Sunday, October 28, 2012

Before and After: Sheet Mulching

Welcome to our side yard as it appeared when we bought the house back in May. This may be one of the ugliest spots on the property, with its inexplicable cheesy little strip of perennials in the middle of an already narrow strip of yard. The perennial patch was more grass than flowers, and featured a giant rotting stump. While we still don't know exactly what we want to do with this space, we knew this "garden" had to go.

Because this side yard is the closest potential growing space to the house, we imagine it will be intensively planted. Most likely, it will be planted as a "forest garden", a system of food-producing perennials and beneficial companion plants. We decided to sheet mulch the entire thing to start to build the soil and create a blank slate to fill with plantings next year. We also took the opportunity to get two fruit bushes we already have in the ground--a josta berry (which is a cross between a gooseberry and a black currant) and a Nanking cherry.

Sheet mulching is a great way to prep soil for a new garden. After removing the rocks and the stump and transplanting the perennials I wanted to keep, we cut everything else back and covered the area with cardboard. We scavenged large boxes from appliance stores and bike shops for a few weeks to get enough to cover the area. Next, we put down an inch of compost. Finally, we topped the whole thing off with several inches of leaves, some of which we collected from our neighbors' curbs and some of which came from our own trees. Hopefully, the cardboard will suffocate everything underneath it over the winter, and that material plus the compost and leaves will break down and create nice rich soil for spring planting.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Special Delivery: Chamisal garlic

We received a very special package in the mail last week.

When we left New Mexico in 2010, one of the last things we did before hitting the road was to harvest our garlic. This wasn't just any garlic. It was a special variety of hard neck garlic found growing wild behind an abandoned adobe house in the small town of Chamisal. A garlic enthusiast carefully cultivated it, bringing this tough as nails (and super spicy) garlic back to life. We got the seed from the local farmers market and intended to keep propagating it ourselves.

While we were blogging from the road, a reader invited us to dinner at their home in Illinois. We had a fantastic time meeting them and their family, and I am telling you there is nothing like a good home-cooked meal in the middle of a few months on the road. As a parting gift, we left them with some of the Chamisal garlic.

They planted it, and kept planting it every season since. Our seed stock, on the other hand, went bad and we thought we had lost this special garlic variety forever.

When they emailed us recently and told us they were now growing several hundred heads a season (wow!) I was ecstatic. I was so touched that someone else was keeping this special garlic alive and thriving. And even better, they sent us some seed to plant this fall at our new house.

I can't wait to get this in the ground.

Thank you, Vigor family! And happy garlic planting!