By Bonnie White, Member of Creston Climate Action Society
Happy Spring! As you may know, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd to raise awareness of protecting the environment and preventing climate change. This is also a great time to connect with the Earth and get your hands dirty right in your own backyard!
‘Tis the season to get out into the yard and get gardening again. It’s also a great time to think about growing some of your own food this year. Producing your own food is rewarding for you and your family and will certainly help with those rising grocery bills, plus you will be getting some exercise too! It does take some time and commitment though, so here are some tips that lessen the work involved to get started. There are also ways to garden that are friendly to the planet as well!
If you are starting any new garden bed for food crops or ornamentals, consider using the lasagna method. Start by breaking up and aerating the area with a broadfork. Then, layer newspaper or cardboard first, followed by multiple layers of compost, soil, and leaves to build up a new planting area. The cardboard and newspaper smother the grass and then you do not have to strip away any sod, which is a back-breaking job. Leaving the grass smothered, instead of digging it up, keeps organic matter, beneficial insects, and other helpers in your soil! And the more organic matter in our soils, the more water retention and nutrition for later in the summer when the heat starts to intensify. It is a great time saver to start this process in the fall so you can get an earlier start in the spring.
We practice the “no-till” method in our garden for growing our veggies. The veggie rows are covered with straw and when it’s time to prep for planting in the spring, I pull back the straw and loosen the soil with a strong pitchfork or broadfork. Carrots and onions may need more loosening than other crops. Then, I add a layer of compost and plant into that. Once the plants have grown up enough, I pull the straw back somewhat to keep weeds at bay and retain water. In the fall, I simply cut the plants off at the base so that the decaying roots will leave their nutrition in the ground for next year and cover the beds with straw again. Much less work than tilling and leaving soil bare to generate more weeds and dry out faster! Tilling is very hard on our soils as it destroys soil structure and can create a hard pan layer under where the machine reaches. And remember some windy days here last year where we had a dust storm and the dry soil was blowing away? This can happen with powdery, over-tilled soil. Tilling also keeps bringing more weed seeds to the surface, feeding an endless cycle of battling new seedlings.
Mulching your garden, be it veggies or ornamentals, is another must-do practice. As mentioned above, we use straw for our veggies. Wood chips do the job in our orchard, berries, and ornamental areas. No bare soil here! Mulch breaks down to add to soil structure and nutrition, keeps weeds under control, and holds moisture in the soil. This means less work for you later on! Cover crops are also another great option to add more nutrition and structure to our soils. When you buy soil from the garden supply stores, that is only step one of the whole process. Our soils are a living system of organisms that need yearly care and inputs after growing for us all season. Trees drop their leaves every fall to feed themselves and add to and cover their soil areas for next season. Mother Nature already has everything all figured out for us. We just have to observe her methods and make them work in our own gardens.
If you have any gardening tips or questions, please connect with us through our Creston Climate Action Facebook page or our email address at CrestonClimateActionSociety@gmail.com. We would love to hear from you and how your gardens are doing! Or if this is all new to you, we would love to help you get started!