2011 Workshop #2: Plant the Garden!

From this photo, it appears that I was the only one who attended this workshop. Had that been the case, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I was prepared to work with just me and the two co-teachers, Rhonda and Stephanie, and maybe two more, who had called early to say they thought they were coming. It had been raining for what? Eight days straight? And rained again on Sunday, But Saturday, April 30, and the date of our scheduled workshop, was the one day when it did not rain!

The two women who pre-registered are friends, both named Betty, and both wanting to learn how to lasagna garden in order to create community gardens where they live, one in Stinesville, and the other in Indianapolis, on very little money. They are both strongly motivated to do these gardens, but need an influx of people who have both energy and know-how to see them through to completion. Hopefully, others will join their efforts.

Meanwhile, at the GANG garden, we too, face continuous uncertainty as to who and how many people will actually show up, both for workshops, and in general. Who actually has energy for this garden? Even those who live in the neighborhood, in fact, especially those who live in the neighborhood, either don’t make it a personal priority, or if they do, leave town! As the founder and organizer, I am continually coming to terms with the fundamental fact that this is a college town, where people are continuously coming and going. As we say in permaculture, there’s lots of “flow.” How to utilize the flow of people is a continuous question, inspiring different ad hoc strategies over time.

And yet, and yet! As if divinely choreographed, about ten minutes before the workshop was due to begin, a car pulled up in front of the house and a young woman got out of it, looking very uncertain. I went to the door and asked her if I could help her. She asked me if I knew who to get in touch with if she wanted to work in the garden! So, of course I told her about the workshop and ushered her in to the kitchen where Stephanie, Rhonda, the two Bettys and Stephanie’s boyfriend Ben were sitting, and offered her some lunch.

Then, lo and behold, Aaron also arrived. So we had a good group after all.

We decided to sit in the living room for the first part of the four-hour afternoon. There, Rhonda outlined the plan for the day and Stephanie explained the design she had created for the GANG garden, which utilizes companion planting.

 Tomatoes, peppers, basil, oregano, for example in one garden row, with brussel sprouts, eggplant, radishes, tomato in another, and corn, squash, beans (the famous “three sisters” of Navaho land) in yet another. Plants can be companions because of size differences (to best utilize vertical and horizontal space), or differences in time it takes to grow to maturity, or because what one gives off another one needs, and so on.

Then we went outside. Since the Bettys both wanted to learn how to do lasagna beds we did that first, going out into my back yard where we focused on rejuvenating a bed that had become overgrown with unwanted plants. Spying a pile of brush in a corner of the yard, Rhonda told us to first spread that evenly on top of the horseshoe-shaped bed. Then we layered entire sections of newspaper and flattened cardboard boaxes over the brush (this will kill what’s under it by depriving it of light). And over that, a third layer, of straw. I had leaves for that purpose also, but we used them to mulch a bed in the GANG garden itself.

Then, said Rhonda, to plant seeds, just dig a little hole in the straw down to the newspaper or cardboard layer, and put in a handful of soil on top of that, and the seed in it. Then cover the hole back up with straw. For seedlings, punch a hole in the newspaper or cardboard, put the soil down through that, the seedling nestled in it, and cover with straw. The point is,  seeds will open at about the rate the newspaper or cardbard rots. But for seedlings, you want them to get their roots down right away, so you punch a hole through that hard layer. We used this bed for broccoli and cauliflower. I used it for lettuce in former years, and lettuce did well. The bed doesn’t have full sun, so this is an experiment.

What's so damned funny? I have absolutely no memory of this moment . . .

Then we went into the GANG garden and got to work there.

seedlings, lined up by the pond

For beds that weren’t very thick, we decided to sheet mulch them again, first with cardboard/newspaper and, this time, leaf and leaf much, before planting seeds and seedlings. Mulch helps hold moisture, discourages pests, and turns into soil. Always, the key is to continue to build soil.

Aside: Aaron found more morels! Giant morels! Twice as many as we found during the mushroom workshop two weeks earlier! Once again, hiding in corners of my back yard near old oak and elm trees.

I told him he could have them, and he gave one to each person present.

One of the Bettys, with her morel

Here’s Stephanie, planting beet seedlings.

In honor of her work in the gardens of Bloomington (Stephanie is also an intern with Middle Way House), her mother made her a great apron out of old sweaters.

Of course, she’s afraid to get dirt on it!

All in all, a very good day, though there are still lots of seeds and seedlings left to plant, and some that did get planted look like they’ve drowned in the continuing rain. Over eleven inches in April. A record. Rain the first three days of May. More predicted tonight . . .

C’est la vie!

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