow the existing grass down pretty short.

Step two – seedy mulch layer. We have a lot of the crappy, foxtail infested, stemmy, and apparently not very tasty, hay left so we hauled two bales up and laid that around everywhere. I should have done a good job of breaking apart the bales to get everything evenly distributed. I did not. I roughly shook the bales out and kicked it around until it looked good enough and moved on. I did water it down well, as recommended, since once the cardboard layer is put on water will have a harder time getting down to this layer.

Step three – uncomposted manure. Technically, the manure we used is sort of composted, but it wasn’t hot-composted which means it can still be contaminated with seeds of unwanted plants, so it had to go below the cardboard layer. One of the recommendations the book has for long term planning is to think hard about where everything is in relation to each other. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have your compost pile on the other side of your property from your garden because that means more work hauling it between the two locations. I will absolutely be heeding this advice for long term planning because shoveling the poop out of the compost bays and hauling it up to the planting site took way too long and was way too much work. This was also when I remembered the whole – oh yeah, there are supposed to be paths in this thing! – so you’ll notice the seedy hay layer is covering everything but there are paths between the manure. If I’m being totally honest it was mostly because I really didn’t want to have to haul another load of manure up there and realized that if I left it off the paths I could be done. Yay for being done (with that step). I did set up the sprinkler to water this layer really well too.

At this point it was dinnertime and what was supposed to be my superfast and easy morning project wasn’t even half-way done. Time to break for the day. We’ll get it finished tomorrow. Right?

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