Today I started changing the layout of our garden to ready it for irrigation. This is actually my third iteration of our layout. And maybe the last, though only time will tell.
Our first year we double dug our beds and built borders around the beds with some milled wood scraps that the previous owner of our property left behind. We also put down weed mat and gravel between the rows to keep down weeds and make everything look tidy. It was lovely, but the gravel became scorching hot on sunny days and made it very uncomfortable to sit down in the rows to weed, thin, transplant, or harvest. Also weeds seemed to grow up right under the wooden bed frames making it hard to get them at the root.
Our second year, we tripled the garden size. I took out the bed frames and covered the gravel with shredded hard wood mulch to make it softer for sitting. For the new and old beds, I used 5 foot wide packing paper rolls as a weed suppressant and then covered the beds with several inches each of manure, straw, and mulch to build soil.
In one area that had the clear makings of an erosion path, I dug a one foot deep trench behind the entire uphill length of the bed (about 60 feet) and back filled it with kitchen scraps, goat manure, chicken poop, straw, and seed free weeds. I then covered it with a little double shred mulch and used it as my garden path.
The bed with the compost trench was the most productive, constantly moist, worm-loaded bed in the garden. Plants grew in half the time of other beds. It was unbelievable.
So, last year, I trenched behind all my beds and back-filled the trenches with just about every bit of organic matter I could find. Hundreds of feet of trenching and tons of uncomposted organic matter went into our garden. I even dug out the old gravel and weed mat from our first year garden from under the decaying mulch layer.
Then on March 3rd my dad had a stroke. A big one. He’s still working on getting his speech back. He can’t operate a phone or make a meal yet. He lived with us when it happened, but was still taking care of himself, driving a car, and managing his life. So, becoming a caretaker was a huge change for me. But I couldn’t let my dad go to a nursing home, so I figured out how to take care of him myself and made getting him healthy a priority. And, thankfully Matt supported me in this.
The garden suffered from my neglect. We still grew a lot of food, but not nearly as much as I could have given all the work I put in. On top of the new challenge of caring for my dad, I was also getting certified to be a poultry processor and had started trying to sell some stuff at the farmer’s market. Then, just in case the year hadn’t been challenging enough, we had ridiculous hot spells and lengthy dry periods all summer, and we ended our growing season with a three month drought and absurd heat.
Today, as I was reworking the garden, I had an incredible surprise. Despite the neglect, and the rotten growing year, the compost trenches had still done their magic and hard red clay had somehow magically transformed into 8 inches of loamy rich topsoil. What was once hard pan clay, is now something I can move with easily with nothing more than a rake. It’s not just the trench that is soil, but two feet to either side of it.
As I was thoroughly enjoying digging in our luxurious new soil this evening, I realized that this was the first time since my dad’s stroke that I have been able to spend a whole day the garden. When I took a break mid-day to check on my dad and get him some lunch, I also had another nice surprise. He was taking a bath on his own. He’d managed to fill it and was having his own grand time enjoying a long soak. A couple of months ago, an attempt to do something that complex would have resulted in some kind of catastrophe. He then went on to cut his own finger and toe nails and trim his own hair. Another first.
Like our garden soil, with time, effort, and the magic of nature, he is healing. I am sure it’s been happening all along, but sometimes you need to be taken by surprise to recognize just how much things have improved.